I feel a bit sad about the way I treated Israel, in retrospect. I neglected her many treasures, there’s no doubt about it. The problem was, I was deeply homesick when I first arrived, and while watching all the families strolling around together in the sunshine during Passover and hearing more New York accents than I’d encountered in my entire journey, all I could think about was my fast-approaching weekend trip home. I didn’t do any sightseeing whatsoever my first week there, and since much of the city was closed on and off for the holidays, I spent most of my time on the beach, reading and working. There were endless amounts of people batting balls back and forth with paddles—clearly the hip thing to do. Also in: quirkily mismatched bikinis for teen girls, and Speedos for old men.
I did get to see Jaffa one night with new friend Elad, who was extremely pleasant, informative, and fun, and thought it his duty as an Israeli to promote tourism. Having no phone during my stay in Israel (I continue to live in the 90s with my broken, prehistoric cell), and spotty internet, I didn’t get to meet up with everyone else I’d hoped to, but such is life…Also I will say that reality lives up to the legend; I had THE best hummus of my life in Tel Aviv. (I realize I may be misspelling hummus according to Israelis—there seem to be a zillion different spellings and I am ambivalent.) I made it a personal goal to try hummus at as many places as possible during my time in Israel. All were reliably garlicky, always included lemon, and often had a nice little pool of tahini in the center. My hostel (Gordon Inn) was also most notable for its ENORMOUS free breakfast every morning, which included not only shakshuka, but about five different kinds of freshly prepared hummus. I could eat hummus all day, and I often did. I also had my fair share of gelato, falafel, and sabich—a roadside delicacy (that I believe is originally Iraqi) of eggplant, egg, and salad, bursting out of a warm pita. Yum!
After five days in Tel Aviv, I embarked on my overseas jaunt to New York—on a redeye flight that was, straight from the captain’s mouth, “more than 50% children”…imagine how that went. After my weekend at home (more on that later), I returned to Israel much refreshed—albeit now much more suspicious to Israeli passport control (“Why did you come back to Israel? Why would you go home for such a short while? What is your budget for this trip? Do you have friends in Israel? What are their full names and where do they live?” and on and on). They searched my bag over and over, but eventually I got both back in and then out of the country. (“I just wanted to see my boyfriend!” I cried, quite honestly.)
Apart from more beach time, I took a trip to the desert and Masada to see the ruins of Herod the Great's fortress, where the Sicarii faced off against the Romans in the year 72, eventually committing mass suicide rather than be defeated. The system for getting and storing water was genius, and I loved seeing the foundations for the floor and wall heating of the steam room, but most impressive was just the fact that it’s all still there after all these years, laid out under the desert sun. Straining your ears, you could almost hear the ram thudding against the wall as the Romans laid siege. On the way back, we took a detour to Ein Gedi Spa for some skin-rejuvenating mud baths, sulfurous swims, and blissfully buoyant but dangerously sun-beckoning floating in the very salty Dead Sea. It was definitely cool (as Kelly told me “It’s like your butt and the sand are opposite magnets repelling one another”), but also made my contacts totally freak out and my eyes get all squinty and red. My skin was baby’s ass smooth, though, that’s for sure.
I spent the rest of the week getting in some great runs along the beach. Tel Aviv is seriously my kind of city—lots of young people, lots to do, plenty of good food. It almost reminded me of Brooklyn, but with a better, more convenient beach. Very hot, but it was a place I could live, for sure. I had planned to finally go to Jerusalem on Saturday, but because it was Shabbat and I am an idiot, the buses weren’t running, so apart from driving through on the bus on the way to Masada, I totally missed out. Kind of an epic fail, to have gone to Israel and not seen Jerusalem, but hopefully I’ll get another chance…providing customs lets me back in the country.