Well, lo and behold, I did it. Still not up to speed on the ‘grasping’ yet — the fact that I’ve been here for almost a week now seems simultaneously natural and completely insane. And yet, here I am, sitting on a mirpeset (patio) in the midst of a warm, dry and sun-drenched Jerusalem afternoon, typing a post and drinking a (god-awful, but more on Israel’s inability to make good coffee later) Nescafe. It’s a big jump in a way, and in another way, it’s not. I’m still me. I’ve still got this battle-worn, sticker-covered laptop. I’ve still got a Facebook account. Now, none of that will change. But thinking how much my mindset has shifted in just the last week, I’m excited to watch myself change over the next year. I’ll always be me, but me will evolve.
I landed last Wednesday, launched into an afternoon more humid than sitting in a sauna wrapped in a sleeping bag. My nohag monit (cab driver) had no idea how to find Tal’s apartment, thankfully. He also, it became clear to me, was the only nohag in Tel Aviv who spoke no English. In broken Hebrew, I told him the address. He told me, in shattered English, that said address did not exist. I insisted. So did he. An hour, six attempts to force me out of the cab and four phonecalls to Tal later, I’d arrived at her apartment.
And thus began four days of exploring Tel Aviv, a city glowing neon and covered in dirt, stifling in heat with a breeze from the sea, overpacked with people but loaded with tiny, hidden spaces and forgotten avenues and abandoned alleys. A city as mysterious as it is beautiful, sexy and steaming and dripping in sweat and sweet to the taste. But in Tel Aviv I couldn’t stay. Four days with Tal. A Thai dinner and a bottle of wine; a day on the beach, walking down Hayarkon to the French section, where hundreds of matcot (paddle ball) balls flew like missiles and ping-pinged incessantly; walks from the sand through the city on Shabbat; mornings of fresh croissants and cafe kar (iced latte) from the bakery across the street.
My first night in the city, I took a sheirut (taxi-bus) through Tel Aviv to the city’s port, full of expensive waterfront restaurants and American-saturated clubs, where Israelis troll through the crowd asking young-looking girls, “Taglit? Taglit?” That means Birthright, the free Israel trip for Americans, and it’s the calling card for Israeli dudes looking to score with USA girls who think nothing’s cooler than a night with a Middle Eastern stallion. The whole scene made me a little queasy — exactly what I came to Israel to avoid.
But the most captivating part of Tel Aviv in those first few days wasn’t the colorful buildings, the beautiful beach or the sleazy stallions — it was the tents.
A few months back, folks started squatting in tents in the middle of Rothschild, easily one of the fanciest and most beautiful streets in the city — a long stretch of upscale restaurants, classic and gigantic houses and posh dog-walkers anchored by a strip of trees and grass in down the middle. The protests juxtaposed ugly pop-up tents with the city’s finest architecture to speak out against skyrocketing real estate prices; a noble cause, no doubt. Thing is, in the past months, the tent collective has turned into a tent party representing anyone and everyone’s causes — walking down Rothschild, I heard political screeds screaming from loudspeakers, anti-animal cruelty bleeding hearts, deeply-conversing academics and, why the hell not, guitar-playing hippies. All day and all night, Tel Avivis sit and drink and sing and talk and, sure, protest. Will it last? Surely not — the upcoming turmoil of the fall will probably scatter the protestors. But for the time being, Rothschild is a tent city unto itself; beautiful, grimey, colorful, dirty and sweaty as hell. These tents don’t come with showers.
I’m already a week behind on posts, but that’s all for now — I move to Arad on Sunday, so in the interim, I’ll do my best to write again of the last week: moving to Jerusalem, meeting the staff and slogging through orientation, an overnight in Tel Aviv that I won’t forget and, you know, finally starting to believe that I live in Israel.