Thursday, January 8, 2009

some final thoughts on israel by k

i feel like there is still so much i want to say about our time in israel...small observations, personal insights, etc. and if i don't do it now, they'll slowly slip away. i mean, they won't disappear from my mind in a greater way, but they won't be right on the surface, so here is my attempt to put some of it out there before i fully settle back into barcelona.

please excuse what might appear a haphazard collection of memories...i'm simply going to write them as they come out.

hummus! big thing in israel. everyone has their favorite hummus place, and in our one trip to a supermarket, i had to laugh when i saw a whole refrigerator case devoted to hummus. not a tiny case, either, at least six feet long, full of hummus. big packages, little packages, spicy, not spicy and many other variations i couldn't understand. our apartment was less than a block from one of the "best" hummus places in tel aviv. we ate a lot of hummus. i think it's fair to say, i'm hummused-out, which is a good thing. i really like hummus and it's not at all popular here, but i will be fine with a hummus-free diet for at least a month...then i might start pining again...

the experience of being in israel was for me a little like being home alone at night. by that i mean that the more you think about it, the more you see shadows on the wall that could be monsters or hear sounds that could be an intruder. the more i thought about what was going on in gaza and growing arab anger, the more scary it became. one night as i lay awake in tel aviv, i wondered where we should go if bombs started to drop in tel aviv. the underground parking lot, of course. i even imagined us huddled down there, with the raw cement smell. were bombs going to fall on tel aviv...highly unlikely, but my mind went there.

i also noticed that one door in our apartment was different. it was to a tiny room and you pretty much had to slam the door to close it. it was sort of metal, but not super heavy...almost like there was an air pocket in the middle of the door. we never did ask they guy who rented us the place about that room, but i have to assume that door was there for a purpose, and my guess, since it didn't have a lock on it, was that it would be the place to go if some sort of poisoned gas attack happened. be prepared. again, my mind wandered to a moment when we could need to be in that room...very scary. what must it be like to live with that always? to have to plan for a room that is air-tight in case of a gas attack, or a bomb shelter. when we were sitting on the beach in tel aviv, watching international airlines fly overhead to the airport, israelis playing paddle tennis on the beach, a little dog with a purple cast running around happily, tourists and locals alike eating and drinking in the warm winter sun, it's hard to imagine things like war, and yet the military helicopters flying by every now and again, and the small planes "keeping the perimeter secure" as barak said, is a steady reminder of where you are.

as i wrote in my first post, i really liked the food in israel. but even that comes with some complication when it comes to going out. our first night in jerusalem, barak's relatives recommended we go to a nearby street that has lots of restaurants and cafes. sounded nice. but then barak told me that one restaurant there was bombed several years ago and an american doctor, who ironically specialized in dealing with attacks like that, was killed with his daughter. i started to waver. when dorian put his foot down and said he didn't want to walk more than ten feet, we decided to go to a place just down the block. it felt less like a target, but how do i know that? each time we chose a place to sit, i wondered, could this be a target. most restaurants have security guards, and it does give on some sense of security, but still....

honestly, i also felt a little bad about having all these thoughts. israelis live with these things day in and day out, and chances were very slim that anything would happen to us. it was interesting to get emails from friends and family while we were there. some people expressed worry, some were confident we were fine, some said how brave we were. perceptions and perspectives. i certainly didn't feel brave. and i don't think i even felt stupid for going. i mostly felt confused. how careful should one be? what is the real threat to us? shit happens in the u.s. and other places too, so why be so paranoid. on the flight back, i briefly spoke with a woman whose mother was killed in a bus bombing in jerusalem five years ago. the majority of people live and survive in israel. the majority of visitors come and go. but some don't, and that was almost always on my mind.

we saw reality for an israeli young man when we visited one of barak's cousins, uri, in northern israel. i had met uri in san francisco 14 years ago when his grandmother ester brought him on a trip to the u.s. i remember really liking him. it was his trip before doing his military service. (he told me that after a month in new york back then, where everyone had warned him about violence, it was in san francisco where he saw a police chase out our windowon guerrero street, and a man pulling a woman by the hair on market street. he was shocked that no one did anything to stop it. so his memory of san francisco is definitely not one of peace and freedom. interesting, i thought. it's all what happens in a moment, and he did see a real side to s.f. that we may not like, but is there.) he's 32 now, married to nice woman, irit, who is working on her phd and looking for a job after getting laid off recently (recession is everywhere).

uri and irit were very welcoming, and as we drove to haifa, i rode with them so i could ask them questions about life in israel. too much to relate, and i don't want to misquote, but uri said he's very "leftist" and definitely believes in room for everyone, jews and muslims and christians and anyone else. i didn't get to hear all the details of what that would look like for him because the car ride was not long enough! he said it was probably better to not have that discussion in the arab restaurant where we ate in haifa, especially considering what is going on. on the way back, dorian joined us and i didn't think he needed to hear it either. but i guess the thing that really sticks in my mind is when uri showed us his military gear, all ready to go when/if he gets called up. it could happen any time and he would go. what must it be like to live with that? for uri, for his wife, for ester, for his parents and siblings. we can all argue until we're blue in the face about what the right thing to do is, but in the end, it's individuals, on both sides, who are being effected.

language: our first night in tel aviv, we went to a restaurant in an "up and coming" (ie dirty and rundown and lots of young people) neighborhood next to the place we were staying. let's just say, not many tourists hit this part of town, so the restaraunt we chose only had a menu in hebrew. i couldn't understand a thing. nothing. that was strange because i usually feel that i can at least deduct a few things. barak was able to decipher the drink categories: beer, wine, spirits, etc, but that wasn't super helpful considering we wanted to eat! israelis speak great english, so our waitress was very helpful and told us what was on the menu, but it was strange being so totally helpless. most restaraunts and cafes we went to did have english, but it was a good reminder that one is not always in control.

i won't forget the sign in the israel museum "please check you weapons here." barak didn't get a shot of it, but really stuck out for me. such a mundane thing as a coat check, but for guns!

i went into this trip really wanting barak to take the lead and be in charge. and i could probably write a long essay about barak in israel, but i won't go there. i was determined to take the perspective that everything would work out, even if it was done in a "different" way, or better said, not my way. and things did work out. the times we got totally lost (numerous), barak did manage to get us to our destination. israelis confirmed that streets are not well marked and signs are confusing. add to that a total lack of sense of direction and refusal to plan, and well, our rental car mileage was a little higher than it had to be. why do i write this? not to blame barak, but just to say that part of being in israel for me was to let go, and i did, but it was hard. especially at 3:00 a.m. on our way to the airport when we got lost! heading south, in pitch black, no gas stations...another half hour and we would have made it to gaza! i guess it just had to be the experience through and through, until the very last moment. and we did make it to the airport, we did get on our flight, and everything did work i need a vacation!

do i regret going to israel? not at all. it was a hard trip in many ways, but also very thought-provoking. i finally know what barak is talking about when he mentions neighborhoods or soldiers walking on the street. i better understand the question of israel and how it effects barak's family and relatives. we had some very nice moments, too...mostly seeing people, but also eating and playing at the beach. do i want to go back? impossible to say at this moment. right now i'm glad to be on the other side of the mediterranean, but i also feel sad for the people there and a bit guilty to be able to leave. i think i would feel the same leaving any war-torn place. why can i simply walk away and get back to life? i will say, that i would love to be able to go back and celebrate if peace ever does come to the region, but after being there, i'm not holding my breath or booking a flight. shalom.