Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Hello from Hell Aviv!

I am sitting in a semi-depressing hotel room on a sweltering night in Tel Aviv, where out of some combination of lunacy and masochism I have decided to remain on my own for several days, my Birthright trip having ended Saturday night. This will be my first night spent sleeping in gloriously conditioned air; I spent the past two evenings in a sweaty hostel I booked out of a frugality inherited from my father, but I have decided it’s high time my mother pay for a hotel room. I hope she feels the same way.

Not that any of that is at all interesting, but that’s what being really hot does to you: it makes you incredibly tedious. For the past two days, there has not been much on my mind, as I have little room to think about anything other than the weather. If you would like to hear more about the weather, feel free to contact me, as I could go on and on.

For any Jews reading this, I strongly advise that you do Birthright, especially if you’re tired of being overtaken by a weighty disinterest whenever your grandfather raves about Israel. Isn’t it time you replaced your apathy with ambivalence?

If it's the God stuff holding you back, don't worry: this is no religious pilgrimage—though there are religious Birthright trips too, run by organizations like Mayanot. To any Orthodox Jews out there I say, Mayanot? Whyanot? But for those of us living for this world, I recommend Routes Travel’s “Amazing Israel” tour, which was practically devoid of religiosity (outside of brief, ceremonial Shabbat prayers—granted, I have no idea what was said, but nothing had the feeling of zealotry).

I think my favorite thing about Birthright is the school-field-trip quality to the whole thing. This feeling was ever present during the night we spent at some sort of Bedouin hospice in the Judea Desert. We were first led into a huge tent, where a dour looking Bedouin man sat, stoically roasting coffee beans. We took our seats in a large semi-circle while a more genial Bedouin, received with varying levels of interest, began telling us about Bedouin culture. In real life, this Bedouin was actually a music professor, which made the entire session reminiscent of one of those elementary-school visits from a Native American descendent decked out to look like Sitting Bull whom you would later spot on the street in a suit and tie, smoking a cigarette.

At any rate, we sat around while the Bedouin men pretended it was a hundred years ago. I’ll tell you: if you ever find yourself in ancient times and in need a place to sleep, look for a Bedouin village. If you find one, stand near the village and cough (they don’t have doorbells, so when they hear an unfamiliar hacking noise they know to bring out the good china). The Bedouins will give you several cups of coffee. The first cup means “Welcome.” The second cup means, “You are my guest.” The third cup means, “Make yourself at home.” The fourth cup means, “Please leave.” Hospitality is apparently the bedrock of Bedouin life, as the Bedouins needed visitors to fill them in on what was going on in the world. (“A thousand pillaging Romans due round these parts within a fortnight,” your visitor might tell you, and you would know to prepare four thousand cups of coffee.)

It’s now the next day, and I’ve just had some delicious mushy eggplant and espresso. It is still hot. I am off to the beach, where I will lie in the sun and work on my wan.