Sunday, December 29, 2013

Moving on

Normally, I force myself to take a deep breath and write my thoughts as a way of getting full value from my experiences, but this trip has been a frantic squeezing of every possibility into the mere 24 hours of a day on Earth. I haven't had time to just think.

On the other hand, I have definitely accomplished my goal of moving on with life and making sure that Israel is part of that equation. This has meant introducing Diane to my two Israeli families, showing her my beloved city – Tel Aviv, eating in all my favorite places, meeting many of my friends (there is no chance for her to meet them all in 2 weeks) and, for me, feeling at home in Israel without an Israeli partner. One week into the trip and I can already proclaim, “Mission accomplished!”

Since we arrived, we have been to Caesaria with my buddy Snait, visited my high school roommate Gilli, spend time in Akko and Rosh Hanikra, walked King George and Shuk Hacarmel on Friday, saw many close friends and ate enough to feed a whole brigade of IDF soldiers.

Tonight we have dinner in Ramallah with my friend Hania Bitar, whom I have been told by many, could be the first Palestinian woman Prime Minister. We will have breakfast tomorrow with my Talmud teacher from the Hartman Institute, Yair Eldan, and we will finish the day in Tel Aviv with my dear friends Effie and Sasha. Sasha was there when I became a father and has been a close buddy ever since. Tuesday we will get a tour of the eastern Galil and Golan Heights from my buddy Gilli, and Wednesday night we will sleep at my high school teacher and friend, Lori’s, house. To top off a great trip, Thursday night, my classmates from the Kfar Hayarok are having a reunion. And how is this for good planning, on Saturday when we depart, instead of being sad, we will fly to Amman and spend 22 hours with my old friend Khaldoun Dajani and his family.

Life is good and my waistline is growing.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Blogging as a way of staying awake

Often one writes in a blog for an audience, but sometimes writing just helps you in the fight against jet lag. Right now it's the latter. It's seven PM and my eyelids are begging to close the store for the night. I need to make it to double digits.

Today was a great start to our trip. Snait's husband, Yaron, runs a farm on Kibbutz Givat Brenner and grows what might be the tastiest avocados ever. These together with jachnun, tachina and salad were a scrumptious and healthy (it's all relative) start to the day.

Ancient Caesarea was our first stop, and, true to form, I bumped into someone I know - my friend Mike Hollander, a tour guide who was leading a group of tourists. The next stop was the Electric Company's Hedera power station where my roommate from high school, Gilli, is in charge of security. Gilli has been my Moroccan brother since 1980 when we first milked cows together. Next week he will take us for a tour of northern Israel. The last time he did this for me, I was traveling with my friend Patrick, an Irish Catholic (secular), and Gilli took us to his friend's restaurant at Caperum, the place where JC was supposed to have walked on the water. With typical Israeli tact, to entertain us during lunch, they told jokes - Jesus jokes. If it wasn't so surreal, it would have been embarrassing, but Patrick took it well.

We also had coffee at Kibbutz Sdot Yam. Oh, to be a socialist living on the sea shore. And later we went to Shula's Fish and Seafood Restaurant. Wow! it was so good. Diane joined the clean plate club by finishing all her shrimp. I couldn't bring myself to eat trayf, but I will eat chicken or beef in non-kosher restaurants here. In America, I don't eat non-kosher meat as a kind of self discipline to remind myself of my identity.

This may not sound like a very dynamic day, but it was really great introducing some of my closest friends in Israel to Diane, and I'm sure this is helping her understand her boyfriend better. All good in the promised land.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Waking up in the promised land

Jet lag is a terrible thing. I thought that if I stayed up to reminisce with my old friend Snait (Yes, her parents named her squirrel) until 1:30 in the AM, I would sleep late and get on the right sleep schedule. Apparently, the right schedule for me in Israel is contrary to Benjamin Franklin's pronouncement that "early to rise and early to bed makes a man healthy and wealthy and dead." In Israel, I just don't sleep, and I'm no healthier or wealthier for it. And, of course, my writing is testimony to my being alive. You might conclude, ala Descarte, "I write therefore I am." In truth, I wouldn't mind some more sleep.
During my first stint in Israel, starting in 1980 at the Kfar Hayarok, I was a dairy farmer and I woke up every morning at 3 AM to milk the cows. Rising early continued with the army.
The second major stint in Israel was 1991 through '96 when I lived here with Irit and rose early to run on the beach every morning in Tel Aviv. I thought it would make me tired and help me sleep longer, but as the "best laid plans of mice and men," it didn't work out as predicted. I slept less and still continued to live with full vitality and vigor. I can't put my finger on it, but there is something about this place that makes me want to be awake and experience all that is here for me to experience. As Warren Zevon sang while dying of prostrate cancer, "I'll sleep when I'm dead."

Saturday, December 21, 2013

To Zion, again

Tomorrow I return to my adopted home, Israel, and my favorite city, Tel Aviv, for the first time since the restructuring of my family. I'll travel with my new partner, Diane, and make all the requisite introductions. She will meet my friends, see my country, eat in my favorite restaurants and walk my favorite streets. I am full of excitement and trepidation.
The first time I traveled to Israel was 1967, right after the Six Day War. I might as well have been my parents' baggage because I was two at the time and have no recollection of the trip. I returned when I was ten, the summer after my parents divorce. I didn't like Israel because it meant being away from my father, but I do remember having a lot of fun. That summer, we lived with my mom's first boyfriend, Danny, and his wife and two kids, in a 2 bedroom apartment in Givataim. We spent our days at the beach and the nights eating falafel and hanging out with friends. Israel was still a product of its socialist roots, and it seemed like everyone had just about the same amount of stuff. There was only one TV channel and everyone listened to The Voice of Peace. This was the Israel that I fell in love with, despite the absence of my dad.
Five years later, after being influenced by my Labor Zionist youth movement, Habonim, I decided to try a year of high school in the Kfar Hayarok, an Israeli agricultural boarding school on the northern border of Tel Aviv. My fate was sealed.
After what became three years of high school, delivering hundreds of baby calves, falling in love for the first time, traveling all over the country and being adopted by all my classmates families, I decided to become Israeli. This wasn't an ideological move. I couldn't imagine myself living anywhere else. I didn't think about the ugly war the country was fighting in Lebanon or the occupation of our Palestinian neighbors in the West Bank and Gaza. I thought about milking cows and being close to friends.
OK maybe it was ideological. I carried a copy of the Israeli Declaration of Independence in my wallet, dreamed of being a hero like Trumpeldor, and building a new kibbutz that would double as an artist colony.
After the army, I went to school at UCLA. The Intifada helped me feel good about the fact that I wasn't in Israel. I studied art and film and gave up my dreams of living on a kibbutz with my girlfriend Estee. However, A few girlfriends later, I was back on my way to Tel Aviv for another stint in the land I call home. This time with Irit, I was a television editor and multimedia producer. I made new friends and strengthened old friendships. We started our family and I felt at home, at least until my dying grandfather asked me to come back to America and help him with his business.

Thirteen years later, I returned again, the father of three and a doctor of education. I studied to become a rabbi, but my school closed unexpectedly and I left after two years, this time with a family and lots of responsibilities. I didn't want to leave, but my kids were not thrilled with my chosen homeland and making ends meet was a challenge. Israel had changed. By 2011, we had exceeded 40 years of occupation, both blurred the green line and built a wall on or close to it, and the country had become ultra capitalist. As much as I hated to go, it was the right thing to do. Little did I know that within a year of my return to America, my marriage would start to crumble and the earth below me would start to shake. Everything came apart and I hit bottom. Then I met my traveling companion and life partner, and now here I go again, back across lakes and seas and oceans to my tiny little country with my wonderful group of friends and my huge bundle of memories. Excited and nervous, I can't wait to get back home.