Highlights (and the lowdown) of an Israel odyssey

A (Not So) Innocent Abroad: Israel and its incredible people have changed my life forever. And, dare I say, made me a better man.

Israeli flags 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Israeli flags 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Upon announcing my move to Israel to family and friends last July, I garnered about as much goodwill and encouragement from them as O.J. Simpson would likely engender at a women’s-rights rally.
Not one member of my inner-circle approved of the decision – and more than a few (not-so-subtly) took it upon themselves to provide me with the names and phone numbers of New York City’s top psychoanalysts.
However, being incurably stubborn (and somewhat dim), I refused to reconsider – even in the face of epic monologues, containing possibly the most compelling arguments ever articulated about why I would be blown-up, shot, kidnapped – or even worse: End up back in New York with my tail between my legs, serenaded by a Schadenfreude-induced chorus-line singing: “Ha! We told you so!” (With great inflection.) That said, to paraphrase Mark Twain, I’m pleased to say that reports of my predicted demise have been greatly exaggerated. Indeed, to my borderline shock, I have in fact survived one full year living in Israel.
Still, I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that there have been some decidedly difficult, unusual – and highly entertaining – moments along the way...
Bus drivers
Don’t be fooled into thinking that soldiers – who face the very real dangers of keeping watch over eager homicidal suicide-bombers and angry seven-nation armies around here, 24/7 – have the most dangerous job in town. They don’t. The most dangerous job in Israel is actually being a bus driver. I kid you not.
These guys take multi-tasking and near-death experiences to terrifying new heights.
For example, I once watched in horror as a bus driver made change for a 50 shekel bill – while simultaneously engaging in an argument with his girlfriend on a hand-held cell phone, scolding a belligerent passenger, keeping an eye out for suspicious carry-on items, cleaning his sunglasses, and making a right turn that would humble Mario Andretti, while meticulously combing his hair.
The word “unnerving” doesn’t quite cut it in this context.
However, to their credit, I’m pretty sure if we could harness these bus-drivers’ unusual talents for the power of good, we could cure cancer and solve the economic crisis inside a week.
This brings me to the second most dangerous vocation in Israel: being a bus passenger. Unless you can summons some kind of Jedi-like mastery over fear, gravity and the absurd, I highly recommend walking. At the very least, this way you’ll reach your destination without battling extreme nausea, and post-traumatic stress.
Ciao bella!
I have a theory that to make up for Israel’s arid climate, hostile neighbors and lack of natural resources, G-d threw the men around here a major bone by adding some of the world’s most astoundingly gorgeous women into the mix.
The jaw-dropping beauty of these women cannot be overstated – and would no doubt cause more car accidents in New York City than a puppy-crossing epidemic on Broadway during rush hour.
But don’t get too excited, fellas: These women are nobody’s fools – and far more than just eye candy.
Most of them are highly educated and have serious boyfriends who are all too willing to showcase their elite military training if you get too close. Then again, so do the women themselves, so there’s that to consider, too.
Undoubtedly, there are few things in life that serve as a more effective deterrent from getting out of line with the ladies than upsetting one who knows 10 ways to kill you (while effortlessly using one hand to adjust her mascara).
The black crows
I have never seen a species of bird with more attitude or aggression than Israel’s enormous black crow population. These ominous-looking creatures are everywhere – and they make falcons look like chumps.
In fact, I’m positive that if they could, crows here would proudly sport black-leather biker jackets with their various gang names proudly stenciled on the back, pack switchblades under their wings, and narcissistically grease their feathers back with a comb using side-view car mirrors.
However, they’re also the most intelligent and industrious birds I’ve ever seen – bar none. The true “MacGuyver” of the skies, I’m certain that, given the opportunity, some of these birds could diffuse a nuclear warhead with little more than their beak, a rusty paper clip, stick of chewed-up gum, and a rubber band.
They’re also very discriminating eaters. I swear I once saw a crow flying with what looked like a really good slice of pizza in its clutches, while simultaneously picking off objectionable pieces of anchovies and onions with its beak. Hard core, man.
Tough love
Israelis may be the only people in the history of the world who could make the words “I love you” sound vaguely threatening. I have had countless conversations with sabras about subjects as innocuous as the weather that made me feel like curling up into the fetal position in fear.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that they’re trying to scare you, it’s just that initially, their matter-of-fact speech and intonation could make even the most flowery of poetry sound like the apocalypse is around the corner.
On a serious note, while this country’s critics will argue that Israeli soldiers – past and present – are anything but heroes, let me be clear: These men and women are among the bravest, most selfless individuals on the face of the earth.
They are incomparably outnumbered, unfairly vilified in the press and chronically libeled – yet maintain a sense of humanity and core decency that I would defy any other nation in the world to match.
In short, they are the reason Jews will never be subjected to gas chambers and extermination campaigns ever again, and they deserve the utmost respect – particularly considering the unprecedented challenges they face, and meet with great dignity, day in and day out.
In the final analysis, this past year has been the most rewarding of my life. I have never met more courageous, genuine, intelligent and strong men, women and children. I have had the privilege of living among them, and forged some of the most special, irreplaceable friendships I have ever known.
Israel and its incredible people have changed my life forever. And, dare I say, made me a better man.