Saturday, January 13, 2007

Jet lag means hello WWPD!

It's barely 5am, but feels about time to start the day. It's been so long since I've been in front of a computer a) for more than 5 minutes, and b) which I didn't continually owe increments of 10 shekels, so may the blogging begin. Photos of my "Jewlicious" trip to Israel can be found on my Flickr page, as well as all over the Internet-- this was one heck of a well-documented trip!

Like every other participant on a winter Birthright Israel trip, I have returned to the Diaspora unexploded, awed by Israel, sick of tomato-cucumber salad... and with a really unpleasant cold. While I know that colds come from viruses, I attribute this cold to one of the following factors:

1) Floating in a very cold Dead Sea, and being freezing from pretty much day one.

2) Sharing a bus with 50 other people, most of whom were coughing, all of whom were most generous with food and beverages.

3) The fact that Momo, the head of Oranim, the group behind my trip, encourages Jewish boys and girls to mingle in ways conducive to the production of Jewish babies, if not nine months after the 10 days, then relatively soon thereafter. While I didn't partake in this most kosher of cuddle puddles, I can't imagine the germ-sharing didn't have a wider impact.

4) Meals that involved hummus and rice mixed up together on a plate, following the tasting and rejection of other options in kosher hotel cuisine.

5) One incident which I will never forget: I'm on line for a falafel at a mall in Eilat. The guy in front of me has just ordered a sandwich. The man making the falafel asks the guy if he wants hummus in the pita. Guy says yes. The man fills the guy's pita with hummus, though much of the hummus ends up on the man's hand, as in, all over his hand. The man making the sandwich proceeds to lick the hummus off his hand in a way which can be described using the obscene metaphor of your choosing. He then--get this--grabs the pita with that same hand and continues assembling the guy's sandwich. Then he proceeds to make my sandwich.

So, yeah. Not feeling so hot. But Israel is fabulous. It's one thing to read about the Jewish state, how Israel's a real, existing country, yet it's another to see a road sign saying, in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, "Work in Progress on Herzel Boulevard." That sign was my favorite part of the trip, along with seeing Independence Hall, communing with Herzl at his grave on the top of his very own mountain, and discovering that Israel has its very own cappuccino and pain au chocolat places, thus making it theoretically a place I could live. (Oh, such pioneer spirit!) Also, the Aroma on Houston Street, aka the best place ever, is, as I'd heard, the Israeli Starbucks. It's everywhere!

Along with being an educational experience in terms of Israel (one man's "Zionist indoctrination" is another man's fair and balanced fabulousness--you all know which man I am!), it's also a learning experience about American culture. From my gentrifying Brooklyn/French grad school bubble, I did not realize that North Face, Uggs, and Dave Matthews Band remain popular with our nation's youth, even in the Northeast, but so it seems. Fear not, there has been no hipsterfication of America or American Jewry.

The best part of the trip, from the perspective of Francophilic Zionism, occurred at the Birthright Israel megaevent. Imagine the sort of emotional, youth-filled, religious-rock-fueled spectable you could only imagine coming out of evangelical Christianity, but with Jews from several different countries around the world. I happened to find myself seated next to the group from Strasbourg. Seems English isn't a popular subject in Dreyfus's old region, but all the more fun for me-- I became the unofficial translator of the proceedings for a group of bona fide French Jews.

Another notable moment for Francophilic Zionism was a French Holocaust survivor's testimony at Yad Vashem. She was super elegant, looked to be maybe 60, married a Christian Zionist--not to be confused with a Christian Scientist-- and moved to Israel. She apparently lived in the French countryside with most of her family and a maid during the war. The only fruit they had access to was apples, which, if used as the definition of tragedy, would make UChicago dining halls a tragic place indeed. The predicted sobbing during the testimony did not occur, although Yad Vashem itself made quite clear exactly why you don't see so many French Jews of that age alive and looking elegant in Israel or elsewhere these days. Our tour guide at the memorial used contemporary French Jews as the best comparison with German Jews in the 1930s who for various reasons didn't see what was coming. Hatred of the French was popular among the other Americans in my group as well-- I find this a bit baffling, since if the Diaspora is problematic, then America's no good, either... but then again, Vichy was in France, not the U.S., and these legacies must count for something...

Finally, during a delay at Ben Gurion, I spent maybe a bit too long sleepily wandering through an airport sporting goods store. Many of my fellow browsers were French, as was clear by their many remarks along the lines of, "C'est cinquante Euros!" I was not the only one to take note: I heard one man tell another, "Yesh harbeh tsarfatim." Let that be the quote that defines my research goals from now till who knows when.


Anonymous said...

Welcome back! It sounds like you had a fantastic time...sanitary issues notwithstanding...

lauren said...

what program did you do your trip through?

Anonymous said...

Good to have you back, oh complete stranger.

I love your writing. Actual content, great wit, and the clarity of thought that has me returning for updates.

Thanks for posting.