So much can change in a week. Or in a day. Or in an hour. Or in 10 minutes. I’m in Jerusalem now. Nothing new with there, right? Wrong. This isn’t my home any more than is Tel Aviv or Tzfat or Dimona or some cave in the Judean Hills.
A little more than a week ago though, this was my home. I had an apartment with posters and furniture and food. I had bills to pay. I had bills to pay. I had bills to pay. I had final exams and papers at Hebrew University. My mom, dad and sister were here, and I was guiding them down the golden alleys of Nachlaot, introducing them to friends and teachers and my life, my home.
Then, about a week ago, these connections to this city started to become untied, my life became unknotted. I washed and packed my clothes into a few bags, sold empty beer bottles for shekels at the store across the street, left sheets and towels and Sager’s shoes on a table in the street with a sign in Hebrew letting people know they could take the stuff. I sold the fridge. I painted over the mold on the bathroom walls, took my carefully collected stock of music-show posters off the walls and packed away my own drawings, too. In their wake, I painted over the bare spots and finger smudges. A friend came over, read my meters, called the electricity people, the water people, rattled off credit card numbers in Hebrew, paid my bills. The landlord stopped by. He saw the painted walls and the empty rooms and handed me back a fat stack of deposit money. I handed him the keys. I was standing in someone else’s apartment.
The tests came and went, I finished a paper and hit the road for Fleet Family Fun Week. When we left town, most of the friends I had made over the semester were still there. They were doing the same moving and writing and testing. Most wouldn’t be there when I returned. Some left to work at summer camps. Some went back for summer school. The others, I’m not sure. I don’t even remember where some of them lived. Jerusalem isn’t Gainesville. It isn’t Friends & Friends. It isn’t downtown, midtown, campus. It’s a thousand different neighborhoods with a million different bars and shops and rip offs and revelations. I couldn’t ride my bike for five minutes and be at a friends house where all my other friends would be with their own bikes lining the walls. I don’t have a bike here, for that matter. I could walk a few minutes and visit a couple different people in Nachlaot. I could walk 20 minutes and visit a couple more in Rechavia. I could take a bus from my side of town to campus and spend time in the dorms. But that whole journey would be at least 45 minutes one way. And if I wanted to stay late all the way out there, I could count on having to pay top dollar for a cab ride back. This all amounted to pockets of friends or individuals who were generally mutually exclusive. And there was never enough time to learn about their lives for no fault other than my own.
Anyway, we left town to travel around in a rental car for the week. My parents had planned each day to the minute. We were in five cities in as many hours and the time spent with eyes closed was never enough. One day it was the 5,000-year-old ruins of Beit She’an, fresh fish on the Kinneret in Tiberias with a now-married childhood friend and several cats, a self-guided walking tour of Tsfat that ended in nervous collapse after hours of being lost and getting bad directions or not ignoring instincts, a hysterical drive around Khatzor where we were two hours late to a meeting of the local Jewish Agency where we were supposed to give a gift from some community in Palm Beach in which the entire town of real-live no-English-whatsoever Israelis was directing us this way and that or calling this or that relative for advice or directing us to the police car which then escorted us to a place that certainly was not the place we needed to be until somehow, by the grace of God and dozens of people we didn’t know who had nothing better to do because there is only one traffic light in Khatzor, we arrived at the meeting just as it was ending. Then we drove down the road to Kibbutz Ami’ad where we promptly collapsed.
The next day was less lost. That’s because we had a guide. He sat in the front passenger seat and told my dad where to turn. He was bald, his nose was huge, he spoke basically perfect English in the softest, kindest voice. He grew up in Kfar Blum. He fought in ’67 and ’73 and ’80. He knew everyone, everywhere. He spoke Arabic. He loved Israel, was excited about Obama, felt the suffering of the Palestinians. He knew every back road of the North and took us to some breathtaking sites. There was the Naot factory. The road there is lined with huge cypress trees. The Israelis planted them so that the nearby Syrians couldn’t see who or what was travelling where. Now the trees just block the view of stunning mountains. There was a boutique winery up one of those mountains in Edom. By 11:30, I was drunk. And then we took a quick hike to another beautiful view, stood on the edge of a giant “hole” in the earth where trees grew big and sideways as if they were frozen on the edge of the most fertile black hole this side of the Jordan River. The drives were rife with stories of the wars that had taken place along the roads and in the valleys we were passing. Now, it was silent and so so peaceful. Once, twice, thrice, there was the thunder of battle and the blood of kids trying to change the world, or at least save their own. We were near a lake at some point. I forget the name. Next to it was a Druze village. We ate on a hill in a Druze restaurant by an open, breezy window that looked out over that lake. There was Nimrod’s Castle, its ancient Arabic stones, its hidden staircases, its silence. There was a the highest point in the area, a kibbutz where you could clearly see a town in Syria. It was so close. It didnt’ look any different than the towns on the Israeli side. The meaning of the word boundary began to fall apart in my mind. We ate dinner in Rosh Pinah, drank a bit in a bar there and again returned to Kibbutz Ami’ad to pass out.
The next crack of morning we were off to Akko. We wandered around the old city there, ate hummus in a restaurant that didn’t have a menu because it only served hummus and coffee and only charged for the hummus. Found our way to the Ramhal’s synagogue. The man there told a story to us which I then translated for my parents and sister. Here’s the story: The Ramhal was a rabbi who started out in Italy but eventually made his way to Akko via Jerusalem, I believe. He wrote a lot of books. He wrote 71, to be exact. They were philosophical, kabbalistic, moral books. He was brilliant but humble. Normally in a synagogue, the place where the rabbi stands is physically raised above where the congregants sit. In this shul, the bimah was actually dug down below the seats. Anyway, the Ramhal told his disciples to bury all of his books when he died. They did this, but one guy, who knew where the books were, dug one of them up. It was a book about ethics. The man travelled to Vilna where he brought the book to the Vilna Gaon, one of the greatest Jewish thinkers of the past several centuries. He told the VG he had a book from the Ramhal. Ol’ VG asked him to run and bring him the book. The man did so and when the Gaon saw it he went into shock. He then read the book. And read it again. And read it again. The Vilna Gaon then exclaimed that, if the Ramhal were still alive, he would travel from Vilna by foot to study at the man’s feet. He also said that there was not a single unnecessary word in this book.
In Akko, we saw another synagogue that was, from top to bottom, all three floors, covered in mosaics. The man who greeted us at the door and told us about the place was the man who had the idea for the shul and who started working on it. Needless to say, its fucking crazy. Visit it if you can.
When then drove on to Haifa, where we ate falafel, bought memory cards for my parents camera because my dad couldn’t go a single second without capturing the scene, and found the highest, most-unobstructed view of the B’hai Gardens. A young girl was standing up there blowing a shofar. It was chokingly hot. The gardens were almost too perfect. We made our way to the tourist street of Zichron Yaakov. It was ridiculously hot there. We went to the old ruins of Caesarea. It was a sweat lodge there. My head was pulsating. My body was sticky. I couldn’t drink enough water, or keep my eyes open for very long. I felt like a kid again, complaining to my parents, thinking only of myself, staying in the car in silent protest when we got to the ancient aqueduct toward sundown. But finally, we were in Tel Aviv, in the down-comforter-and-endless-complementary-chocolate arms of a four-star hotel on the Mediterranean and after all was said in done, cold hard sleep did come.
Of course, I can keep going. Do you want to hear the rest? There were so many restaurants. There were so many people on the beach. So many closed museums. Too much to tell really. Saturday night, after Old Jaffa, my sister and I headed out to Flourentine to meet with friends. We wandered over to the Hudna for drinks, met random people there and then got in the taxi of a mad, young, industrial beat-loving Russian. He dropped us off at The Block. There was an trance dance party going on there. It never ends, does it? All of this, the music, the food, the money, the sun, the beach, the moon. We end, I’m sure. But the party rages forever. That’s what Tel Aviv feels like.
My family’s final day in Israel was marked by a bit of tragedy. I won’t recount it, but they got off to the airport just fine and are now back in the waves of Florida heat. My dad thinks he’ll never come back to this place. I think he loved it but, given that it took 50 years for him to make it, I understand why he feels this way. My mom can’t help but start planning her next trip. My sister, B”H, will make on to a Birthright bus or a JLI-type trip within the near future. I saw more in this week than probably during the rest of my time here. But that’s because I can’t do the micro-managed minute-to-minute planning thing. Everything I’ve done since January has been decided upon minutes or, if I’m smart, hours before doing it. I look for quality, not quantity. But I’ve seen that you can have quality in quantity, and for that, and so much indescribably more, I am thankful.
They went off, and I went off. I had a single paper left to write and rework before the whole bridge became undone. Yesterday, I finished that paper, and now it’s three weeks of living day by day. I came back to Jerusalem after a week with the family and I wasn’t quite returning home. I have no keys, and after this paper, no real ties to this city. Most of my friends are gone. New friends have shown up on various summer programs. I can leave at the drop of a thought and only a few people will notice. It’s terrifying, nerve-racking, it’s only three short weeks.
I’ma hit the road, I’ma hit it hard. To myself and to the rest of you, whether you’re still here, back in the South, following Phish again, in India, in NYC, wherever you may be, I wish you safe travels, long cool nights, hot food, smiling friends and peace peace peace.
See you out there…
Also, good luck, Mom. Love you