"Israel 2008" story # 13

Beer Sheva, Israel           November 1, 2008

While I was in religious Tzfat again, a suburban girl finished her second story in the Eti-Tritto-translates-the-Modern-Oddyseus-so-Israelis-can-read-how-I've-criticized-them series. Publisher: Cheap University Copy Machines, 2008. Price: a small, round number of local currency. Available at: almost any shop in Israel where books are sold, or magazines, or fresh meat, or cashews and almonds, or clothing - but, you have to be there at the right moment when I barge in, selling autographed stories.
     I left Tzfat and returned to Tel Aviv, where there were lots of shops for me to barge into.
     Unfortunately, I had gotten my story-selling business up and running at a time when the work-weeks were interrupted by lots of Jewish holidays.
     The first had been "Rosh Hashana", the Jewish New Year. It comes during September or October.
     Thinking about the years, while in Israel, inspires awe. When in America, biblical stories seem distant, and it's easy to cast them off as fables. But, in Israel, you hear: "King David built his temple here, 3,000 years ago, in Jerusalem." ... "Moses led the Israelites through the Sinai and Paran Deserts, here." ... etc.
     Jewish scholars - according to one guy I know, who, like many people, studies a different 1/50th of the Torah every week - have figured that we're now in the 5,769th year of the world.
     I questioned this, because it seemed like, in the Christian Old Testament which is like the Jewish Bible, there'd been a number of people living to be nine-hundred years old. And there were also whole biblical books recounting the passing of generations, reading something like, "... and Eliah begat Shimon who begat Samson who begat Nebuchadnezar who begat Fred who begat Malichai who begat ..." That was when the Bible lost my interest, and I put it away. It would've taken 5,769 years just to read all those "begats"!
     Or, maybe the people just begat the next generation while in their twenties, and then just hung around for a long time, collecting social security. That would make the Jewish scholars' math feasible. Perhaps I overlooked a paragraph in the Bible:
     "3:34 And Noah said unto the Queen of Sheba: 35 "I just consider myself fortunate I could live to see my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great- 36 great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren." 37 And the Queen of Sheba saideth unto Noah: "God loves you."
     So, now that we've got the math figured out, how did the Israelis celebrate their 5,769th year?
     Well ... my thirty-two-year-old Tel Aviv host, a guy who has recently turned religious because he seeks the discipline necessary to serve others, invited me to join his family for the three-day holidays. But, I didn't go.
     I do know that he, Ran Dor, observed these three days as he would a "Shabat" (Sabbath). He didn't create something by writing or playing guitar, he didn't drive, and he didn't turn on a light nor probably any electrical device, nor did he use a phone. He just sat.
     (Ha ha, only kidding! He sat and prayed.)
     A week after Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur came to Ran and me and Tel Aviv.
     This twenty-five-hour period, from sunset to sunset, was more effective than a Shabat in getting people to stop driving and businesses to close. NOBODY drove. NO BUSINESSES opened.
     An hour after sunset, major roads were quiet, full of children excitedly peddling bicycles, and mothers walking behind toddlers on tricycles. It was an urban planner's utopia. For twenty-five hours, Tel Aviv was a metropolis for a monk.
     Ran and others fasted, even abstaining from water. I fasted for nineteen hours, and then when Ran was in the synagogue I gave in and ate.
     Things returned to normal after sunset.
     But, a week later, a holiday known as "Sukot" was to come. In a car going south, Ran critiqued stories of mine he'd read, as we drove to his parents' hosue in Beer Sheva. I was looking forward to Sukot, as Ran was becoming a unique friend.
     We'd met in northern Tzfat during the summer. A Canadian named Daniel had been playing violin, while Ran made crisp, sad twums on his guitar, and I sometimes accompanied on a handheld drum. Afterwards, we talked about philosophy. And Ran bought two of my stories, saying, "That's a good deal. Five shekels for a piece of your soul."
     Like many young Israeli guys, Ran was good-looking due to an army-roughened exterior that showed little emotion. He had bronze/maize-colored skin, a hanging wave of hair, and gruff beard whiskers.
     Whenever I needed a place to stay in Tel Aviv, he invited me. He quickly made the air feel comfortable in his small apartment, saying my presence didn't bother him. "I can be alone without having to be physically alone." He practiced tai chi to train his body, he studied Jewish texts to train his spirit, and he loved his job providing care for adults with autism.
     In the car going south, Ran said he thought my stories could be longer and explore ideas mroe deeply. Meanwhile, I advised him that, while dating, he should be less critical of his girlfriends.
     We arrived at his rich parents' extravagant home. But, we'd be eating dinner that evening in a "suka".
     I helped Ran's dad to finish laying palm branches on an open-roofed box in the yard - the "suka". The large box mimicked the houses the Israelites had built while they roamed for forty years in the desert. Nowadays, the most traditional Jews sleep and live in these boxes for the whole "Sukot" Holy Week.
     A happy, long-bearded guy in Tzfat had told me about one very rainy and windy Sukot Week in the past. He and a rabbi stayed in their suka, braving the weather, while pieces of other peoples' sukot flew by them. Finally, a neighbor came by and said, "Hey! You guys are still here? I thought I was the only one out here." He joined them, and they drank whiskey until late in the night. For Sukot Week, incidentally, Jews were commanded to be happy. What a great commandment.
     Ran's family and I, because we weren't the most traditional Jews, would only be taking the first day off from work and eating a meal or two in the suka.
     Ran began the dinner by reading to us from the Torah. He passed around a glass of dessert wine, and he ripped bread for us to eat. The first thing on each of our plates was then Ran's grandma's "gefildefish". She'd made it by pounding fish together with bread crumbs. It tasted like a wet sock, but a wet sock you could learn to love.
     We dined on cooked vegetables, minced beef wrapped in leaves, and a chocolate pudding made out of soy. We dined happily. It felt good to be invited in by a family.

Happy Jewish Holidays,
Modern Oddyseus

Thanks to Rita; Sa'ula; Schlomeet; Shahal & Ben; Daniel; and Mordechai Kedar for rides!
Much thanks to Ran Dor; and Meir, Nila, Barak, Ran, Efrat, & the youngest child for places to stay!

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