The Promised Land

There’s a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I’m heading straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain’t got the faith to stand its ground

With my final day in Israel finally here, time has come to post some impressions about my first trip to the Holy Land. And though the promised land Bruce Springsteen sang about lay (logistically, at least) “On a rattlesnake speedway in the Utah desert,” his words came to me last Sunday Easter when Deb and Laura and I looked out upon Jerusalem from the Old City. Our view was both breathtaking and foreboding. Moments later the sky opened up and rain came pouring down, rendering the stone streets slippery and running with water.

Monday morning, when news reached our hotel of the suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, Springsteen’s words took on a truer, more ominous meaning, one that Israelis live with day in, day out. Only minutes away from where we’re staying in Ramat Gan, a Palestinian teenaged terrorist had left nine dead and more than 60 wounded. With headlines like “the world awaits Israel’s response” and “Islamic Jihad warns of more suicide attacks” still dominating the news, this horrific incident represents the only dark cloud in an otherwise wonderful vacation.

Israel is a beautiful country, with architecture ranging from the ancient to the futuristic. While the major cities are highly populated and congested, the countrysides, with their crops and orchards (especially north of Tel Aviv), are remarkably remindful of Northern California and Southern Oregon. A trip south yesterday revealed a desert landscape not unlike Southern Utah’s (instead of Mormon fundamentalists we saw Bedouins and herds of camels). And a slight turn of the road on our return trip yielded an unexpectedly magical vision: a field of flowers representative of the country’s agriculture that thrives in the face of an often arid climate.

So much of our time here has been spent in traffic, I’d be remiss for not mentioning that drivers in Israel make drivers in New York City seem sane. At the risk of mixing international metaphors, Israeli drivers (especially the ones on motorcycles) navigate the streets and highways with a fearlessness worthy of kamikazes. If parking in New York City poses a challenge, in Tel Aviv it stands as an act of defiance.

Undernourished stray cats appear everywhere, winding their ways in and out of bushes and appearing at your feet when you dine at outside restaurants.

“Israel loves Americans,” Deb told me when we arrived here, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the presence of our popular culture. Seinfeld remains extremely popular over here, with Israeli television incessantly advertising forthcoming “new” episodes of the series. Thanks to Deb for providing this photo of a mural painted on a wall at the corner of Rehov Totserot Ha’arets and Derech Hashalom in Tel Aviv, further illustrating the show’s popularity.

Israel is a crazed coffee-consuming country, but there is not a Starbucks to be found. The reason for this seems common business sense (Israelis preferred home-grown coffeehouses and their product instead), but political conspiracies abound online.

Apolitical by nature, I feel especially the agnostic man-child in the promised land in Israel. Trying to understand the political situation here, for me, is like trying to explain the plot of an Atom Egoyan movie in 25 words or less. All I know is that, driving south yesterday, the road was posted with way too many signs leading to Gaza for my comfort. And when Deb and I missed our turn and found ourselves alone on a two-way highway headed for Gaza, where we were the only vehicle in sight, the feeling was not one of uh-oh but rather oh shit.

Less than a half hour later, however, back on course and driving into the large city of Be’er Sheva, we stopped at a traffic light where all feelings of disquietment evaporated. A little girl ran out to our car and entreated us to buy an Israeli flag from her. The look of hope on her face, reflected by the symbol she bestowed, will long remain foremost among the many memories I’ll take home with me tonight.

Leave a Reply