"Israel 2008" story # 20

Matta, Israel           December 4, 2008

It was mid-November when I received payment for the two weeks of landscaping/wood-gathering work I did. And I now had ten times as much money as I'd had upon arrival in Israel. I left pleasantly quiet Tzfat, a town I couldn't have standed to live in, because the religious girls there weren't fun. But, I still wasn't ready to go to my next, new country. Something about my time in Israel had been disappointing. Disheartening.
     I revisited Tel Aviv, and Ran Dor, my disciplined guitarist friend. He'd once said to me, "So, we're in the same place, then," because, similar to me, he was trying to stop masturbating, and against premarital sex. But, I also doubted I could live in Tel Aviv. It was too big; the young people didn't dance freely; and you couldn't rely on new acquaintances.
     Then, I went to Jerusalem. While there, I visited a neighboring village in the mountains. I love mountain villages. I was visiting a non-Jewish family who'd picked me up in the Negev Desert weeks earlier. The mother lived in a mortar house with a cold, uninhibited living space and no television. Her fifteen-year-old son had curly, ash hair, paralyzing navy eyes, and fingers that played the blues on piano; he took me to a small cliff, which we scaled in order to watch the daylight slip away. The youngest daughter, a redhead who had fearless eyes and yet always yearned for her mother to be near, gave up her room to me and Tilo, my German friend, and we slept as good as mountain summits do.
     Tilo, the youngest and most sensitive in a family of three brothers, relished in the opportunity to visit a warm and playful home. We returned to Jerusalem, energized.
     I then gave some of this energy back to Israel, in a sense. A film student from Tzfat came, who wanted to shoot a documentary film about me. She interviewed me. She asked about my relationship with Israel. She asked for words of wisdom, but I only knew one. (Ha ha, just kidding; of course I had lots of philosophical utterances for the camera.) She filmed me selling my stories, on a shopping street in Jerusalem.
     The documentary was coming along well ... and then we ran into Daniel! I hadn't seen this capricious Canadian violinist since we'd met in Tzfat, and he'd since become the star of one of my stories. I showed him the Hebrew translation of the story, which I sold all around the country with his picture on it, and he insisted on giving me five shekels for one, for support. He played his violin for the camera. I read the English version of the story. And the film director had Daniel wish me, "Good luck," on-camera.
     That night, he and I convened in a grungy dance bar. Bearded, wearing a lumberjack flannel, and "punk"-thin, Daniel danced a hillarious move. He put each hand on its opposing elbow and shook his forearms around haplessly, as if he was stuck in a straight-jacket. But, the film-shooter had already left town at this point.
     I felt good that I could leave some sort of a message for the people of Israel. And I was happy I got to see Daniel again. But, I still wasn't ready to leave the country.
     I returned to the aforementioned mountain village. This place, named Matta, seemed to be the elusive place in Israel where I could imagine living and being happy. This time, I camped in a nearby valley, where the human ego wasn't a force, only the now-dry river's course. I spent two days writing, here and in the Morroccan-Jewish/calm-people's village.
     The mother of "the family" had told me I have a good way of communicating with children, that I give them respect. She and her eldest daughter, Shahar, wanted me to stop by again, to see Shahar for the first time since the Negev.
     Short Shahar, going on seventeen, had a body you could rock on and drown in like the sea. She wore warm-cotton shirts with gray swirls, with sleeves reaching her wrists and low cuts revealing her chest. Her strong, brown eyeballs communicated that you were powerless before her if she willed it. The whites of her eyes were sunny around me, though.
     She showed me a book about psychology she was reading, a study of mental patients. We danced a bit of salsa together. On her round, feather-smooth face, the distances between her teeth in her smile brought all onlookers ecstasy, and her body electrified tall me.
     "The family" and I played cards, until Shahar ahd to leave to baby-sit. I thanked her for the dance. And she said quietly, "Any time."
     I'd like to believe Shahar's and my relationship represented my first friendship with a single, Israeli female. This was important, because I'd had lots of interaction with the girls of the country, some of whom I'd really cared about, and the fact that none or few had cared about me was discouraging. I now had renewed faith that wherever I'd go I'd find friends. I could leave, now, happily. And I hoped to keep in touch with "the family".
     First, though, I just wanted to sell the remainder of my xerocopied stories. I worked the streets of Rehovot, a modern town with little sense of place. And, on December 1st, a whopping sixty-seven percent of the people bought stories! Maybe they liked my new sales-pitch; maybe they liked my new beard stubble; maybe I was more confident. I loved Rehovot!
     I recalled the Jewish pamphlet from Tzfat. At one point, it'd claimed that a person who remained pure would benefit from "Bread from Heaven." This was described as "earning a living without effort." Thus far, such a concept had seemed impossible in Israel. But, after an easy, enjoyable, and profitable December 1st, I felt it could be okay to earn a living in this country.
     Also, I talked with a black, Ethiopian Jewish girl and gave her my phone number. She didn't call. But, I realized, it was the first time I'd felt so comfortable with my Hebrew that I wouldn't fear a Hebrew-only phone conversation. Great.
     And so, in the last week, Israel became a place where, if I had to, I could live. Live and enjoy living. I'd already had Ran Dor and some friends. Now, I had a warm feeling for their land, too. And I was happy I was a traveler.

peace, Israel and friends
Modern Oddyseus

Thanks to Shimrit; Braha; Ido; Isan; Yahud & Huvan; Zviya; Teodor; Noah & Ftah; and Kvir for rides!
Much thanks to Ran Dor; Paulina, Yasha, Gosha, & Yarden; Katya & Ronya; Tilo & Helga; and Yardena, Naftali, Gaya, Rotem, & Yuri for places to stay!

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