Most recent update: Tuesday 15 March 2016
The Whisker: We’d just arrived at our hotel in Jerusalem after having flown into Tel Aviv, jet-lagged as we’ve ever been, and David & Smadar and her mom were going to meet us in the hotel lobby in a half hour, just to say shalom and welcome us before the Sabbath set in. My feet were killing me from all the walking we had to do at the airport, schlepping 200 lbs. of luggage between us on two of those damned three-wheeled international arrivals carts you can never take as far as you need to. Just before we went downstairs I took off my sneakers and changed into my slippers, and as I put my left one on, I stopped and noticed a big white whisker sticking out of it. Evidently, our longhaired cat, Mr Fluff, who loved nothing more than sticking his nose into my shoes and burrowing in there. He’d left me a souvenir: a long white whisker. Being a devoted cat parent, I taped it to the center of a pointless painting of a cyclone or something that the hotel thought was tasteful enough to hang on the wall. I’d like to think it was an improvement for the two weeks we spent there.
On a related note, I couldn’t help turning the words of Paul Simon’s America around in my head, with a light apology to the Bernie Sanders campaign…. “Counting the cats on my own TempurPedic, they’re all glad we’re back in America….”
The Bread: If someone asked me to describe what it smelled like in Israel, I would have to say “Bread.” As much as Hong Kong smells like fish, Jerusalem smells like bread. The smell of all kinds of breads and bread products permeated the air in every market, and for blocks around and many stories above. There were the ubiquitous braided or knotted rolls, dotted with sesame seeds, which dominated the bakery stalls in every market, two-foot-long bread sticks rolled in all kinds of nuts and seeds – hard on the outside, but soft and chewy on the inside, garlic loaves in a number of shapes and sizes. From Wednesday afternoon, people are picking up their weekly Shabbat meals. This is a weekly ritual that seems to both energize people and prepare them to wind all the way down at the same time. When the siren sounds late Friday afternoon to announce candle-lighting time, Jerusalem comes to a slow, gliding stop. Suddenly, nothing is urgent anymore, except the relatively quiet rush to rest.
The Shiva Brochot (Seven Blessings): For seven nights after the wedding, the bride and groom and their immediate family are hosted at people’s homes and feasted and blessed and the like. Picture this: Seven nights, optimally at seven different locations, with seven different crowds of people. Oh, did I not mention these were open-house parties? The bride and groom are not allowed to work during the week after their wedding. Everyone else, life goes on as usual. So, these are sometimes late events, beginning at 8 o’clock, across town from everybody, guaranteeing late arrivals, and to top it off, the stars of the evening aren’t supposed to arrive until half an hour after the show begins, so they can be properly applauded by the full crowd. These feasts sometimes went on until one in the morning (damn the neighbors, full speed ahead!) and some nights we didn’t get to bed until three, but these were seven nights we’ll never forget.
The Nachas: In English, The Pride. Not like a lion’s pride — the pride one gets when one’s child succeeds or excels or wins a race or stuff like that. We went to Israel to see the same old kid we raised, and who visited just last June, get married to a twenty-one year-old beauty whom he’d only met a few months before the wedding. What could have changed him in such a short time? Not very much, it seemed, because when we got there he was the same old David (although he prefers Dovid or Davide, accent on the 2nd syllable, the Hebrew pronunciation) on the outside, but he’d never let us see that.
His bride, on the other hand, when we asked her at a quiet dinner one night, gave us an example of herself and how she’s like David, and said she “gets” him, something I didn’t expect to hear from someone so young. The way she said it showed that she was a deep thinker, not a shallow young girl by any means. Chalk up some credit to her parents for that.
But aside from that, what really surprised us was the thanks we got from almost everyone at the wedding. And I’m talking a good 200 people, only one of whom we knew, and that was only tangentially. People were thanking us for having David, for raising him; asking us what magic we did to shape a character like his! Hearing that blew me away. Completely. To hear it from his rabbis was one thing, because with teachers and clergy you expect someone to be on their best behavior. But to hear it from a 30-year-old’s contemporaries — that’s an entirely different positive smack in the head. I’m still incredulous.
My only wish is that the school deans and principals who effectively drove him out of his home country with their ignorant inbred anti-Semitism could have been there. I’d have loved them to hear some of the compliments I received for my son. In fact, I’d love them to read this. They would have left shaking their heads in disbelief. And then I would have smashed them on a rock.
The Interest in American Politics: No matter where in Jerusalem I went, without fail, people would ask me what I thought of the primary races for president in 2016. Everyone was interested. Old, young, and in between. “So, what do you think will happen in November, Warren?” they would ask me, hoping no doubt to get a piece of wisdom from a guy who’s had real campaign experience. Invariably, I would smile at them, and try to evoke a guess from them, just for the fun of it, and to see where they were coming from.
“Chaos.” [Pause for moment of disbelief.] “ This year American politics are going to break down. Things aren’t going to follow normal procedure. There’s going to be some kind of revolution. There will be a lot of angry people between Election Day and the inauguration, and things have been getting violent already.”
At this point, they would look at each other, kind of drawn-faced, the way many of us Americans do when we think of our future leading up to and culminating on Election Day. It’s pretty damn bleak.
Which wasn’t very pleasing to the people I met in Israel, but at least I think they got an honest dose of reality from someone who’s in tune with what’s been going on here.