This seemed to remind her of her function and she doubled back towards me.
“What are you doing here in Israel?” she asked.
“I’m here to see my brother, Larry.” I answered with a smirk and an air of derision.
“When will you go back?” she asked, knowing well now that I was not a threat.
“I don’t know yet. I’m a flight attendant.”
With a smile and small look downward, she revealed that she knew she had lost this amicable standoff. I continued through the airport looking for more signs of heightened security, but I only found the familiar beautiful ceiling fountain in the central terminal of Ben Gurion. I was surprised how quickly they let me out of the airport onto the street, free to get in and cause trouble. Set free on Israel without even one interrogation at gunpoint.
Leaving the airport, I realized I might be in for some rhythm problems, as I had not slept on the plane. Nine hours of being forced to sit still was the perfect time to read and watch movies, not time to be wasted sleeping. And now I had arrived bright and early in the morning after blasting past the sun at nearly the speed that it was moving the opposite way. So, instead of dealing with finding the train into the city, I opted for the no-hassle straight shot of the taxi.
I took out the scribbled paper and told my brother’s address to the driver. Eventually we were in accordance and on our way to King George, Tel Aviv. En route, I experienced my first language barrier in a long time. The driver turned around and tried to speak to me. But, my spotty knowledge of the Hebrew alphabet and remnant memory of prayers did not exactly permit communication with the hairy cab driver.
I wanted so badly to get ‘the scoop’ and have my first real interaction in Israel. Instead, I sat in silence and wondered what the driver could have told me about the curious territory we were passing through. So at that moment, I determined myself to learn a spit of Hebrew during my time in Israel. But, the 60s-style Hebrew rock ballad matched my spirit of optimism about my upcoming adventures and I was forced to sit back and relax.
The taxi pulled up to Kibbutz Leni. It didn’t look like much from the outside, but I could tell that good times were had there. There was a young Australian guy in green running shorts standing around who was immediately friendly to me. We made friends and decided that during my stay we would invent better and better handshake routines. He gave me a quick rundown of his opinion of all the places to eat and then said he had to run, but he would see me later. I took a quick nap soon after, and when I woke up my brother had arrived back from work.
Here we were, brothers nearly 7000 miles away from our birthplace, in the Land of Milk and Honey.
I was taken on a whirlwind tour and introduced to what seemed like endless bright and welcoming faces. It was like being inducted into a club. My brother had spread excitement about my arrival and everyone quickly accepted me as a member. That night we went out to participate in some karaoke. The streets of Tel Aviv were dirty, but safe. The Bauhaus buildings were a familiar but more exotic form of the tropical style I was used to in South Florida. And, the cafes and spirit of bohemia far surpassed that of Brooklyn. Late at night, the city reflected a friendly neighborhood vibe versus the fast-moving day. This was the city that represented the Jewish spring revival and entrance into the modern world. Here, the Jewish people were living life in the sun, enjoying the new comforts of life, representing an old people. It is an old, new city.
After a quick spat of fun in Tel Aviv, Larry and I decided to scoot over to Jerusalem for Shabbat dinner. We made the last bus over and arrived shortly before sundown. We found our way to the building of some acquaintances of my brother and I was overcome by the friendly scene of Shabbat dinner with my new Jewish friends. We drank and talked all night, and every person’s contribution shone of sophistication, interest, and friendship.
The next day, Larry and I ventured into the Old City. We became lost on the way and rerouted through Mt Scopus. We were racing to meet the walking tour on time and sweating profusely by the time we arrived. We discovered just how tough it would have been to siege the city running uphill from the Northeast. The formidable walls of the city were then looming over us as we searched for an entrance. We high-tailed it through the smooth-block, narrow alleyways and up and down the stairs. People of a far more conservative nature than us peeked at us from their lives wondering what could require such hurry on Sabbath morning. The group was just leaving when we managed to join it and received an excellent guided tour of one of the holiest and most important cities in History.
On the tour I met a Dutch girl and the both of us decided to stow away for an adventure since Larry had to return to work. The next day we met an Austrian kid and invited him along as well and he decided to be our driver. We rented a car and began navigating our way to the Dead Sea. We disregarded our GPS and began driving off road through the mountains. Incredible crevices and cliff-faces surrounded us as we navigated the curvy roads. Through the clearing appeared a city in the desert with a large percentage of green to it. This, we realized was the oasis city of Jericho.
At the sight of Palestinian flags on the buildings, I thought to myself that we had made a grave mistake.
I then asked both of my friends if they were Jewish and I was nervous to learn that I was the only Jew. But, we drove through the city and the people did not look radical as they drank coffee and smoked shisha outside of restaurants. So we went out to explore and found they spoke English quite well and were extremely hospitable and nice. After exploring some ruins we were on our way cruising down the coast of the Dead Sea. I found the water to be miraculously buoyant, but quite painful and made a vow never to enter again without goggles.
After swimming, we continued our journey south. We were disappointed to learn that Masada was closed at the time we arrived, but we found a mountain and we hiked up just before sunset. The three of us consumed a bottle of wine as the night darkened and then gazed at stars, tossing rocks off the cliff, hearing them splinter and crash to their new homes below where they might lie for thousands of years.
We dropped the Austrian back off in Jerusalem and the Dutch girl and I began our drive back to Tel Aviv.
I was deeply exhausted at this point, but my spirits lifted at the specter of visiting my father’s old friend, Joe, down in Eilat. The son of a Pulitzer Prize winning writer and American expatriate, it was certain to be an enlightening experience. On the bus ride down to the corner of Israel, one can really get a feel for the landscape of the Middle East. The light, welcoming beige color of the mountains and dunes are deceiving; they have been there for a long time, and are not going anywhere no matter how much more developed Israel becomes.
I arrived at Joe’s semi-luxurious apartment. It seemed like it was kept stowed away from the world in a perpetual state of vacation. His place was one of the only constructions on an area of land just beyond the mega hotels. Under the slanted overhanging window of his elevated loft was a lagoon with a couple boats tied up. At the end of the outdoor hall of units was a beautiful boardwalk topped off with an infinity pool in perfect view of the setting sun and the Gulf of Aqaba.
Joe was brimming with hospitality. One more, young Jew enjoying himself in Israel was a confirmation to him of his strong allegiance to the Land of the Jews. He told me how he took a hiatus from law school at Columbia to serve in the Israeli Navy. He pointed proudly to the picture of him and his father aboard his Barak ship during the victory tour after battle. Joe and I spoke of literature and movies and I was impressed to learn that he was a writer and former producer.
The rest of my time there, Joe would continue to tend to his duties and keep his Internet followers informed of developments and evidence of reason to be concerned. We ‘geeked’ out most nights, sharing music and reading passages of our writings to each other. I even had the thrill of my life to participate in a Talmudic learning session with his father via Skype. Joe and I watched “Lawrence of Arabia” and marveled at how the both of us were a half an hour walk from the site of the Battle of Aqaba.
I finally settled on leaving, excited to return to the party that is Tel Aviv. I returned late at night and made my way back to Kibbutz Leni. Everyone was there, buzzing in wait for the fun of the weekend to start. I went out to purchase liquor to increase the merriness. On the way I discovered how quickly I had built a life on Tel Aviv. I was greeted and missed by the people at the grocery stores and bakeries next door, the sloppy guard at the mall was excited to see me again, and unfortunately for my brain cells, I was well received by my friends at the liquor store again, beckoned to taste their new arrivals. I certainly felt like I was becoming part of the community of the city.
When I got back to Larry’s room, I decided I would be taking a nap shortly in preparation for the parties to come that night. I looked at “The Epic Guide to Hebrew Grammar” and told it that one day soon I will know its contents in my head. I gazed towards the open window overlooking the park with its dogs roaming and kids playing, teasing each other with more advanced Hebrew than mine.
At Kibbutz Leni, we poured our drinks and gathered to see what makeshift costumes everyone had prepared for Halloween. The room was a vibrant scene of young Jewish kids from all over laughing and confirming friendships, all of us proud of our varying national identities but our one, strong common uniting theme: Judaism. We boarded the city bus and were on our way to the Florentine.
The following day, I sat on the stairs outside the building of my brother’s room and surveyed my experience in Israel. So many people had been so quickly adopted as close friends and cared for. This certainly felt like an important place to be. Israel was making moves, increasing the lot of the Jewish people. It made me think of Ernest Hemingway and Henry Miller in Paris in the early 20th century. Here we have another thriving community with the world watching. Here moves were being made within a framework of an identity. The fact is, there is no place a Jew in their 20’s belongs more than in Tel Aviv. That’s where the real opportunity is and that’s where hundreds of thousands of Jews are waiting to be your brother and your friend.