Five Days in the Holy Land
Five days in the holy land. It's been more than three years since my last visit. I am here now, in America, a Jewish man who chooses everyday not to live in Israel. “I’m pregnant,” said the email that brought me here. And what’s here and there these days, what’s a promised land, what’s a cursed one? Give me your hand, said one leader to the other and so they danced naked in the forest while their people are still killing one another.
Rabbi Nachman, the 18th century Hasidic Rabbi left the Ukraine for his journey to the holy land. But he did not make it to Jerusalem. Jerusalem itself is an unfinished journey, trying to make it to all the dreams and illusions people have about it. One night I was walking out of the old city of Jerusalem. I cut my finger somehow, rubbed the blood on the walls of the old city pretending I’m the messiah, knowing how crazy it is. “If I’ll ever forget you, Jerusalem, my right arm would get paralyzed.” says the psalm that Jews have been chanting during the wedding ceremony, as they break the glass to remember the destruction of the city. Our friend Stephan thought it is a political statement and didn’t want to include it in his wedding. The convert lesbian Rabbi refused to conduct the wedding without it.
The Wall by Pink Floyd, that album flushed through my bare teenager soul. And here I am, some twenty years later, comfortably numb. I was once in a party in which they played Mami, one of Israel’s harshest protest songs: the story of a young Jewish girl that is raped by seven Palestinian workers. “We’ll fuck you ’cos we were fucked”. People danced, the land is being raped for centuries, the Greek, the Romans, the Ottomans, the British and the Jews all sodomize the land in one neverending occupation. They build walls and highways all over the ancient hills, but very few bridges.
I talked to a prophet in a cafe in Tel Aviv. He quoted this and that, explaining why it’s all bound to collapse, how capitalism, corruption and Netanyahu ruined Israel. One year there’s an election, the next year there's a war, he said. But he didn’t look in my eyes while he was saying that. It’s over. The dream is gone. The skyscrapers, the alleys, the guns, the souls of the unprotected folks who had to die through all of this. The cause and the price we had to pay. Wars are always stupid.
A silly pop song, an American one. I remember the first Mcdonald's in Ramat-Gan. I was ten, there was a one hour line in order to have a taste of the American dream. And now how I crave these hole-in-the-wall restaurants in the old city. The fig tree is poisoned, its fruits are filled with the juice of hate and intolerance. So are the dates, and even the hummus. And what makes a place? Its smell, its food, its music. Its ideas, its violence, its history. Cultures rise, cultures fall, it’s all just stories we tell ourselves.
There’s no privacy in Israel. In government offices and banks clerks scream questions about your private matters to the supervisor across the hall, always giving you a sense that they’re doing you a favor. Everyone smokes there. The single justifiable war America had fought in the last fifty years completely failed to make its way overseas. It feels like everything can get blown away any second, and there’s always enough smoke in the air to make it evident there is fire. The tone of voice there. The fact that I don’t miss it so much. It’s been three years since the last visit, and facebook gives me a taste of home without the aftertaste.
The Hebrew in Israel is often broken. "Nahag, shtayim Akhora", Driver, two back, said the woman who passed money to the shuttle van driver, a sentence that makes no grammatical sense, while passing to the driver twelve Shekels, six Shekels for each passenger who sat in the back. Languages have lives of their own, and so the Biblical Hebrew had to fit somehow into the shuttle van, the street and the checkpoint. Hebrew and Arabic make love for over a century, a passionate, forbidden affair. Bad words here and legal terms there, like semen and eggs.
Some things you just can’t translate; the puns, the context, the sense and the non-sense of a culture, they're often untranslatable. But I’m writing this in English, I can’t express it that way in Hebrew, not anymore. “It’s scary,” told me an Israeli writer, a wife of, who suddenly found herself in New York. “And what if I won’t have any language?”
The air got thicker, another war started, it’s only a matter of time. The temple is broken, the heart still functions.
I gathered my childhood memories in a small, portable container. Kissed my mom goodbye and went over to the Duty Free store to get a popular book, The History of Tomorrow. I never thought I’d leave. Was never too excited to travel, always happy to come back. Maybe it was the war, or the pregnancy, or New York. Anyway, I’m here now.