Sadly, sickness and sleepiness have kept me most consistently out of commission these past few nights. We got to Tel Aviv yesterday, and I mustered up the strength to explore the coastline with some Tawonga folks and new friends, only to then fall asleep (literally) at the table after I had finished my single frosty glass of “Gold Star” dark lager. Truly, jetlag, sickness, and a small helping of Israeli beer have conspired to make a lightweight of me.
At this point, so much has happened, and I am beginning to feel that it may be best to split up the next few post into separate summaries of this trip from different perspectives. It feels like there’s been multiple layers to my time thus far in Israel, and that it may best to move through them thematically first, with perhaps some attempt later to tie them together, or explain/explore the connections between them. Tonight, being that it is our last night, I want to focus on some of the “highlights” – the fun, silly, and positive experiences I’ve come away with. After this, my hope is to plunge a bit deeper into some thoughts on what’s actually going on here (at least from what I can tell), as well as a separate post about birthright, and (fingers crossed) some thoughts about “sustainability” in Israel.
For now – we’ll go with a classic. A top 10 list. Meant not necessarily to capture the top, but at the very least, a range of experiences indicative of the good times had.
Highlight #1 – Best thing about Israel? The Capoeira of course!
Last night, as we wandered the sultry coastline of Tel Aviv, drawn like giddy Gatsby’s towards the glowing green turrets of the old city of Jaffa, we came across a group of folks who were practicing – not capoeira itself – but the Brazilian music to which people would listen to whilst engaging in capoeira. Capoeira, if you aren’t familiar, is what folks refers to in layman’s terms as “dance fighting” or “breakdance fighting”. It’s a really cool Brazilian form of martial arts that in many ways is like contact improv without the contact (otherwise, you could get beat up). I just got a kick out of the fact that, of all the folks we bumped into during our free time in Israel, we find the one group of three or four guys celebrating a Brazilian (and decidedly un-Jewish) tradition. We got down and funky with them before heading further down the coast.
Highlight #2 – Sunrise in the desert
After having gone to bed at 7:30pm in a “bedouin tent” (I hope you can see me curling my fingers into apostrophes here), I woke up around 4am with a poem in my head, which I then preceded to write down prior to stumbling over my fellow trip mates on my way out of the tent. Not wanting to risk the journey back, I found a seat by a dying fire outside, and coaxed it back into life as I awaited the sunrise. Besides feeling good about having discovered the secret location of the bedouin instant coffee machine (no apostrophes here), I gotta say – being up for this sunrise: pretty gosh darn worth it (isn’t that always the case anyway?).
Highlight #3 – Shaving a couple days ago
It just feels GREAT.
Highlight #4 – Freeeeeeeeeeedom
This trip has been hyper-itinerized, and it was amazing yesterday and today to feel the effects of just being able to sit and enjoy the company of others, and to watch the happenings of a city from something other than the large windows of a tour bus. It was great to feel like we could actually “find” things, as opposed to being shown or told them. As we were wandering the streets of Tel Aviv today from 2-5, looking for lunch, I stopped a mother and daughter walking past to ask them if they had any recommendations for places to eat (realizing that, without a recommendation or guidance, our group psychology would likely lead to us becoming true wandering Jews, looking blindly for either cheap eats or manna from the sky), and they directed us to a lovely spot nearby to a market. All I’ll say is: roasted pepper, goat cheese, pesto, and fresh, fresh olive oil. These things very much fall within the purview of “how I do”.
Highlight #5 – Driving my first electric car
More to come on this – certainly wasn’t something I was expecting, and I was skeptical at first, but definitely got my wheels turning. Today we were taken to a “Better Place” (not sure if that’s figurative or literal yet), an Israeli start up that is hoping to build the infrastructure for a system of fully electric, plug-in cars. It made sense as a way to show Israel’s modern, innovative, and forward-looking side (makes me just want to pinch its cheeks), and yet – knowing that we had 20 minutes at the Western wall compared with an hour and a half driving an electric car; or 6 hours at the big birthright “mega-event” (read: Jewish rave without drugs (I think?)); Math here seems a little off… But hey, this is the positive post! 😉
Highlight #6 – The Western Wall
I was in need of a wall to lean on that day, and in all truth, my experience at the Western Wall moved me to tears. It was a combination of the day, the prayer paper slipped among the thousands of others, stuffed into those ancient crevices and cracks, and the fervor of those around me that I think brought my emotions to such a point of overflowing. It was incredible and moving, and I can safely say the most deeply emotional moment from my trip.
Highlight #7 – Refusing Tefillin
As I was walking towards the Western Wall, I was approached by a couple of Orthodox Jewish men who urged me to take Tefillin. For those who don’t know what Tefillin is, check this and this out. Suffice to say it’s an old, orthodox tradition (for men only… hmmm…) that involves wrapping ones arm and head with a leather strap connected to two boxes – one that sits on your forehead and the other on your forearm – each holding an important piece of Jewish scripture. It’s important to know that it’s a mitzvah for Orthodox Jews to give Tefillin to others, as well as to wrap themselves in it.
The reason refusing it was a highlight for me? The gentleman who approached me was, as you might imagine, fairly pushy about me being wrapped up (gotta get those mitzvahs). I was quite honest with him and told him, “I’m sorry, I don’t know how quite to say this, but it feels right for me to approach the Wall as I am now, and that is what I want to do.” He wasn’t going down that easy: “My friend, it is a mitzvah; it will take two minutes”. Me: “Yeah, I just really would feel better going straight to the wall. It’s just a feeling a I have.” And here’s the clincher. His response: “My friend, do not go with feeling, go with your thoughts. You have nothing to lose and only to gain. Come, it will take two minutes” Indeed: nothing to lose, I suppose, but my ability to choose. And I gotta say: choosing to go with what my heart/gut tells me, regardless, always seems to feel pretty good. My experience of the Western Wall, as evidenced by highlight #6, was nary dampened by my lack of wrapping, and I’m sure my friend performed many a miztvah that day. May we meet again to discuss such things.
Highlight #8 – The Q-tip I just put in my ear
All those who have gone q-tipless for a week or more know what I’m talking about here. Wow…
And since that was sort of spur of the moment, a second, more substantial #8 – Realizing on the last day that Mindy from Alabama and I have a mutual connection!
Alana! Are you there?! We realized today that we both knew you when Mindy was describing this one time she punched you in the stomach at the movie theater, causing an unfortunate chain reaction, which we very nearly re-enacted in the streets of Tel Aviv! To think – it took us all this time to discover the connection!
Highlight #9 – Finishing the Count of Monte Cristo
1095 pages, and each one of them so amazing. Having the Count with me made being sick/spending many hours in a tour bus quite enjoyable, though I think many of the young-‘uns on this trip may have thought of me as an old codger because of my dedication to this book. After patiently making my way through all those pages, and (I think?) overcoming my reading narcolepsy in the process, I can’t think of a better, more poetic ending. Truly worth every page and the wait.
Highlight #10 – The Dead Sea
For all you water lovers out there – don’t let the touristy nature of this place deter you. There is really nothing like the absolute feeling of weightlessness being in that water. As someone who has been a sinker from a young age (swim tests at camp… always so much harder for me than everyone else), I felt redeemed by that salty water, if not a bit stung by it too.
Here’s me getting cheeky at the Dead Sea:
Any wishing to see some beautiful pictures of the moon at the Dead Sea, let me know 😉
So much love,