A WASP Lands in Tel Aviv

I leave Santiago de Compostela the next morning. I am headed next to Israel via London, which is maybe a weird summer holiday destination for the waspiest WASP in Waspdom, but some friends have invited me, and off I go.

The flight from London to Tel Aviv is about the same as flying from New York to Los Angeles. It is uneventful until an older gentleman picks a fight with a flight attendant; hits him. After some screaming, they zip-tie the man’s hands together in the aisle and he quiets. A few hours later, and without further incident, we land at Ben Gurion Airport. It is already very late, and but we wait on the tarmac for the police to come escort the old man and his wife off and into the terminal.

I make it through passport control easily and into a waiting car, and we drive the hour to Jerusalem in the slightly sticky Mediterranean night. RHJ is waiting for me on the other side.

I have come to Israel to watch RHJ and Tony compete in the Maccabi Games – the Jewish Olympics – which happen every four years. I have come to sight-see, too, but mostly to watch sport. I feel conspicuous in my non-Jewishness, which is maybe the point, but sometimes I feel that way on the Upper East Side; in Scarsdale so I don’t exactly find Israelis any more intimidating than New Yorkers. But I also realise that if we were playing a game of Spot the Shiksa, I would be a low-value target, because I am so obvious.

How was the flight? RHJ asks me as I arrive at the Mount Zion Boutique Hotel, which is neither boutique nor hotel, but seemingly a former mental hospital cum motel built into a hillside.

They took some guy off in handcuffs, I say nonchalantly, pulling on my monogrammed PJs – final confirmation that the WASP has landed. He stares at me for a moment, simultaneously believing and disbelieving that we are here, together in this place. Then we shut out the lights and retreat to our pushed-together twin beds.

The next day, we are meant to go to the Opening Ceremonies of the 20th Maccabiah; the 2017 Maccabi Games. RHJ is marching in with the American delegation (which includes former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers on the over-60 ping pong team, because senior citizen table tennis is apparently A Thing at this thing) and I am meant to attend as a spectator with RHJ’s parents.

In the early evening, I get myself to Mamilla to meet RHJ’s parents and their Israeli friends in the lobby of their hotel (RHJ has left hours earlier with his team) only to find that a party bus – replete with sparkles, spangles, and poles – has been arranged for the five of us: Four septuagenarians and me. I am introduced to the parents’ friends by my name, and discover that Meredith is not a name that rolls easily off the Israeli tongue and the friends have begun calling me something that sounds very much like Murder.

We take our party bus into the stadium, where I learn that in Israel, rules are merely suggestions around which one negotiates; the loudest voice or biggest wallet wins. And once inside Teddy Stadium, we sit in the stunning summer night and we wait. And wait. There will be hours of this. I am seated between RHJ’s parents, like a naughty schoolgirl between mummy and daddy, cheering intermittently as two sexy Israeli women in black announce each country’s delegation.  So this is the Jewish Olympics.

Eventually, the tune changes and the American flag flashes on the screens and the Americans begin walking in, so we have to stand and clap and shout. But the Americans head the direction opposite of where we are sitting, so we do not get to make eye contact with RHJ and are disappointed.

By 11pm, after nearly five hours of this fanfare, the parents, the Murder Friends (whom RHJ assures me are spies) and I all want to leave the stadium. I text RHJ, who begs me to wait for him; escapes the team crush and finds us on retreat in the parking lot.

The bus drops RHJ and me off back at our hotel and we sneak out to a late dinner at the old Jerusalem train station, which has been converted into a marketplace of shops and restaurants.

You know, I say, as I tuck into my salmon with soba noodles, It’s weird that you’re so weird with me. 

What?

It’s like, we stand there, and you greet everyone else first and you treat me like a stranger.

I see his face fall, and I am having one of those moments of watching myself in slow-motion being a complete idiot, and I cannot stop myself.

I have spent twenty years, personally and professionally, separating my heart from my head – it has been self-preservation, mostly. But I don’t need to do that now. I want to feel this. And yet here I am, at midnight, in Jerusalem, beating the shit out of this wonderful man because he kissed his mother before he kissed me. How did I get here?

This is not the time for this discussion, he says, diplomatically.

He is right; I am wrong. I know I am wrong. I am fresh from this walk – this twenty year long pilgrimage – to figure out how to be a whole person; and I felt slightly estranged in that one weird moment in the parking lot so I saw something and said something just like has been ingrained in every New Yorker, and sometimes, saying something is the wrong thing (which the signs in the subway DO NOT tell you, by the way). As we walk back to the Mount Zion Boutique Hotel and Mental Hospital in furious silence, I realise that despite my walk, my idiot head still hasn’t caught up with my heart.

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