“tzipperese” at the mitzpeh amuka
june 18-22, 1999
the next day, back on my own two feet again without the rental car, i'm driven
by eran up over the mountain - to the mitzpeh amuka to visit my "old friend"
from svat, moshe tzipper. you remember him - tzipper - the zen beatnik from the
painter, mike leaf's, who tried to create a telephone “shiddach” for me? well,
i've taken him up on his offer to come "visit him in the forrest". so now, i’m
on my way. eran, en route to svat to see his indigent mother, explains to me
that a mitzpeh is a state designated piece of property that has been offered to
israeli citizens to develop privately so that the state can create a greater
presence in the unpopulated north, near the arab borders of lebanon and syria.
but eran also goes on to tell me that "amuka is a mistake", because there are no
neighboring arabs, and that the people who live here are all "yuppies with
money", commuting back and forth to work in jerusalem and tel aviv in their
expensive, high-powered luxury cars and jet planes.
okay. i'm forewarned: a nationalized/privatized kibbutz gone bad. capitalist
yuppie scum. but -- as we climb high above the flat green and brown,
checker-boarded hula valley into the redolent green enfolding pine forrest, i
can feel the tension and orderliness of the kibbutz melt away into the
laid-backness and magic of the forrest. i am once again up in the rarefied air
of svat, home of tzaddiks and meetings of synchronicity. i am reminded more of
my cherished california big sur than i am of the home of a lifestyle offender.
taking my leave of eran, i walk into amuka's small horseshoe community of
perhaps fifty homes, and find the open door of tzipper, his american wife,
rhonda, and their two teenage sons. "ow are you, man?" tzipper croons at me from
his swinging hammock out on his cluttered redwood deck. "fine," i say, "thanks
for having me. "no problem," tzipper shrugs. he continues swinging. "yourself at
home," he says in his unique israeli-bulgarian tzipperese.
i put down my bag and walk out to the pine-needled back yard. i take a deep
breath. it feels good. relaxing. i can hardly believe i'm still in israel. but
as the saying goes, "this too is israel". i can tell there's no place to go,
nothing to do. i settle down next to tzipper and smile. he smiles back. no more
after a while, rhonda comes home from her job, and the boys from school. the
place perks up - introductions, a late lunch, rhonda shows me to a room. before
sunset tzipper asks me if i want to go for a drive. i do. we head off road in
his jeep into the rolling countryside. he puts on some turkish and arabic music
and we cruise. no conversation except about a few sights - roman ruins, the
grave of the tzaddik who arranges shiddachs(!), more pine forrest. i feel a
camaraderie with this scruffily bearded zen beatnik; he just goes with the flow,
vibrates to the tune of life. work? no thank you. he prefers the path of least
resistance - do what's absolutely necessary, otherwise just kick back and enjoy.
words? why? just be in the moment – breathe and drive.
tzipper takes me to kaditah, the laid-back, alternative topanga canyon of the
area. in other words, a hippie, or still-living-in-the-60s, tie-dyed community.
i see and learn that the homes are hand built, and the residents are surviving
on cottage industries such as bread baking, running indian health food
restaurants, and growing marijuana. i learn that they smoke it too. tzipper
shows me. we walk around the community and meet friends – into long hair, home
schooling, and herb gardens. i buy some home-made bread and sweet desserts for
rhonda and the boys. tzipper and i continue our flow and head back home.
we get back in the jeep, and now tzipper finally does start talking (i wonder
why?). like a practiced jazz horn player, he ruminates, improvises, riffs - on
the themes of - love - and marriage. "why you not married?" he sing-songs to me.
"i don't know, tzipper. i never believed in it, and i guess i never wanted to."
"oh, you come now, why you don't believe?" he says incredulously. "maybe you
don't find the right woman". he smiles at me knowingly. "maybe there is someone
you not telling me?" he goes on to tell me how as a new israeli refugee from
bulgaria, he courted this vivacious twenty-four year old american woman who had
absolutely no interest in him whatsoever, but with charm, perseverance, and by
sheer single-minded will power, he convinced her to marry him. hence - rhonda -
who left her tenacious new york family behind to start a new one with tzipper in
israel - and who now brings home the bacon, runs the household, and still
somehow, although at times a bit begrudgeonly, gives him his mostly unbridled
freedom. "good deal you have," i say to him. he smiles again knowingly and nods.
i'm thinking maybe tzipper and this place amuka is bringing something out in me.
something latent and abandoned. something i've given up on. love. too many
failed relationships. too many women having heard too many times that i didn’t
want children and i wasn’t interested in marriage. too many women walking out
the door. well -- look at where that has led me – to my starvingly-alone, big
empty jacuzzi, under the black and twinkling, ambitious california sky, isolated
and resigned, in the emotional desert of narcissistic and fucked up los angeles.
well, look at my zen beatnik guru, moshe tzipper. he did it. he convinced a
smart, passionate, disinterested woman to love him. he committed, persisted,
persevered, and succeeded. his love conquered all...
we get back around eight o’clock, and i tell tzipper i’m off for a walk though
mitzpeh amuka with the cool night air, my thoughts, his words, and my feelings.
so…….. maybe it wasn’t hopeless altogether. maybe – i wasn’t beyond hope
altogether. maybe my eternal romanticism, judgmental intellectualism, and
clown-poet’s soul could find some woman, some child, some lover some where in
the world to share my life with. someone who would be able to put up with me,
engage me, challenge me, allow me to express my love, take care of her, support
her, make a life together. maybe we could build a unique, odd partnership
together, outside society’s conventions, insulated and protected by our love,
our own language, our alternative values, our mutual need. who knew, maybe one
day, i would come around to marriage, commitment, children, partnership. i mean,
one never knew, did one? look at moshe tzipper.
by the time i walk back to rhonda's and tzipper's it's late, close to midnight.
but no one's asleep. there's a little local entertainment tonight – “katushya”
fire from the lebanese border. it's going off over our heads like the fourth of
july as we gather around the tv for the late night news and a little dessert.
and the story's not even on the news. i'm a little freaked out. there's rocket
fire going off less than ten miles from where we are, and it's merely business
as usual in mitzpeh amuka. "those are bombs going off out there, right?" "yes,"
they all admit. "well, aren't you all a little frightened, upset, disturbed?"
"what's the big deal," they shrug, "it happens all the time." "but people are
killed, aren't they?" "sometimes." "well...?" "well, what?" they shrug again.
"i mean, don't we have to get into bomb shelters? aren't the people in kiryat
shemona getting into bomb shelters? look, it's on tv. they're in bomb shelters!
what are they saying?" you want to get into a bomb shelter?" tzipper asks. "go.
it's right over there." and he points to the laundry room. i walk over and look.
it's a bomb shelter. "what did they say?" i insist. the story's already off the
news. "nothing," tzipper shrugs. "did they say anything?" he asks rhonda and the
boys. "no, nothing," the older boy confirms. i'm feeling a little insane.
"look," rhonda says, "this happens all the time -- maybe six times a year --
just relax. we're high up in the hills. nobody's ever been hurt here. it's just
a law that we all have to have shelters, but don't worry. there's nothing to
worry about." "but what about those people in kiryat shemona - on tv? some of
those people are getting hurt. you said sometimes people die!" "yes, and it's
too bad," she says. "the war's been going on too long." everyone nods in
agreement. yes – war – too long. and that's it. end of the conversation. time
for bed. no more rocket fire. good night. the war's been going on too long...
okay. this too is israel.
the next day tzipper actually goes to work. as a golan heights jeep tour guide.
he asks me if i want to come along. of course i do. so by nine a.m. sharp we're
at the local meeting spot for "jimmy's jeep tours". it's at the entrance to a
state park, and there's a large parking lot with a gift shop and refreshment
stand where great hordes of tour busses can deposit their loads. today's load is
a group of american jews from chicago, illinois. and jimmy is a gigantic,
white-bearded, sixty year old paul bunyanesque character who makes the tour feel
like a trip through the old american wild west - except with jeeps instead of
i'm the odd man out, and i have to wait to see if there's room for an extra body
in one of the six jeeps. with a little juggling there is, although not in
tzipper's, but i'm thrilled nonetheless. soon we're climbing the rocky terrain
of the golan on and off bumpy dirt trails, and the chicagoans are squealing with
delight and mock fright as we're tossed to and fro in the open topped jeeps. at
first, i just sit back and watch. i'm wearing my newly-purchased snake skin cap
from rosh pina, and i guess i look like a native, riding shotgun and not saying
a word. i hear all the local scuttlebutt - they're on a helter-skelter three
week tour of israel, north-south-east-west - ending up in a quadruple bar
mitzvah as a finale - high upon the hills of masada. i wonder if they realize
that masada is the site of the brutal roman slaughter of ancient jewish families
so many centuries ago. historical irony, i muse. doesn't matter to them, i
guess. times change. yesterday’s burial ground, today’s bar mitzvah shindig.
eventually, i open my mouth to ask a few questions as we stop just yards from a
cordoned-off mine field, and jimmy gives us an update on the golan. yes, he
says, he, his friends, and 15,000 jewish neighbors have been living up here for
over thirty years. raising cattle, raising families. the land is harsh and
beautiful, but living in the face of their "enemies", with such a tentative
grasp of security and longevity, has brought them joy, aliveness, and
simplicity. no, they don't expect to be here forever. in fact, a majority of
them voted for barak. they too, want peace. they too, are tired of war. no, they
don't want to give up their homes, but yes, they are willing to trade land for
peace. the suburban, secure chicagoans have a hard time with some of these
answers. they question too. how can golanites give up their homes, live in the
shadow of death? "death?" jimmy laughs in his no bullshit,
take-life-by-the-horns kind of way, "here under the constant sun of the golan,
we see only life. life!" and he laughs again. and we laugh with him. "l'chaim!"
the next days run on into one another. two days at amuka become four. it feels
like for the first time, i'm off the conveyor belt of my mideastern tour.
there's no rush, no urgency. just the forrest. just my what-me-worry guru,
tzipper, who takes me for a naked swim in the sea of galilee (i try to walk on
water but fail), for an impromptu picnic at the diminutive shores of the
trickling jordan (which he and his tour guides mockingly call the "missi-pipi").
who leads me through the life-out-of-the-desert orchards of the prolific golan,
who feeds me, humors me, and stubbornly encourages me – towards love.
what the hell is going on here? first this place – israel – the middle east --
challenges all my preconceptions, ideas, and feelings about judaism, faith,
nationalism, history, islam, fanaticism, god, & religion; now love. what’s
to be continued...