‘I would convert and make aliya if it weren’t for the camels’

Famed author and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Dave Barry speaks to ‘Post’ during his first visit to Israel.

Dave Barry 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Dave Barry 370
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
“We’re doing the Disney World version of Israel,” Dave Barry says as he sits down in an overstuffed chair in the lobby of Jerusalem’s Inbal Hotel.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post on the final evening of his first trip to the region, the Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnist and best-selling author says that he is “loving” his time in the Middle East.
“I’ve always wanted to do Israel,” he says, although his wife Michelle “was nervous because she thought she’d be shot or killed by rockets as soon as she got here.”
“So far no,” he notes.
Barry, whose widely syndicated Miami Herald column ran from 1983 to 2005, is the author of numerous best-selling humor books and served as the model for the eponymous lead character in the television series Dave’s World, which was loosely based on his life.
The son of a Presbyterian minister, Barry cheerfully admits that while he is “not a Jew myself,” he has had been called to the Torah several times in the Reform congregation to which he belongs, adding with a laugh that he is working his way up to performing a circumcision.
“My wife is [Jewish],” he explains, noting that their trip, organized through Temple Judea of Coral Gables, Florida, is in honor of his daughter, who recently had her bat mitzva.
He is a member of a Reform synagogue, he jokes, because “they’ll let anyone in. It’s kind of beyond Reform. It’s kind of Relaxed.”
Upon landing in Tel Aviv, he was immediately struck by the fact that the city is “a lot like Miami, right down to the fact that nobody is speaking English.”
While he says that Israel seems nothing like the way it is portrayed on television, there are negative aspects to the country.
“The worst thing has been camels,” he says.
After riding camels in the Negev with the Beduin, Barry says that while he has never “been in combat,” he would “like to see that option next time” rather than ride another dromedary.
“They go up very high in the air. You don’t realize it from the ground but our camel was at least 18 to 20 feet high.”
Barry says that he feels one is “eight times more likely” to die of camel-inflicted injuries in Israel than in Miami. If it were not for the prospect of camel catastrophe, he says, he would convert to Judaism and make aliya.
Posting on his blog on the Herald website during his trip, Barry uploaded pictures of the various activities in which his group participated.
On his visit to the Dead sea, the satirist – who once boasted that he was the record-holder for using the word “booger” in a column – posted that the saltwater lake “makes your butt sting.”
“It is traditional, before you get into the Dead Sea, to smear yourself in mud. This may seem silly, but health experts believe that the mud makes you look like a complete idiot,” he wrote.
Barry says that when rappeling in the Ramon Crater, with the synagogue’s Rabbi Edwin Goldberg standing at the bottom of the cliff, he was pondering the deep theological question of whether or not it is a “ major sin to urinate on your rabbi” out of fear.
Turning serious, Barry says that Israel has been wonderful and that he found the people to be nice and less brusque than he would have thought, given the reputation that most Israelis enjoy. Although, he jests, that could be because he is used to people from New York and Miami.
“This is going to sound like a very stupid thing to say,” he cautions, “but [Israel is] more Middle Eastern than I expected.
All the Jews I know, they are all from New York and New Jersey and I thought it would be kind of like that, except over here with guns and there are actually a lot of Jews over here that are not from New York or New Jersey.”
“Apparently, there is another source of Jews that no one had told me about,” he jests.
After receiving briefings on the political situation in Israel and the various regional tensions, Barry says that he “ came out of it more firmly convinced than ever that there will never ever be” peace.
“There will never be peace in this hotel in Jerusalem, let alone the Middle East,” he states.
“Since we’ve been here,” he says, his synagogue trip has run into “a group here from up the coast, like Boca, and there is already tension. It’s building; there could be fighting. There could be rioting in the Inbal.”
The satirist once took a trip to Japan as the basis for an entire book and when asked about how his Middle East adventure would manifest in his work, he replies that he is “not going to write a book but I am going to write a long essay that’s going to go into a book that I’m writing now.”
“Unquestionably, it will be the longest chapter of the book,” he explains.
Turning serious again, Barry says that “however complicated I thought it was, however many issues I thought Israel faced, it’s like exponentially more than that.”
During the interview, Barry expresses his admiration for Israelis who are able to “have calm ordinary lives” despite everything happening in the region.
“We live in a city, Miami, which in the United States is viewed as a troubled city because we have Cubans and Anglos and Haitians and... I think that our problem is like maybe if Castro dies, the celebration will get a little out of hand. That’s kind of our problem.
It’s unlikely we will be invaded by the Bahamas. Not likely to happen.”