Sunday, July 12, 2015
There’s a reason so many movies revolve around family weddings. It doesn’t hurt the narrative if it’s a destination wedding (in Israel), if the cheapest way to get there is to fly on a Russian airline (Aeroflot), or if our first few days in the country were spent with friends in East Jerusalem who live across the street from Pope Francis’ Jerusalem residence, Mormon University and an Israeli settlement, all within earshot of the 4:30 a.m. Muslim call to prayer (during Ramadan).
Sometimes it takes more luck than brains, said my Detroit-born cousin Beth, the mother of the bride, using one of her favorite Hebrew expressions. She was referencing being able to find a parking spot near a beloved schwarma dive in the 24-hour, car-crazed, Bauhaus-heavy, global city of Tel Aviv where the biggest thing to fear, according to Beth, is a traffic accident.
But she might have been referencing our luck when we told her about leaving Old Jerusalem and asking the cab driver to find us a wine shop, which he did on some dark and twisty street. Leaving the motor running and the radio going (“Girls Just Want to Have Fun”), he dashed into the shop to facilitate the sale. None for him, though. It was Ramadan. He was Muslim.
Or maybe Beth was thinking about our luck when we started talking about visits to the Palestinian/Muslim populated Bethlehem and Jericho, all places on the other side of the unpopular check points within the contested West Bank that are not that easy for Israeli Jews to visit. We passed the controversial Israeli West Bank barrier, decorated by some crazy graffiti, including some by Banksy, the English political activist and graffiti artist. My favorite? “Make hummus not war.” We stopped and walked in Wadi Qelt, an eerie desert landscape between Jerusalem and Jericho where a sixth-century Greek monastery is tucked into the cliffs. We didn’t see any monks and we resisted buying trinkets from a Bedouin who approached on his donkey. Somewhere near the Dead Sea we stopped for gas and stared at a camel and camel driver who were resting in the shade.
In a country the size of New Jersey it’s pretty crazy to think of all the people (listed in no particular order) who have traveled/owned/lived/claimed parts of the land: the Etruscans, the Romans, the Christians, the Muslims, Napoleon, the Mamluks, the Jews, the Arabs, the Turks, the Brits. Even Mark Twain chimed in with his book, “The Innocents Abroad.” That’s how I felt in this Middle East conundrum, like an innocent, an amateur, an observer.
And that was before my feet tangled in a mass of wire in Tel Aviv and I fell, smack on the knee, somewhere on the street that parallels the Mediterranean Sea. All that was before I got back to Savannah to find out I had broken my kneecap.
But life goes on. After The Fall (and a full day on my back, watching televised Wimbledon in Hebrew with occasional Russian subtitles and Israeli beach soccer and in between multiple icings and pain pills) and before The Immobilizer, a full-length black knee brace I would get in Savannah to keep the knee stiff so it can heal (can you say the hollow-legged Dennis Weaver as Chester in “Gunsmoke”?), there was The Wedding. Guests came from Rumania, Thailand, Minneapolis, Seattle, Flint and Detroit (Mich.), Argentina, New York City, Washington D.C., and Boston.
Using my Israeli crutches and traveling in a golf cart arranged by the congenial Avner, the bride’s father (like that’s all he had to do), I followed 250 guests and a New Orleans-style jazz band up a hill in the old port city of Jaffa to beautiful early evening skies to see Hadar and Sheldon and their family under the traditional huppa, the portable white canopy symbolizing the future home of the newlyweds. And then the dancing began. Some of us kept time with the rubber tips of our crutches. The bride’s sister donned a belly-dancing outfit. Everyone did the hora. Someone else Skped the whole wedding ceremony and party in real time to the groom’s grandfather who lives in San Diego. We got back to the hotel at 2:30 a.m.
Trips rarely turn out the way you expect them to. Instead of floating in the Dead Sea and smearing myself with mud, I schmoozed with cousins and their children. Instead of revisiting Yad Vashem, the memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, I ate leftovers from The Wedding with other out-of-towners. Instead of returning to Jerusalem, I piled into a car with everyone else, drove to the Mediterranean Sea and on July Fourth watched the sunset.
I left the country with a lot of questions, a bum knee and a full heart.