"Israel 2008" story # 17

Tzfat, Israel           November 17, 2008

"You got a good ride, man."
     Yohav, the brown-skinned war veteran with a scratchy voice and stubby hair, not only drove me to Tzfat but offered me a job with his landscaping company. I accepted. And thus, Liyel, the white-skinned pacifist, became my co-worker.
     It rained a lot the first week, so we didn't landscape. Instead, we collected firewood in a mountainside forest that quietly looked out upon a dry, prickly land stumbling down to the Sea of Galilee's trough.
     I figured curly-haired Liyel had done drugs in the past, because 1. He said he'd moved away from Tel Aviv to avoid the things he did there. 2. He freely hugged and blew kisses to his male friends, and lovingly wanted a pettite girl to take care of.
     He manned the chain-saw. He told me, "Once, I went to kill myself on a tree. Now, I kill trees." Apparently, he'd once sought to hang himself.
     We made a good two-man team. We basically rock-climbed on one slope, where Liyel cut up dead trees, and I lugged the logs to the road. Only once did I use the chain-saw. I leaned over a cliff's edge to cut a vine that was gripping a log, and burly Liyel held onto my waist as I teetered over the edge.
     Liyel was not only caring but hillarious. We were in a supermarket populated with many Russians, and he learned to say, "I love you," in Russian, and he began saying it to everyone we passed, most of whom were elderly and confused. He said it to a big, ponytailed man who exclaimed, "Chto!?" (What!?) But, then, we realized the ponytailed man hadn't come in anger, but to join us in juggling fruit.
     Later, we were eating in a shawarma shop. Liyel took a big bite of a slithering pepper he knew would be hot. His forehead sweat and his eyes reddened. He started yelling at the employees. "Mah zeh!? Zeh lo ochel!!" (What is this!? It's not food!!) The employees and customers all started laughing, as he dramatically tiraded, pointing to his forehead and checking his eyes. At one point, I guess, he said there should be a sign on the peppers, reading, "Do Not Touch."
     Another time, we and another co-worker rested, exhausted following a day of tough work. "Do you know what happens tomorrow?" he said, informatively. We only had to complete one more day of work before Yohav and the bosses should pay us. "... They kill us."
     Nobody killed us. But, we did have to wait several days for busy Yohav to pay us. Luckily, I didn't have to spend my work-weeks nor my waiting days in a tent. A sixty-year-old woman named Hana, a cleaning lady at Tzfat College who'd looked at me once and decided I needed to be mothered, offered me an empty room connected to her house. Being a Jew from Morrocco, she kept the inside of her home mostly wall-less, so that her children and grandchildren could be near and together. Hana lived to love her offspring, and me.
     Great. Now that you, the reader, and I, the log-carrier, have discussed Hana and Liyel and love and slithering peppers, we mightaswell just keep on going, all the way, to talk about The Top 5 Best Things About Israel! As usual, I'll do the talking. Here they are:

After enduring two country-less millenia, the Israelis love having Israel.


When things are progressing slower than you'd like, this Israeli saying usually calms you down immediately. It works for me. Many Israelis, though, seem to have forgotten it.

Israel is a complex place. More than five good things need to be MENTIONed. But, i'm not ABLE to give them fancy numbers, only HONOR. They are: TZFAT'S BEAUTY; ODED BURLA, the writer; EHUD BANAI, the rock musician; LOTS OF WILD ANIMALS AND FRUIT; PRETTY GOOD HITCHHIKING; the many PROGRESSIVE THINKERS; NO MASTURBATING for the religious and disciplined; AGRICULTURAL ACHIEVEMENTS; SHABBAT DINNERS WITH FAMILIES; and RELIGIOUS WOMEN'S CLOTHING IN TZFAT. The religious women in Tzfat wear long, heavy skirts with plain flower designs; comfortable blouses that cover everything, commanding respect; free hair, if single; and soft hair bonnets that make smiling, married women prettier.

Okay. Just like a religious Jew won't mix meat with dairy, MODERN ODDYSEUS' TOP 5!!! never mixes The Best with The Worst. The Modern Oddyseus does love cheeseburgers, though. So, here are the Top 5 Worst Things About Israel!

Although Israel is a very well-off country, it's a tough one to make a living in. That's because once people get money, even a lot of it, they don't like to part with it. They like to make more. They stop valuing learning (if they ever valued it), brotherhood, and fun.
     Many people - excluding on Shabbat, when most people rest - desire only to work. And Israelis don't seem to each much during their workdays. Their minds are obsessed with money, and their bodies look unhealthy.

Girls and guys are rarely friends. Religious women are looking for their mates. Liberal women are looking for sex, not for someone to go out with them and their friends, nor for a guy who'd come to them with his problems. They're very practical.

Many Jews strongly identify themselves with the Jewish nation. And many Israelis are selfish and self-flattering. Thus, you get history books that describe Israelis only in words of praise, mentioning other nationalities only to reference how they tried to interfere with the Zionists' ambitions.
     The very religious are often unwelcoming to non-Jews; in Israeli courts, a Jew's testimony is worth more than a non-Jew's, and sometimes it's the only one that counts; few mothers would be happy if their sons married non-Jews, because it's the mother's Jewishness that determines the child's.
     They were Jews who caused the separation between Jews and other peoples. And, if one nation doesn't share its resources (whether money, brotherly love, or romance) with others, it will get enemies. "Live and let live" doesn't work. "Love and teach and share" sounds better.


The HONORABLE MENTION looks like this, an ugly photo collage best left unmade: FLIES; CAR-HONKING; EILAT; KIPPA HATS; eating "KOSHER"; THE ANTI-TOUCHING VOW; WHITE "HALA", the nutrition-less Shabbat bread; and SELFISH AS CHILDREN. Some adults, for example the screaming guys I played basketball with, the rich who used their money to play, and old people who talked but didn't listen, seemed childish.
     As this list proves, when you drop a log on a mountainside, sometimes it rolls a long way down.

During my second and final week for and with Yohav, we traveled to the coast to do landscaping work. This was less enjoyable than rolling logs down hills.
     But, I got to know Ohad better.
     In his mid-twenties, he wore tanned skin, a round face, innocently charismatic eyes, a constant smile Rabbi Nachman would be proud of, and a kippa hat. He was great. Like Liyel, he greeted us co-workers with hugs.
     He paused from work to pray occasionally. He, like the famous Rabbi Nachman but not because of him, believed everything in life happened for the best. He smiled even when our truck broke down.
     Happy Ohad had only recently become religious, after working for a year in Australia and having many girlfriends. He now believed God was going to find him a good girl to marry soon.
     He and Liyel were probably the most humble, friendliest guys I met while in Tzfat. Ohad loved EVERYONE. "We're all brothers. We all have the same Father." The two of them and Yohav had been friends from their youth. I love and will miss them.

with love, Modern Oddyseus

Much thanks to Hana, Eliahu, Malka, & Oded for the place to stay!
Much thanks to Yohav, Ido, Rhonda, & Moshe for hosting my 29th Birthday Party on October 26th, which included bongos and a cake with powdered sugar on top!

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