April 7, 2018
I think I need to chill out. I came to Israel all eager to mix with the people and get their views on the big political issues of the day. I assumed that because they’re Israeli’s they’d be dying to talk about geopolitics.
So I asked a waiter, a young tattooed hipster, what he thinks of life these days in Israel. But instead of a thoughtful, serious response, he just kind of stared at me with glazed eyes and a wide grin and said “We’re just high all the time, man, so it’s cool.” He then proceeded to tell me how best to sneak pot out of Israel.
“Naw”, I say, “I’m good, buddy.”
So much for meaningful dialogue (although I do admit that he looked pretty happy).
Later I asked a young mother what she thought of all the turmoil. She looked at me quizzically, as if she had no idea what I was talking about. When I pressed her on it (and started sounding like an alarmist idiot), she quickly dismissed me and said “it’s good”, and then walked away.
Ok, I get it. Maybe I need to back off a bit. I think I’m scaring the natives.
Today we got to hear a lot from our tour guide. Ron is a walking encyclopedia with a keen sense of humor and adorable broken English. When describing something amazing, he’ll say “momma mia!”, or if he thinks he’s talking too much, he’ll say “blah, blah, blah.”
But damn is he sharp. He took us to Jaffa, the ancient port city that is about 3,500 years old, and we got a quick but deep education. Jonah (as in the whale) is from Jaffa, and King Solomon walked here as well.
“When you are in Jaffa,” Ron tells us, “you are inside the Bible.”
Centuries later, we learn, Napoleon was in Jaffa. Apparently, he conquered the port from the British at the same time he took the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza. The guy wasn’t messing around.
Later Ron takes us for a walking tour of Rothschild Street, the most famous street in Tel Aviv. We stop outside of Independence Hall, which was closed due to Shabbat. Israel’s independence was declared at that very spot 70 years ago by David Ben Gurion, Israel’s George Washington. Our cantor, Michael Smolash, then leads us all in singing Hatikva, right there on the busy sidewalk. People walking by joined in, as if by instinct. Only in Israel!
Ron tells us that the international “Occupy” movement (Occupy Wall Street, Occupy London, etc) originated in Tel Aviv by an Israeli woman named Daphne Leaf. The movement, which protested economic inequality, was especially huge in Israel, involving about 10% of the entire population. And just as Ron is describing the movement, he spots a woman who had just stopped her bicycle and he shrieks, “IT’S HER! IT’S HER!”
Yep, Daphne Leaf herself just happened to be passing by, as bizarre as that sounds. He had never even met her but he recognized her face from TV. He was so star struck you would’ve thought he spotted Lady Gaga. He even googled Daphne Leaf’s name on his phone and showed it to us, as if prove to us that it was really her. Daphne gave us a brief impromptu speech and it was clear she was/is a real leader. “Question everything”, she told us, and we walked away thankful and inspired.
After a brief free time (a little cup of cookie cream gelato – as Ron would say, “momma mia!”), we drive about 45 minutes to a kibbutz outside Jerusalem. We’re there to join in a relatively new custom that comes at the very end of Pesach. The celebration is called a ‘Mimouma’, a tradition originated from Moroccan Jews that spread throughout all of Israel. In Morocco, we learn, when the holiday ended the Jewish people would emerge from their self-imposed separation and then joyously re-join the world.
Ron prepares us by telling us to get ready for a lot of sugar, a real “glucose bomb.”
So we wind through dark streets until come to this isolated kibbutz that houses 1,500 people. We pull into the front yard of the rabbi’s house. The celebration is in full swing when we enter, to a chorus of Shalom!”
Mimouma is a loud, joyous celebration filled with music, sweets, smiles, good wishes and, in this kibbutz, tons of little adorable kids eating desserts and playing. We all gather outside the rabbi’s house in a big circle as she joyfully welcomes us and explains the meaning behind everything.
I start tasting every unrecognizable sweet I see. I experience the full ‘glucose bomb’ Ron promised.
In no time we got to mill around and mix with the people. (Another chance for me to pounce!).
I ask one guy what he thinks of the highly controversial issue of the possible deportation of 38,000 African migrants (an issue of which I am well aware). He tells me that legally they should not be allowed to stay, but that morally they should all stay and be absorbed into Israeli society.
“Are you concerned about Israel losing its Jewish identity one day?”, I ask.
“Of course not”, he quickly responds, “I love having a multi-cultural country.”
“But what if Israel were to one day lose its Jewish-majority status”, I shoot back.
“I think Israel should declare itself a Jewish and Arab homeland. That would solve everything!”, he says.
Hmmmmm…..wasn’t quite expecting that. Don’t see that happening, but still it is a novel idea, huh??
I ask another guy about the economics of the kibbutz. He says he works outside the kibbutz and his wages are split between government taxes and the kibbutz. “I have nothing but I have everything”, he smiles and points to the huge, joyous scene in front of our eyes.
I ask a women where she’s from. She tell me she made Aliyah from Canada about 20 years ago. I introduce her to Cantor Smolash, and the two Canadians coincidentally learn that they’re both from the same section of Montreal. In no time they’re talking about the old neighborhood! Bizarre, but this is Israel and it didn’t even seem strange to me.
Actually, nothing in Israel seems strange at all. To the contrary, it all feels quite normal and comfortable, just the way a home away from home is supposed to feel.