I recently returned from my second trip to Israel. My first was 15 years ago, when I was 33, so I am hardly a Holy Land expert. But both times, I’ve had electric reactions while there. Something pulsates throughout my body and my being.
This time, I was in my Jerusalem hotel the first morning after I arrived, running on a treadmill at 6 a.m. in the fitness center. It was on a high floor that overlooked the city. The mixture of the exercise and the jet lag and the amazing view and the realization that there I was, in Jerusalem, gave me goose bumps — many more, in fact, than I would feel later that day on a tour of the Old City.
A runner’s high type of feeling washing over me, my mind wandered. I thought about how living in Israel is the pinnacle of a Jewish existence for so many people, and for the first time I understood why people would choose to live under threat of danger (i.e., pretty much anywhere in Israel).
Because even if something horrible were to happen, dying in Israel somehow would be honorable, meaningful, a puzzle piece that fits — so much more right than, say, getting crushed by a truck on the freeway in San Leandro.
And then a week later, I was walking around Tel Aviv, my eyes constantly checking the sidewalk in front of me so I could dodge all the dog doo. What, no pooper-scooper law in this country? Deee-sgusting. So much for my spiritual high.
And so it goes in Israel, experiences running the gamut from holy to crap.
I spent 10 days there, half on a media junket paid for by the American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and the rest on my own — two days in Jerusalem and three in Tel Aviv. Here are a few moments and notes that stand out:
Sinkholes. A huge and mysterious problem, hundreds of giant sinkholes are developing near the Dead Sea, a threat to both tourism and the environment. Scientists are working on it, but not much can be done at this point.
Ramon Crater. Did you know there are humongous, canyonlike craters in the southern part of Israel? I’m talking national park–worthy. I jogged along the rim of one and then hiked down into it the next day. Wow!
Customer relations. First the nut vendor at the Mahane Yehuda market poured more nuts into each bag than I wanted. Then he ripped me off with his prices. And all the while, he treated me like garbage, as if it was all a big bother to him. In hindsight: Bravo!
Shabbat in Jerusalem. I hadn’t seen my second cousin Fannie in 35 years, since her bat mitzvah in L.A. She made aliyah 25 years ago, and now she is Orthodox and a mother of seven. She and her husband, Stuart, graciously invited me over for Shabbat dinner. What a wonderful experience.
Shabbat at the Kotel. An opportunity I couldn’t pass up turned out to be stormy and bitingly cold. So instead of being touched spiritually, I was seeking cover and trying to stay warm while Stuart was in the tunnel davening.
Jewish minority. Rather than take a sherut (shared taxi) from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, I found out about an Arab-run minivan company. It was packed with Arabs, and somehow I felt less like a stupid tourist.
Sabich. My first ever sabich was eaten on a bench in front of a hole-in-the-wall in Tel Aviv. Fried eggplant, hard-boiled egg, potato and hummus with veggies and sauce in a pita. Yum!
Hookah. In Jaffa, I smoked with some Arabs in a nice shisha parlor. They said “Obama” and gave me a thumbs-up, but we couldn’t really communicate until an English speaker showed up and translated. Their first question: How much does a Coke cost in the U.S.? I tried to ask about Mideast relations. “No politics while smoking,” they replied.
Chills. I ran in the 10K portion of the Jerusalem Marathon, along with thousands of others. The energy was intense, and as I ran through Jerusalem’s streets with thousands more cheering along the route, the runner’s high came quickly. It felt holy. All that dog crap in Tel Aviv was still a couple of days away.
Andy Altman-Ohr is the managing editor of j. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.