Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Exodus: Plane ride back from Israel

Well…. I’m back from Israel and a little sooner then expected. Sob, Sob, Sniff, Sniff. I got sick, quite sick, hospital visit and all. Being the risk averse economist as I am, I opted to fly home at the end of my organized trip rather then try to extend my stay, try to heal in Israel and continue adventuring. Now as I write this, about 47 hours after I made my decision to get on that plane and 36 hours of sleep later, I am filled with sorrow, regret, and just a little chest discomfort. Physically, I feel much better now. Not strong, but healthy enough and all I can think about is that I should have stayed in Israel. Travelling Israel is all I ever wanted. It was my mission, my quest, and my new adventure. And g-d forbid if I needed to come home for any other reason, I would have been okay with that. But it became my call, my decision, and that’s why it hurts. Regret sucks. It eats away at you. I feel regret so strong that I believe its only remedy is to write it all down and in the process confront my sorrows and more importantly celebrate the good times. There were many good times and even though my visit was shorter then expected, we did an outrageous amount of touring. I saw things that will be with me for the rest of my life. I felt things that I never expected to feel. It is because of these initial experiences, that I am saddened. If my birthright trip weren’t so spectacular, I probably wouldn’t have even considered staying. I would have been just like all the other trip participants that didn’t have anything to go back to (no school, no job) but decided the tour was enough and returned home. So what I am telling you is I had the time of my life, all around amazing life changing experience, FOR FREE AND I AM SAD? Yes. That is exactly what I am telling you. Call me unappreciative, unworthy, an asshole, but that’s how I feel. If you really know me you’d understand.

PS: I am starting to feel sick again. I’m quite dizzy, I’m developing pretty significant diarrhea and I feel like I might throw up the applesauce I just consumed. I think the drugs they gave me in the hospital have worn off. All hail Risk Aversion! I love you guys.

PPS: Clearing out my suitcase I found our health insurance extension form. And I quote “In other words, it is convenient and cautious thing to do in the very rare event that you sprain your ankle, catch a stomach bug, etc.” Rare! How about two in the same night. Noam, sprained his ankle, I help walk him home, just to be woken up by the urge to purge my stomach over an over and over and over again. These health insurance people know something I don’t.

Noam in the wheely chair. Me, puking between pictures

Chichen Party

I really enjoyed the food we had at the hotels, but we couldn’t always definitively distinguish what we were eating. That’s why it was helpful that they had little nameplates telling us what was what. One night one of the plates was labeled Chichen. Yes, I knew exactly what it was, no big deal, but after saying chichen a couple times, especially after you’ve been on 3 hours of sleep a night for a week, it gets funny. You really got to prolong the n sound, “chichennnnn.” I loved it and we said it a lot. If someone did something good, it was followed with a chichen. We almost used it like a bitchen. This was right around the time I got introduced to the two cool Chasidim that I described in an earlier story. One of them talked with almost an Eastern European sheddle vibe and I think it was half his accent and half the chichen, which I combined into a sound of its own. I started talking weird. Real weird, for the next day or so. I can’t really explain it, but it also incorporated the use of the word chichen a lot.

In Tzfat, Noam and I bought hookahs. When I finally unpacked my hookah from its ultra swanky carrying case, I decided that I would name it Chichen, but with a Cheech sound, more like Cheechen to incorporate the lovable Cheech Martin into the mix. To celebrate we decided to throw a little party. It all started off very relaxed, but then something happened that broke the mellowness. After a couple people left, Noam lit up his hookah and Marina put some crazy Ukrainian dance music on and things started getting nasty. Next thing I know we are dancing on the beds and tearing the place up. If that’s not enough, Rebecca and Tova show up and Rebecca starts giving people haircuts in our room. Pure rediculom. Random people start popping in for hookah hits, but get scared away by the crazy antics.

I don’t remember Noam disappearing, but I guess he went somewhere because he comes back with two girls he’s met, one Israeli and one Arabic. Meanwhile people are doing upside down hookah hits, crazy bed jumps, pictures are coming off the wall and being used as dancing props. This goes on for a while until we crash. I’m lying on the bed and Phillip decides to write the story of the night in cartoon pictograph on one of my arms. On the other he drew all the secrets of the universe, which include the golden spiral, an arch, lines and a couple long formulas, which have to do something with infinity.

While this is happening Noam comes back in with the Arab girl and we start talking. Somehow we got in a conversation about how my water bottle was indestructible. She didn’t believe me so I dared her to throw it off the hotel balcony. At first she wouldn’t do it, but after calling her a baby she gave in. I don’t know what the big deal was, I had to walk my ass down and get it anyway, but at the time I was ecstatic and I was right, it didn’t break. When we went back in, I decided it would be an appropriate time to whip out my Arabic head covering, which I had recently bought at the hotel in Jerusalem. She showed me how to put in on, but unfortunately I don’t remember what she did. I do remember that I reminded her of her dog Blackie. Anyway, it was a good night for all.

Enemies At The Gate

Israel has a lot of enemies. I think the closest thing it has to an ally in the Middle East is the Mediterranean Sea. So considering that we are going on parent friendly birthright trip I wasn’t expecting to approach any borders. Well, we pretty much hit two of them and if you count Eilat and Egypt then you got three in there. I guess it’s kind of hard to tour a country, especially a country the size of New Jersey without approaching a border. And considering Egypt and Israel have had Peace since Camp David and Jordan is pretty much under control, I guess those aren’t such a big deal. I thought it would be nice if I could see Jordanians on the other side of the Dead Sea. You know, we could wave at them and they could wave back at us. That would be kind of nice. Anyway, I was really freaking surprised that we got so close the Syrian border. On the way there we got some nice views at Israel’s “Security Fence.” By no way shape or form is this thing a fence. I might have mistaken it as a fence when I saw it from one the scenic outlooks of the old city, but up close and personal this thing is no fence, its straight up prison wall. It puts the Berlin Wall to shame. I don’t know enough about the wall to comment on its validity or effectiveness, but I’ve seen enough walls to state that this thing is a wall.

So we ride up to the Golan to an army base that is Israel’s most northern defense from Syria. It also happens to be home to a kibbutz. This place is completely outfitted this military equipment. Humvees with crazy armor, there is even a pile of weapons waiting for us when we get there (to look at not to fire). The guy that was giving us a tour was from Atlanta. He actually moved to Israel during Vietnam to dodge the draft and instead fought in the Israeli army. Talk about fighting for a cause you believe in. So he shows us all these specialty weapons. I would have been more impressed if I hadn’t seen so many weapons already, but 3 days in Israel and you will become quite desensitized to weapons. Everyone has a weapon. M-16’s start looking like toys and the medics on our tour carry old WWII rifles with U.S. insignias on them. I am a strong believer that all the guns around us, the ones our soldiers brought and the ones our medics carry actually make us less safe. It’s kind of spooky to go out drinking with guns, its straight out of a gun violence or anti drug commercial. The soldiers don’t keep their clips in of course, but still it can’t be safe. They get drunk; someone wants a gun and blamo. Many of the soldiers told us they weren’t even sure if their guns worked and that they probably haven’t been fired in close to half a year. The only person that would probably be ready to protect us if we did somehow come under attack was Feris. Noam had told me that after a hike he saw him empty a bullet from the chamber. Regardless, if there is one person I trust with a gun it would be Feris, regardless of how many cats he throws. Sorry for the tangent, so Atlanta tells us all about the base and all the incidents they’ve had over the past 10 years. People placing rockets in watermelons, guys in Hummers driving up to the gates and rolling out of their vehicles all commando style, guns a blazing. I had no idea why we came here.

Crazy Atlanta guy with his modified M-16

Later that day we went to visit a strategic spot where the Israeli army, outnumbered and outgunned, defended a strategic spot in the Golan again oncoming Syrian tanks during the Yom Kippur War. In the distance I heard shelling. It didn’t take to long before one of the girls on my tour, who just came back from Iraq, to announce that those were mortar rounds going off in the distance. Why were their mortar rounds going off in the distance? Our tour guide told us that the Syrian army was probably running drills. Weird. The girl decided to get back on the bus. I felt bad.

Candy Rain

For the first time in my life I tasted religion. I tasted community, the essence of synagogue, the pinnacle of Judaism. Instead of sleeping this Shabbat morning, something I highly needed and deserved, I decided to attend a morning walk and visit Shabbat services at various synagogues in our Jerusalem neighborhood. The first synagogue we visited was a congregation of orthodox Serbians. The inside was magnificent. The altar was in the middle with intersecting rows of seats surrounding it. Architecturally, it typifies what I felt, community. The congregation sat together, in almost a circle, seats intersect at different points so as one might be facing the altar from the left and someone could be facing the altar from the right. While some people went up for aliyah, others prayed, talked amongst themselves or walked to the dinette area beneath the four-story bookcase. Above us and completely out of site from my point of view was the women’s balcony. I only remembered this after I was hit in the head with a piece of candy. I kind of remember this vaguely from my few orthodox encounters as a young kid, but in many cases it is customary to throw candy to wish sweetness and good luck upon someone. I was told that one of the men was to be getting married this week and he was the target of the candy assassins, but I am still convinced this candy was aimed at me. First, this would mean their aim was way off. I was nowhere near the groom to be. Second, I’ve seen them throw candy for a while and they can throw some candy. Third, I was talking to a lot of people during service and was probably a distraction. Forth, who could forgo a redheaded target. Enough said.

Everyone was happy to see us and could not speak high enough of birthright. One man, who looked a little like an early version of my grandfather that I have only seen in pictures, approached the dinette area and we began to talk. I couldn’t hold it in. This was so bizarre to me and I had to ask, “you can make yourself a cup of tea during services?” “Of course you can, why do you think its hear,” he said with a smile and a wink. “Besides, my throat hurts and I just read for aliyah, what is a man suppose to do?” My jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe this. It makes perfect sense. I told him that if my synagogue had a kitchen and looked like this, I would go to synagogue every week. “This is the way to pray.” I don’t know if his answer was a call to aliyah (move to Israel) or something less, but he was right. This felt right.

The synagogues in my town look like pretentious movie theaters with plush seats, and often it feels like the bema is a mile away. There is nothing that grabs your attention, or allows you to focus. Most of the people that come aren’t interested in praying and the ones that are give you dirty looks if you talk to loud. This past Yom Kippur I envisioned an image, that if I was a painter I’d love to paint. It was a plush synagogue, the pews were filled with manikins ornately covered in the finest designer yamukas and tallises. The biblical images found on the stain glass windows were replaced with advertisements for Coca-Cola and BMW. The Rabbi, the only real person in the synagogue had a big microphone shouting orders to all his manikin followers that didn’t understand a word of it. Manikins no speaka Hebrew. Growing up and going to synagogue I always thought that I was being judged. I never would have thought that at an orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem I would feel at home. At my synagogue at home, I feel too much attention is placed on the Rabbi. People go and expect the Rabbi to do all the work, flush out all the meaning in the prayers they don’t understand, pray for them and fill their empty souls with spiritual enlightenment. This of course would be the most ideal situations, but quite unrealistic. I think real power is derived from the congregation. The Rabbi is there to help guide that energy. Just as a teacher would help organize and order a classroom discussion and save his comments for a Jerry Springer final thought I think this is the role of the Rabbi. A teacher, who gives you the materials to learn and support in times of need, but it is up to you to study diligently and succeed.

The next synagogue we went to was just down the street. This one was a congregation of Hasidic Jews who had made aliyah and had moved from America. The whole complex was underground and when you’re going underground in Israel of course you can expect to end up in a… bomb shelter. Bingo. This looked even less like a synagogue then the last one. The ornate bricks and pews, gone. By bomb shelter I mean bomb shelter. Low sealing, cement floor, and a few scattered religious pictures decorating the vastly empty walls. All seating was completely mobile; by this I mean seats were in the form of plastic lawn chairs. Let me repeat, lawn chair. There was no sense of assigned seating at all. Chairs were spread all over the place and were moved constantly. You had to always be mindful of your seat; otherwise someone would take it, literally. You want to sit next to someone for a while, bring your chair with you. We arrived during a festive point in the service. Yes another marriage. A marriage was going to take place after Shabbat and the men were dancing around the Torah. We were encouraged to take part, and before we had a chance to say no, we were whisked in the circle, dancing and singing songs of celebration. One of the tour guides slash Rabbis that were with us led us outside for a small torah lesson. He was inspired by our curiosity to teach us the Shima. This was the same Rabbi that last night I fought with about the legitimacy of the bible. He asked a little boy in Hebrew if he had any English siddurs. He came back with a stack so high he and the books wobbled back and forth. No one would want to kiss that many siddurs. It was the cutest this I’ve ever seen. So we sat outside in the garden and learned the Shima. As I failed to mention earlier, I was considered (by many of my peers) one of the more religious and observant Jews in my tour. Most of the group was completely secular, many had parents of different faiths and could count the number of times they have stepped foot inside a synagogue. For many of my new friends, this was new, this very well might have been the first time they ever said the Shima. Someone might think this is sad, but to me and by the look on the Rabbi’s face this was most special. Really funny story. We said the shima and stupid me, like usual, asked the most ridiculous and difficult question you can ask a seriously observant orthodoxy Jew at the time. “Why do you say Hashem instead of Adoni?” I could tell he was trying to tell me something, but I didn’t quite catch on. I asked him again, and his frustration compounded. It wasn’t until we recited the prayer again, when I realized, oh, you can’t say that word (Adoni) unless you are in prayer. Otherwise you have to say Hashem. Of course he couldn’t explain this properly without saying Adoni. When I finally figured this out it was like someone took off his cement shoes from under water and he swam up to the surface to get his first life saving breath of air. For those of you that think its stupid that you can’t say a name especially in a moment of education, I agree with you, but I still hurt from last night when I mentioned the name YAWEH and got a sharp kick to the leg. Remember kids, when in Israel (minus Tel Aviv) don’t go around saying the name of g-d, or even the name of the name of god. Hashem is just fine. Tetragrammiton is even better. Most likely you won’t get stoned like in Life of Brian, but you might get a swift Moy Tae shin kick from an overly observant Rabbi.

Shabbat Is Hard Work

We spent Shabbat in Jerusalem. Never before was I so appreciative and understanding of the purpose behind Shabbat. For the past week I had been getting close to 4 hours of sleep each night. Trust me I planned on getting more, but some how a conversation arouse, a TV show became enthralling (like this National Geographic show about this rancher in Thailand that kept pigs, monkeys and tigers in the same cage) or somehow it became an opportune time to review the 400 pictures I had taken that day. And then Shabbat came, the day g-d rested, and although I am not literally comparing the creation of the world to my 5 days of traveling, I was defiantly deserving of some R&R. Israel Outdoors brought in an organization called Shabbat Experience. We did a short service and then had the best dinner I ever ate in my whole life. The service I might add was in the hotel bomb shelter. This was quite strange and disturbing at the time. But looking back I remember this was my first Israel bomb shelter experience, there were many more. Shabbat in the bomb shelter was done more out of convenience then necessity. Bomb shelters, especially hotel bomb shelters are the conference halls of Israel. Bomb shelters are also used as synagogues. Maybe the prevailing theory is that if you are going to build a synagogue you might as well make it a bomb shelter. It’s practical. Or it might be due to the fact that these bomb shelters already exist and they figure they can get more use out of them if they are synagogues. A least it’s comforting to know that services out number bombings and missile attacks, making the idea feasible. The service wasn’t all that interesting. I was mostly focused on the fact that we were praying in a bomb shelter and trying to decipher the crayon scribbles on the walls. I was later told that this shelter was being used as a play center for children that were displaced from the Gaza Strip withdrawal. Wow.

The Room We Were In

Shabbat dinner was amazing. Not only was the food amazing and the wine flowed profusely, but there was a group of Chasidic Jews that would embrace and sing songs of redemption and calls for the messiah. They even had a messianic flag that they would waive while they chanted “we want mashiach, we want mashiach now!” Afterwards we gathered upstairs where I began talking to a Rabbi who was involved with the Shabbat program. Not surprisingly talk turned into debate, which then turned into flat out debate, Torah debate, heavy stuff. My goal, use everything I know about history and Judaism to completely 100% negate the notion that the Torah was written by g-d. I talked about all the religions and traditions that predate and influenced the Torah stories. I called upon the themes in the Kemet tradition, and similarities between the Babylonian creation story and Genesis. No luck. He actually gave me a good one two-counter punch with the Sinai Witness theory. This theory goes that it is written in the bible that G- spoke to the Hebrews at Sinai. Documents like the Dead Sea Scrolls confirm that the bible we know now is the same document as the bible of the past (truly amazing) so would the Jews of the past wouldn’t accept the authenticity of the bible unless, their parents, or great grandparents had past down the story of how they heard the voice of G-d. My counter point, then why doesn’t it say G-d spoke when Moses descends from Sinai, why wait to use the words G-d spoke to you later in the text, when recounting the story. Sounds a little fishy eh? Of course there was no resolve. I actually got into the same skirmish with a younger Chasidic student from Flatbush. Really nice guy, down to earth, could dispel any and every religious Jew stereotype in 5 minutes or less. And if for some reason he couldn’t by talking to you (pretend your mute or something) then his friend “Gangster Ska Jew” that’s the nickname I gave him, would do the trick. Gangster Ska Jew, was one cool Chasid. Sporting an opened suit jacket and seet seet (religious fringes then hang out of your shirt), he also replaced the so over worn, 3,000 year old yamuka for a vintage porcupine hat. Half blues brothers, half Hebrew, Gangsta Ska Jew had the attitude to match his appearance. The only things this guy enjoyed more then Talmud was weed and girls. I would be talking to his friend, good Chasid when Gangsta Ska Jew would jump in with something like “You ever try Tye Sticks, that stuff is the shit, oh and Aaron was the real hero of Passover, not Moses, Moses was a stupid ass!” What????? Never in 5766 years did I expect to be having this conversation with a Chasid in Israel. All the prophets where probably rolling over in their graves.

A Suicide Bombing

I was just informed that a bomb went off in Tel Aviv. A suicide attack on an old bus station. The attacker is dead, of course and although there are no deaths, for 16 people there lives have changed forever. G-d only knows how injured they are. I don’t know how I feel about all of this. My first reaction was to ask one of the Israeli soldiers what they thought. George told me he already knew for about 15 minutes. This is what they do. He lives in Tel Aviv like much of the country and when ever something happens their families instantly call one another. I just called my parents to let them know that I am okay. I cried a little bit. I seem to be taking it harder then most people. After telling their parents they are okay, they are talking about all the fun they are having. I left a message and started to cry. Why? Because I am sad for my parents who are now going to be worried about me. This is one of the hardest things I have had to do. Similar to the calls I had to make and receive on 9-11, I can’t imagine feeling like that every time a bomb goes off. George doesn’t. He told me he is numb. Better a small attack without any deaths then a big one. But who knows. I look around my bus and everyone is smiling. The tour goes on. The journey continues. Bedouin tents on the right, talking, laughing, Israeli rap on the stereo. I can’t get over that I just called my parents to let then know that I’m not dead. Is this an individual act? Another Antifada? Is this only the beginning? Will our trip change? Will I stay longer? Only g-d knows. Ok I feel better.

Salty, Wet Jews

We might have picked literally the worst place you can possibly swim in the Dead Sea. I always envisioned beautiful multi colored sands and mountains of nutrient rich mud just piled up next to the water. We didn’t see any of that. Instead we walked over jagged rocks to get to the waters edge, which was protected by even sharper salt covered rocks. These things hurt and as you entered or exited the water it was impossible not to get cut. It’s weird, you’d think nothing can possibly hurt more then getting cut by sharp salty rocks and you would be right, but it also plays a strange trick, because after your cut the salt water almost cauterizes your wounds, so your left with these razor like paper cut incisions all over your body. Many of us braved the water and it was definitely well worth it. It’s hard to describe the sensation you get in the water. You definitely float, but I don’t think floating is the right word. When I think about floating, I think about NASA astronauts floating in outer space. The Dead Sea is more of an ice cube in water float, a bouncy float. Also, don’t splash in the Dead Sea. My right eye was stinging like a motherfucker when someone I think unintentionally splashed a little more water in it. I would have killed them if I weren’t already in so much pain. Meanwhile there’s an Israeli lifeguard yelling at us the whole time. One of the funniest parts of the whole experience was watching people avoid the rocks while getting out of the water. I used the ole float of your ass technique while holding your groin so you are not recircumcized by salty rocks. Others weren’t as lucky. A couple girls got beached on a couple of the big ones and were screaming their lungs out. I didn’t save them. Anyway, after you get out of the water, your skin is slippery like a seal. Good times.


The night we were sleeping at the Bedouin Tent Complex there was also a group of high school students on a school trip what were sleeping in another giant tent next to ours. They noticed us quite quickly and when they realized we were Americans they got excited. Unfortunately for them Faris intervened and chased them away. He said they were trouble and made sure they stayed away from our tent. An hour or so later we hear trance music. The last thing I was expecting in the middle of the desert. Their group was having an all out rave in the middle of the desert, disco lights, DJ and all in their freaking tent. This must be a mirage. Not even paying attention to the fact that we are in the middle of nowhere, this is a school field trip, did your teachers ever throw you a rave party during a class trip?

Inside The Bendoin Tent

Horribly intrigued and with and Faris nowhere in site (I later found out Faris had run off into the darkness to do some midnight desert hiking with Noam) I gathered a few friends and investigate. Yup, just as I thought, school sponsored desert rave, just like Abraham would run. What’s a crazy Jew to do? It was crash time. They were playing some hard punkish music at the time and I thought they might like to see some of my moves. If you have never seen my moves before well, first I’m sorry and second I render all styles of dance into a pulsating ball of energy and then I let it loose in any way I deem fit. I rip shit up gonzo pizza style. These kids didn’t know what was in store. Jaws dropped, girls fainted and then it was over. I broke the party. I destroyed it. It ended. And when the smoke cleared and the DJ unplugged, I was left surrounded by 40 Israeli teens in utter bewilderment. All I remember is three seconds of silence and then they were all over me. “Yo homie, where are you from?” “What was that?” “Where did you learn to dance?” “Who are you man?” “What was that dance?” It was crazy. I decided to fill their little brains with pop culture fantasies and told them that everyone in New York dances like that. That we are all crazy cracked out motherfuckers and we dance like nobodies business. I was getting a little claustrophobic and tried to make my way outside. That’s when they spotted Aaron. Aaron looks like he is straight of a rap video. He puts Eminem to shame. He usually sports a bunch of silver chains, one being a large chrome scorpion that just dangles over everything he wears and a knockoff diamond crusted spinner watch. Bling. So the kids see Aaron and go wild. I think they didn’t even get to him because he ran so fast. I didn’t see him until I got back to the bonfire.

Aaron (Right) aka "Method Mosha" with one of the kids, his nickname (Left) "Big Dick"

Later that night I went back to their tent to find a bunch of them sitting around the campfire and a bunch of them playing soccer. I was asked to play but them I was told I wasn’t allowed because the Arabs didn’t want me to. I don’t know if this was true or not but I didn’t wanna push the boundaries. Instead I joined the group next to the campfire. A bunch of the kids I remembered me from the dance and we instantly stated talking about anything and everything they new and loved about America. They loved to speak American slang, like “what’s up man,” “what’s up dude,” but they also really liked to say “niggar.” To them that word is nothing more then a word they hear in rap videos. And considering there aren’t any African Americans living in Israel they can pretty much say it as much as they want without offending anyone. I tried to explain that the word is derogatory, but they didn’t fully understand what I meant. We talked for a long time. Many of them tried to teach me curses in Hebrew, which I found amusing and their teachers didn’t. They did like that they were practicing their English, which was amazingly good. After listening to one of the girls play Stairway and a few songs by The Doors I thought I had enough culture shock for the night and went to bed. I am convinced that there is no such thing as Israeli music and the Israeli music I heard on the stereo is actually made in America by Americans.

Some Of The Kids

Our Shepard: Faris

Faris is a special man. He is our Shepard, well technically speaking he is our medic, but I feel Shepard better suits him. At first I didn’t know if his actions where truly in tune with his personality, maybe it was for entertainment value or possibly an expression of his faith, but it appears from my tour guide Nicola’s reaction he goes leaps and bounds above his call of duty. Faris evokes images of a crime fighter in the distance or the lone warrior that hovers above you in the shadows. The only reason you take comfort is he is on your side. When I told Faris my whole Shepard theory, he smiled, patted me on the head, then proceeded to point at something very far away in the distance and took off like a bat out of hell. I was initially excited that Faris was in our group because he was Druze, a small minority in Israel, about 1% of the population and while the Druze are not regarded as Muslims by other Muslims, they regard themselves as Muslims as well as carriers of the core of this Islam. He maintained a traditional appearance, baldhead cloaked in a blue baseball cap and a long furry mustache. Our bus driver also happened to follow the Bahai faith, another interesting and quite modern religion that has its headquarters in Haifa, Israel. We lucked out in the cultural diversity area, what a role reversal.

Anyway, we quickly became aware of Faris’ apparent antics, love of the outdoors and scaling of the tallest mountains. Farris didn’t hike, he climbed. “Come, climb, climb it, lets go climb,” it was almost like a call to prayer. During one of our desert hikes, I noticed that he descended a pretty steep rock formation he was scouting out to pursue an unusual object he saw on the ground, a coke bottle. I was impressed. A man who loves nature has come to collect a piece of trash to keep the park clean. Nice. This made perfect sense to me. That’s why I was utterly stunned when Farris proceeded to unscrew the cap off the bottle, dump out some sand that was in it, carefully screw the cap back on, throw it on the ground with all of his soul and all of his might, let out a belching Ho, and then project himself forward using Aaron’s shoulder as a lever. I was in awe of what just happened. I needed an explanation. Just like analyzing a dream, Noam translated the following events. Because of Noam’s ability to understand the Hebrew language, he developed a strong kinship and understanding of Faris. “He did what he had to do Dave, he returned the soil to the earth.” Wow. That’s exactly what he did. To him, earth is a spiritual thing, something that shouldn’t been locked up or kept in a cage. It was the purest form of self-expression. The antics continued. Faris also loved grabbing peoples’ water bottles and drinking to his hearts content. He was a big believer in water. The funniest water incident occurred on a random pee stop on the road. We were at a rest stop and Faris was standing guard outside the bathroom. Suddenly without a blink of an eye he grabs someone’s water, chugs half the bottle and looks me in the eye and states, “now I have a reason to pee.” I guess he needed to pee.

Israel is home to many stray cats, especially old city Jerusalem. Feris had fun with these. One day we took a walking tour around some really isolated conservative communities. By isolated I mean most of the homes don’t have TVs, possibly not even radios and the little news most people get about the outside world comes from a trip to the local market, a newspaper left on the street or a weekly bus ride down town. Most of Israel is not like this, but you can still find communities like this. So anyway, here we come loud, boisterous, pop culture Americans. We tried to be as respectful as possible. Apparently Faris didn’t get the memo. A couple of the girls found this really cute cat that was eyeing our tour group and decided to go over and play with it. Evidently, Faris noticed this and wanted to play with the cat too. So he picks it up by the scruff on the back of its neck, holds it as high as he can and tosses it down the street, a good two yards possibly more. The thing screams and takes off like a racehorse. A couple minutes later the same thing, this time he grabbed Aaron’s cat. The girls pleaded with him to put it down, but before Faris had a say the cat twisted it’s way free and escaped the toss. If that wasn’t enough, Faris then moved his target to the children. No he didn’t toss the children, but he ran up and down the stairs scaring them into little groups and piles. I told you the man was a Shepard.

Being Druze, Faris did not imbibe alcohol or smoke of any kind. He took special care to make sure that the substances he touched were pure. When I offered him one of my special tea tree oil toothpicks, he was hesitant to take one. He looked at the package with bewilderment, “from tree?” he asked. When I assured him that yes, it was from a tree he took one and enjoyed it. Although most people relished in his erratic behavior, Faris did turn belligerent at times. I don’t think he had much patience for people he saw as morally offensive. One of the coolest things we did on the trip was sleep out in the Negev Desert in a traditional Bedouin tent made from camel hair. With nowhere to go and not much to see,a bunch of us started playing hacky sack, which instantly caught Faris’ attention. “Soccer, this is soccer?” We were too tired to explain. “Yeah, it’s like soccer.” He tried to join in the game, but failing to grasp the concept of the game, that you are suppose to control the ball and pass it gently to the other players, Faris intervened. He stole our ball, over and over and over again. If that wasn’t enough he then threw it a people, well not just anyone, mostly couples or better put pairs of girls and guys that decided they didn’t wanna sleep solo and therefore were happily snuggled up next to one another in the tent. I think this is morally offensive in Druze culture. He also targeted Aaron aka Scorpion King slash Gangster Moses and some of the other big smokers and drinkers in our group. They were not happy about this, but what were they going to do. I got pretty good at keeping the hacky sacky away from Faris, but then he just chased me and it developed into a completely different game in its own right, part football, part wrestling, part king of the mountain. Surprisingly, I wasn’t scared. I could tell he was holding back and I think he was either A) frightened by the fact that he might hurt me or B) in awe that I would dare test his strength. Either way I survived to tell the tale.

The next day at Ben-Gurion’s grave we quickly became aware that we weren’t Faris’ only fans. A school group of largely Ethiopian girls began screaming when they saw him. I’ve never seen Faris embarrassed. It was humbling to watch. He didn’t know how to react. He greeted them kindly, but the closer he got, the more they screamed and the shier he became. I’d like to think that one day Faris and I will cross paths again and that I will evoke that same reaction. I’ll miss you Faris. You taught me more then you will ever know.

Israelis’ ain’t no Irishmen

Before arriving in Eilat we hadn’t gone to any bars, so as one could expect we were really eager to go out and get trashed. Even with that said, I never expecting to see what I saw that night. It will be hard to put into words, but I will sure try. So all of us, literally 40 of us Americans and 7 Israeli soldiers parade down the street until we get to this one bar. There are tables everywhere and they are more or less positioned for dancing then sitting. There is a crazy hookah collection in the back next to the bar by the DJ and the music is bumbing. When I saw the tables, I got inspired and had one of those fuck it moments, where I said to myself, I am in Israel and if there are tables I am going to dance on the fucking tables, so literally seconds after walking in to this place I’m up on the tables. I don’t take full credit for the following, but everyone else followed suit and then it was on. The dancing got crazy. I figured out that if you spill a little bit of your beer on the table it even becomes more danceable. We pushed the boundaries with the number of people that should be on a table, the position of people on a table, the aerobatics you should be doing while drinking and dancing on a table. It all came out and it was beautiful. I perfected a couple dirty, dirty, table moves. Then the hookahs appeared. We took a couple short smoke breaks and continued to dance. I was too busy dancing to drink all that much, but there were a few, well quite a few people where it was the other way around. We were actually providing the entertainment for the people that were drinking and I think the more we entertained that more they drank.

When it got time to leave, I dismounted a table to walk outside and see a site I did not expect to see. People had literally blown up, destroyed themselves with alcohol consumption. And it wasn’t limited to just any random person, it was mostly the Israelis’. I am not going to name any names because I don’t wanna embarrass anyone or even worse get someone court marshaled, so I will replace all names with superheroes. So, as soon as I get out of the bar the first thing I see is Batman hunched over, swaying back and forth doing a shaky, shaky leg dance. Finally when he picks his head up, his eyes start to roll back into his head. He looked bad, but everyone one else around was pretty much trashed and laughing, so I go to get Batman some water and I see Superwoman and Catwoman are running a muck. One is puking on the street and other running circles around it. When I get back to Batman, he is also in the vomiting stage. I help him walk back to the hotel, or literally walk for him back to the hotel with the rest of these drunken monsters. This was only the beginning. Back at the hotel all hell breaks loose. People are running up and down the hall, alcohol is flowing all over the place, Batman is curled into a ball and throwing up on the floor in front of his door. I turn around only to see the Green Lantern trying to pull ElastaGirl into his room, but instead falls straight onto his back. This would be bad enough, but the Green Latern is wearing an M-16 so CLAP, he falls straight onto his gun, and a fucking bullet pops out! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I pick up the bullet, stick it in my pocket for safekeeping and go inside my room. There was nothing else I could possibly see that night that would top that.

Kyle, resident South Park Jew and now guardian of The Secret Party Bullet

Israeli Trail Mix

The bus stops. The lights come on. “Ok we are here. Go pee if you have to. I think it costs 2 shekels. See the two headed snake and the tiger if its not sleeping and be back on the bus in 15 minutes.” What? I was sleeping but I know I heard 2 headed snake and tiger. Where the fuck are we? When I stepped of off the bus it was like I entered half freak show, half Pee Wee’s Great Adventure set. Israel isn’t really known for it’s roadside attractions but this place was something special. Brian put it the best, Israel’s south of the border. I go to take a piss, by the was the 2 shekels was just a request; I didn’t feel apt to donate because I just took a quick pee in the urinal, no flush required. I then found myself wandering into this area of the park where there was a weird ferris wheel that looked more like a torture device then a children’s ride, a fan boat from hell and some sort of snake exhibit. Next to the snake exhibit was a dispenser that was filled with some sort of snake food pellets. Then it occurred to me, I bet I can trick someone into eating the snake food. I pulled out my pocket full of coins trying to find one that would fit into this coin slot. Finally I found one, a golden 1/10 of a shekel coin and with my handful of snake nuggets the prank had begun. I planned to tell so gullible sap that it was Israeli Trail Mix I purchased at the gas station a while back. All I needed was a target. Since it was quite early in the trip I didn’t think it would be wise to prank someone I didn’t know all that well so I defaulted to Noam. I thought this was going to be easy, but I was so damn tired and this idea was so ridiculous that I couldn’t even walk over to him without laughing. I completely ruined my chance. So Aaron took over and tried to prank Phillip. He did a lot better then me but not good enough. Phillip didn’t let that stuff got past his nose. And when he yelled out this the snake food it was over, I never laughed so hard. We failed miserably and we didn’t even get to see the 2 headed snake or the tiger. This whole trip was doomed to be a failure.