july 4, 1999
tel aviv - los angeles
it's my last day in tel aviv. my last day in israel. my last day in the mideast.
i'm going home. sad. i stick to my routine - do nothing new or out of the
ordinary. i take my walk, buy leora and roni, my generous neve tzedek hosts,
some fresh-cut flowers from the market, and oh yes, i buy a “USA today” - that's
new. i see my maniacal candy stand vendor - from a distance – the one who
threatened to bash my skull in with a club just a few days back. i make sure he
doesn't spot me out of the crowd. to my surprise though, i'm not afraid. i have
my doubts that he'd even recognize me at all. i make a small breakfast, scour
leora's kitchen, clean the bathroom, and straighten the bed. i walk down to the
beach, take a swim, and linger to watch the burnt orange ball of a sun set
gracefully over the mediterranean. the various swimmers, walkers, tourists,
frisbee throwers, and drummers on the beach are all backlit in silhouette; it's
as resonant and memorable as a picture post card. in fact, i take my last photo,
hearing the ratchet sound of the film rewind in the camera - like an instant
replay of my entire journey.
click: white-stoned, divided and historical jerusalem; i’ve just arrived at the
moravs in rehavia. click: late-night, trendy and cultural tel aviv; benny and i
cruise the white beach and neon streets. click: the chaotic palestinian west
bank; i reluctantly put on “tallit” & “tefillin” in the cave of makhpela. click:
russian immigrant haifa and the north; yaron, the dungeon master takes me to
fortified akko. click: the arid negev and too many buses back and across the
parching desert. click: sinai, egypt, cairo, alexandria. bedouins, pyramids,
camels, and durrell. click: upper galilee, following in the footsteps of jesus
of nazareth. click: the golan heights, katushyas, jeep tours, jimmy, & tzipper.
click: amman, jordan, petra, and wadi rum. moses, constantine, saladin, and
sulieman the magnificent. balfour, ben gurion, barak, and arafat. click. click.
it's now nine o'clock. my last night. orlee, dan, leora, and a few other of my
tel avivan friends are all inside dan's small but well-appointed apartment
watching my documentary film about me and my criminal uncle harvey. i'm sitting
outside on dan's doorstep, nervously waiting for the film to end and just as
nervously, anticipating my long trip home. in less than three hours, i'll be in
the air - between two months of adventure and the world of routine. it's funny,
but here on my last night in israel, i'm actually showing the most personal side
of myself to many of the people i've spent my last two months with. the film,
painfully autobiographical and revealing, shows me and my family wrestling over
our contentious ideas and feelings about having a professional criminal in our
midst. when i blame my jewish upbringing for being one of the sources of my
acquisitiveness and my trying to get away with as much as i possibly can, my
parents explode and accuse me of being anti-semitic. it's a raw and
uncomfortable moment in the film, and one that forever challenges my own sense
of identity as a jew.
but as i sit here worrying about yet another audience's reaction to my
controversial and personally revealing art, i also realize that my trip to
israel has helped me come to terms with some of my eternally problematic
"jewish" issues. as i've already said, i've discovered that jews come in many
varieties, not all american. in fact, here in israel there are so many different
kinds, that they haven't even learned how to accept one another in their own
zionist, jewish state. where jews can be white, brown, black, or anywhere in
between. where they can come from europe, africa, russia, or china. where they
can be liberal, conservative, religious, or secular. tolerant, fanatical,
open-minded or closed. rich, poor, greedy, or not. educated, ignorant,
sophisticated, or crude.
and as i'm sitting here thinking about my neglected LA garden and my friendly
but lonely mutt, i'm also knowing that upon my return, in my daily morning
newspaper ritual, i will be noticing headlines and stories in the “LA times” -
with new eyes. stories about the fractious peace process between israel and
palestine. israel and syria. i'll be following the same man whose election
victory i saw celebrated in rabin square to such popular acclaim - have to
hammer out workable compromises with both his friends and his enemies. i'll be
imagining jimmy and his pioneering neighbors having to pull up stakes and give
up their homes - in exchange for peace on the golan heights. i'll be envisaging
hassan and his modest wife and family welcoming back their syrian brethren to
their quiet druse community of ein quena. and when i hear about the contested
capital of the newly declared state of palestine, i'll picture east jerusalem
and its busy damascus gate. in my mind's eye. i'll see and hear the call to
prayer of the islamic muezzin from the majestic dome of the rock, sitting just
above the sacred western wailing wall of the old temple - with its omni-present
congregation of black-robed orthodox jews sticking folded prayer notes between
the historic stones. i'll hear the tolling of christian bells from the church of
the holy sepulcher. i'll see the rusty sands of joshua's jericho and the young
israeli ravers in the biblical judean desert. i'll see crowded cairo, the
noseless sphinx, rose-colored petra, lawrence’s sprawling wadi rum, and the
azure blue waters of the gulf of aqaba.
things mideastern will now be real to me. cities, places, history, events.
characters real too, no longer animated cartoons from a children's comic book.
kibbutzes, mitzpehs, shekels, shabbats -- wadi, mihrab, salaam, baksheesh -- all
formerly foreign words from formerly foreign languages - now - all real too.
i'm back on the plane now - from tel aviv's ben gurion to los angeles' LAX. in
about fifteen more hours, i'll be watching american fireworks explode over
dodger stadium for our annual fourth of july holiday. i’ll be wearing the black
and white kaffia i bought from the friendly merchant in the shouk in old
jerusalem’s arab quarter. my bemused friends and i - we'll be celebrating our
223rd birthday while the place i've just come from will have just celebrated her
50th. but numbers can be deceiving. just like history and politics and people
and places. numbers can be the quantity of citizens lost in a war - or the
sequence of characters burned into a captive's forearm. numbers can be the times
promises have been broken - or the times trust has been restored. numbers can
be the babies born in a newly created homeland - or the children lost to
another pogrom. numbers can be - the one person who stood up to intolerance and
persecution, or the uncountable masses who fell silent and succumbed. numbers
can be the people around the world you call your friends - or the face of an
enemy you don't know well enough to accept or love.
enough. what do i know anyway? i'm just the lucky guy who gets to travel for two
months out of the busy year. i teach. i create art out of the fabric of my life.
and i travel. and this time -- i got to graze with camels for just a short
while. for which i am eternally grateful.
this time next year? who knows? maybe the SOUTH east...
...asia, that is.