"Israel 2008" story # 15

Jerusalem, Israel           November 12, 2008

Luckily, I was already standing near the Dead Sea. Thus, I couldn't get any lower.
     Shortly after my Dead Sea swim, I noticed I'd somehow lost all my money. Oh, no. My hundred shekels ($28) were gone. I'd sold twenty stories to get that money.
     I took a few breaths and puffed myself back up and decided to "Press On!" (Boy, I haven't used that phrase in years. But, I needed it now.) I pressed on and hitchhiked towards Jerusalem.
     Forty-something Igal, in a trimmed beard, quickly picked me up. Wearing a trimmed beard, he wasn't religious. He just liked beards. Or else close shaves irritated him. An intelligent former kibbutznik, he liked the international cinema in Jerusalem. He told of lost kibbutz days, of weddings where the groom couldn't make it, so the bride married someone else; the kibbutz just needed marriage papers.
     He dropped me off near the godly white, stone walls encircling the Old City of Jerusalem. According to Jewish legend, when God created the world, seven baskets of beauty fell on it, and six of those fell on Jerusalem. The other one - as best as I can tell - fell on my dear, cheery Mom. (Aww, how sweet, Justin.)
     A German guy, Tilo, walked around the Old City with me. We'd met days earlier, when we were among five hitchhikers having an impossible wait in the desert north of Eilat. He was basically "thrumping" in Israel, too, except he had more than $28. A gentle blond, he said he was also having a tough time being accepted by Israelis, as we walked. I didn't say much, because I was worried about falling baskets.
     The Old City was a 3D maze. Giant walls dwarfed me and Tilo, as we passed through the dark air of alleys. Steps led us up and around. Tunnels led us through and under. We saw Hassidic Jewish men - the most religious, in black and white and with beards - dancing in large numbers before the Wailing Wall.
     They danced to commemorate the end of Sukot Week. They danced before the remnant of King David's 3,000-year-old temple, an orangely-lit plane of eroding white-brick anvils. Many Israelis believe that if a great man will come and restore the temple, according to the God-given instructions in the Bible, that man must be the Messiah.
     Tio pointed behind the Wall to the dome-shamed Mount of Olives, grassy with white graves. Apparently, the privileged men buried there will be the first the Messiah takes to heaven.
     The German and I wandered in the town-sized maze. We saw synagogues, places for bar-mitzvahs, and religious schools. The architecture was square, big, and clean. We came to an out-of-the-way plaza, where a tree twisted up in the center and pillowed the noise. Tilo and I sat quietly here, hearing only the rubber footsteps of religious men passing through.
     Finally, we walked through a dirtier, more colorful bazaar, where Jews or Palestinians (I'm not sure which) sold nuts, rugs, and t-shirts reading, "Don't Worry, Be Jewish." Tilo bought us sticky snacks made out of philo-dough, sugar, and honey. Mmm ...

The next morning, I woke up on Tilo's floor. Tilo went to the hospital, where he was doing a three-month internship for medical school.
     I went to sell stories, in a commercial area in the New Town. In the first hour, I sold eight stories. But, in the next hour-and-a-half, I sold only two. Darn, it was tough! I called it a day.
     The shop-owners I'd been pitching to weren't Hassidic Jews (often referred to me in the past as "religious Jews"), but men wearing kippa hats. I have a bad connotation of these kippa hats, worn by men who also esteem the Torah. Many seem grumpy and money-hungry, suffering from what I'd call an obsession with self-adoration. There are exceptions, of course - but many subscribe to a practicality that has no use for fun, patience, or compassion. The most successful are often very skinny, with vacuum-tight wrinkles.
     Selling stories in Israel has been more difficult than it'd been in Greece. Maybe it's because I don't have a third story for people to choose from, in Israel? Maybe it's because the Christian Virgin Mary is on my often-visible necklace, which friends had given me in Russia? Maybe it's because Hassidic Jews also sell reading material here, but at a much lower rate?
     Maybe there are other reasons? Here are the reasons given to me by the people I'd call ... The Top 5 Assholes of Israel!
     # 5. In Eilat, a vacationing Hassidic man told me he wasn't interested in what I had almost before I began talking. The very religious often prohibit themselves from watching any movies or reading anything not Judaism-related. What bothered me was that he was drinking a Coca-Cola. The very religious are famous for having unhealthy, uneducated diets; and this stunted man looked like he was in danger of being overpowered one day by his beard. He was open to new advertising and consumerism, but not to new ideas.
     4. A long-haired, thirty-year-old worker in Eilat didn't have the Hassidic beard, but he said he read "rak Torah" (only the Torah). He said he'd been one of many Israelis who travel in India following the army. They often do drugs, explore spiritual ashrams, and - oddly - come home and decide to embrace Judaism. I guessed he'd never known hardship nor poverty his whole life, and just floated around deaf to all but the religion of Whatever-Flatters-my-Ego-ism.
     3. A man said: "Ani lo yodeh likroh sefrim. Ani rak yodeh likroh sifrot. Kalkulator." (I don't know how to read books. I only know how to read numbers. (He pointed to his head.) Calculator.) I said he must love money. He said, yeah. I said I didn't. A guy reading a newspaper at the counter of this Jerusalem shop said, when why did I ask five shekels for my story?
     2. A wrinkled-faced man explained that he wasn't going to buy one of my stories because Jewish Religion has a rule saying one shouldn't spend money before he's made money. He said I might try coming to his restaurant later; being in Eilat, his restaurant wouldn't get started until eleven p.m. I asked myself, so when could this guy spend money!? He went on to say he had about five business ventures, most in Tel Aviv. As we talked, he wore a security guard's uniform and sat outside a convenience store. Maybe that was his, too?
     1. In Jerusalem, I pitched to the father of a native-English-speaking family that ran a butchery. "One day, I'll be a big writer," I said, displaying English stories for the sons. The father said, "So, when you're a big writer, we'll buy your book then."
     Hmm, those falling baskets of beauty must've knocked the sense out of the Jerusalamanders.
     Of course, Israel is home to some incredibly progressive thinkers. They live on kibbutzes or in small villages mostly, it seems. They pick me up when I hitchhike, in a country where the hitchhiking is usually very good.
     After I said good-bye to Tilo in Jerusalem, a young couple drove me to Tel Aviv. They were coming from a Rainbow gathering in the Negev. They taught environmental education in northern schools. We had fun talking, and they insisted on giving me money for one of my stories. They suggested that the people who don't buy my stories are probably the same who give to lazy beggars. I was glad my drivers saw the difference.
     Of course, in the end, if I want to sell stories, it's my duty to convince the people to buy them. Maybe I can get Tilo to teach me how to perform lobotomies.

- Modern Oddyseus

Thanks to Igal; Rifka; and Mickey & Gal for rides!
Much thanks to Tilo & his roommates for the place to stay!

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