Religion & Beliefs

Birth Writing: Jerusalem Outskirts

Jay Judah gets cozy in Jerusalem. More drinking, more failed attempts at speaking Hebrew. Read More

By / February 8, 2011

A few months ago, Jay Judah went on the Taglit-Birthright tour of Israel.  We’d heard a million different stories from individuals about their time on the trip.  From people finding religion, to body watching on the beach, shooting a machine gun, riding a camel, or deciding to give up the USA and making aliyah.

Jay’s story is a bit more nuanced than that.  Reading his account seemed more like The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test or Hunter S. Thompson; more interesting story, less cheesy testimonial.

Obviously we liked that, and wanted to publish it.  This isn’t an advertisement for Birthright or Israel, just a series that we’re really happy to present.

Read part one here.

January 2nd, 2011 – 6 AM, Jerusalem time. Another night with about as little sleep as physically – and mentally – able. I was fighting my own body, the rising sun, jet lag, the 5000 miles it took for me to engage this battle, and the highly suspect tuna sandwiches they served on the airplane. Note to self: tuna, on an airplane? Poor form.

After a day spent in lectures on Birthright policies, Israeli culture and history, and icebreaking games, I started an unofficial betting ring where we placed wagers on the likelihood of our fellow travelers falling asleep on their feet. I won, but still, we all lost.

The bonding process had increased ten-fold — as expected. Birthright is summer camp, except we were accountable only to ourselves; we had opinions, experiences, money of our own, and should we so desire, we could freely drink ourselves into bliss.

I could tell immediately – I was in love with the country: the slow chilly sunsets over hillside cities of crumbling orange brick, the forgotten and forgiven rudeness of the locals (among other observations, lines have no meaning, no purpose, no order. No one, not grandmothers, children; men who smell like bad cigars: no one respects the sanctity of a line!), the trials and rabbit-jumps of communicating in very broken Hebrew, my passing remembrances of Yiddish, my new found respect for ‘toda raba’ and ‘slicha’ and ‘sababa!’ and our wonderful, wonderful soldiers and the phrases (mostly filthy) that they tried to teach me.

In those first days, my room was never empty. I had established an open door policy, and would have it no other way. There was always music, often cards, and a high probability of merriment. Despite forgetting many names (Davids and Daniels and Michaels…Oh My!) these people were all wonderful in their own ways and I quickly garnered an appreciation for all of them.

After that first night, one of our soldiers (whose name shall not be mentioned in respect to his service, military and otherwise) helped me organize and execute a jailbreak, in which nearly our entire bus –save for some weaker-hearted souls– slinked off the grounds of the kibbutz under cover of darkness, down a rainy cobbled road to a local pub a mile or two away.

In no time we were at a bar, which I can only describe in the following way. Take any American dive with their sticky floors, shaky tables, dark wood and dim lights. Remove your ability to communicate with the bartender, the bouncer, and every kind of woman. Add a slowly ballooning crowd of mostly Israelis –hungry to dance, to drink, to smoke cigarettes with careless ease– to share the same space and jump and sweat and have confused flirtatious conversations with bemused Birthrighters in broken Hebrew. This is the pub we went to, and it was the best pub any of us have ever been to in Ma’ale Hachamisha, Israel – that much is a fact.

An Israeli – Vera – cute, young and probably able to beat me in a wrestling match (should I be so lucky,) confessed to me a love for salsa dancing. When the DJ played a song with a relatable beat, she grabbed me by the hand and dragged me onto the dance floor. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I know what I’m doing out there — one hand holding hers, the other draped seductively on her hip, a rakish look and quick feet and so much sway it hurts. I can spin; I can dip; I know the score. I assume the position — only to have dear Vera hurl herself from side to side with glorious abandon, like a paper doll twisting in the wind.

I have rarely seen someone have so much fun. I wish I loved anything as much as she loved “salsa.”

Off to Tzfat next, where my goals would be to begin my souvenir shopping (did someone say trinkets!?) and chiefly, tragically, to pick up another bottle of personal-stash booze. As far as Birhtright seemed to be going, you never knew when another party would have to break out.