Religion & Beliefs

Birth Writing: Fear And Loathing In Tel Aviv

More drinking and stumbling through Israel. This time with Kanye West quotes. Read More

By / March 2, 2011
Jewcy loves trees! Please don't print!

January 4th, 2011 – 7:21 AM in Tel Aviv. I was still half drunk, despite a decent night’s sleep and a strange shower and chugging my body weight in water. I’d been wearing sunglasses inside and had commandeered a soldier’s navy hat. At the time I was convinced I was pulling it off–with typical gusto no less–but I have a sneaking suspicion that I was all alone in that belief. It’s ok. Forward thinkers have been persecuted since the invention of forward thinking. As the American poet Kanye West once wrote: “I’m ahead of my time, sometimes years out, so the powers that be won’t let me get my ideas out.”

Ugh. Uuuuuuugggggghhhhhhh. Say it with me, folks. This is how I was feeling. This was the sound every piece of me made; like I was the depressing stale-beer squeeze toy for the entire universe. I’d known this was coming. We could smell it on the wind. Tel Aviv is reputedly the wildest city in a country full of wild cities and so far it has exceeded expectations.

I don’t know how much I can actually discuss about the previous night’s activities so just in case, I’ll pose the following as pure hypothetical: IF I had been elected to organize and coordinate a secret hotel room party, and IF I had successfully collected the better part of a thousand shekels and IF I had recruited a team of duffel bag-bearing hustlers to journey off-site and purchase a staggering variety of bottles and IF I had convinced a room full of lovely women to let me take over, rearrange their furniture and invite my 42 best friends in this city to attain highly altered states in the pursuit of truth, beauty and delirious happiness, and IF we pulled the whole god damn caper off with legendary zeal, well, could I get a hypothetical DAYENU!

But none of that happened, OK? Don’t put your words in my mouth.

Our trip leaders, Matt and Talia–patient, caring, shockingly responsible and truly, two of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met–had started shepherding us onto the bus that morning, where I would sit, with my cap pulled down over my tightly-shut eyes, as we wound our way through Tel Aviv traffic. Beyond the partying and the bullshit, Israel had lit a fire in my soul, and it is assuredly Matt and Talia who hold the matches. I owe them a tremendous debt, one I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to truly repay.

I had begun carrying my notebook everywhere – a pocket-sized moleskin with a Jack of Hearts playing card glued to the cover (it bears my initials, alright, fuck off) – in which I had been furiously scribbling notes on my experience. In the back of the bus that morning, with the weight of my stolen sailor’s cap bearing down on my still-pounding skull, I was no longer able to turn phrases for your amusement.

So: here, for your enjoyment: an uncensored excerpt from my chicken-scratch archives.

10:49 AM: We huddle in a sustained-living greenhouse maintained by Arab Israelis, a strange dichotomy whose existence I had so far been unaware of. Israel is a Jewish state in staggering turmoil, a beacon of hope for one people which has for nearly 70 years been inspiring others to seek their personal lands of milk and honey, or more realistically, to try to make it work here in ours. To say “I am an Israeli” is to imply “I am a Jew.” The two are nearly impossible to separate. These Arab Israelis spend their lives politely correcting the false assumptions of strangers. Yes, I am Israeli. No, I am not a Jew. I am Muslim, and I live here, and I am at peace. To turn them away from this paradise we have made is to make ourselves no better than those who persecute us. And thus the great debate: who shall be saved?

The rain has started now, thick drops thudding against the rooftop tarp with an immensely satisfying pitter-patter that whispers through the building as we pace among the plants. We are drinking tea that has steeped, it seems, for hours on an open fire, sweetened and flavored with honey and lemons that have been grown here in this very greenhouse. The effect is on the whole gentle, tender, and outrageously calming.

I am one with the land, and we are both at peace.

DOGS! Wet dogs! Collarless, ownerless, boundless friendly wet dogs freely running everywhere, their slick fur clinging tight to their sides. Here, they are domesticated only to the distinct lack of domestication.

I play with one. I fall in love. I have named him Charles, possibly after his father. I wonder if they would notice if I took him with me. I wonder if he’s docile enough to take the trip in the overhead compartment. It’s only a fifteen-hour flight. Dogs can do that, right?

So many young people, people my age, living off the land and making it their livelihood. I could do this, a fact I am constantly reminded by nearly everyone we encounter. I could give up my Los Angeles life and live modestly here, the sun tanning my back as I toil out in the fields. At night I would share what little food I had with whosoever could fit around my campfire. Ahhh fuck. I’d miss my DVR. How else could I record 30 Rock?

Sad but true. I am weak. These people are not. They are the antithesis of weakness. They are selfless and helpful and beautiful all, and motivated and captivating and the best versions of themselves. I am jealous of their freedoms, of their carefree abandon and their strong arms and tanned skin and much more specifically, of their friendly wet dogs.

Like my main man Mandela, we’ll stick with Invictus, folks: I am captain of my own ship, master of my own fate. To say I haven’t thought about living here would be a boldfaced lie. Plus, you know, I bet I could figure out how to access Hulu; I’m good with that kind of shit.

We smile. We laugh. We walk the grounds. We take pictures. We shake their hands and hug, when the inclination strikes, which it does, always, like miraculous clockwork. We leave, wistful and inspired and desperately missing a wet dog possibly named after his father.

So long for now, folks. Thanks for paying attention. I tip my captain’s hat to each and every one of you, and for good measure, top it off with a suggestive eyebrow waggle.

With all of my love and at least some of my respect, this is your captain, signing off.

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