Return to Tel Aviv
Dragging a 60-pound pink suitcase around Israel is no laughing matter, even when you’re wearing a fez and bowtie for Purim. Although there were certain things that I was positive about in my return to Tel Aviv, transit wasn’t one of them. My lay of the land was shifty at best, and all I really had was the address of where I was going: Hotel Maxim, 88 HaYarkon St.
With no wifi and barely anyone to call, I arrived in this cosmopolitan city clueless. HaYarkon was a street that I had no clue about. As I got off the train, I decided it would be best to take a cab.
The taxi drivers were amazed by my fez, and even danced with it on, laughing to themselves.
“Could you get me to the Hotel Maxim on HaYarkon?” I asked.
“Of course,” said one of them. “That will be 100 shekel.”
“Are you kidding? I was told it wouldn’t be more than 50.”
“For you, 80 shekel.”
“No way!” If I learned anything from being in Israel for a week, it’s that certain costs were downright ridiculous. This was one of them. I began walking towards the bus stop area.
“No, wait, wait,” the driver said. “We’ll have someone for you.” Of course, at the rate they were going it was never going to happen, so I snuck away as well as a girl with a 60-pound pink suitcase wearing a fez could. As I approached the bus station, I wondered how I was going to get around. I didn’t even speak enough English to order a coffee. How was I supposed to know where to go?
I stepped onto the platform and started asking around how to get to 88 HaYarkon, or the address of the hotel that I would be staying at for the next week. I couldn’t wait to get there and rid myself of my baggage, as I was feeling the strain of a week’s worth of lugging around.
I asked the woman at one of the stops, and she explained to me. “This bus will take you to Ben Yehuda Street,” she said to me, her English perfect. “You’ll be able to get off and then walk towards the beach to your hotel.”
It was a blind lead, but I didn’t have a choice. As I looked over the greenery of this scene and waited for the bus, I felt alone. All the people I had stayed with over the past week were far away and couldn’t get me now. It was just me and my giant pink suitcase with nowhere to go but some random address. I didn’t have enough shekels for a cab and this way only cost 6.90 shekels.
The door opened and everyone else filed on, knowing not only their destination but the language.
“Will this take me to 88 HaYarkon?” I asked.
“We go down Ben Yehuda,” he said. “About a block from there.”
The other passengers nodded, and I realized I didn’t really have a choice. This was a jump and I had to pray that the locals and this driver would catch me. I pulled the giant pink suitcase and watched as the bus rolled out of the station — and my suitcase tried to roll along with it.
It was moments like these where I wished that my iPhone was more than an overglorified music player in this country. I had questions that it could answer and everyone else was playing with their smartphones on the bus. My music blared in my ears as I stood closer to the front, trying to wrangle my inobedient suitcase from deciding that it wanted to take flight.
The bus driver then called out to me as we made the turn. “Three more stops,” he said. I watched as another overprotective man would indicate to me how many stops that I had left. Suddenly, just as it seemed he announced it, he called me forward.
“Your stop,” he said. “It’s about a block. Good luck.”
As I tore my suitcase from the bus and watched the patient driver pull away, I walked towards the corner, the gray day weighing on me. Then, as I looked both directions, I forgot an important detail: Left or right? Crap. I pounded my fez on my head and turned left.
Suddenly, as I was walking with my fez, a man sitting at a café with his friend and an Orthodox rabbi tried to pull me aside.
“Your fez is offensive,” he said. At least that’s what I thought he said. His accent was very thick.
“What?” I asked.
“Your fez,” he said, followed by eyeing my giant pink suitcase. “Where are you from?”
“Hey!” he exclaimed, as did his friend. The rabbi then proceeded, with a large grin, to go to the counter and pull out a bottle of vodka and a plastic cup. He poured me a shot, handed it to me and then grabbed a small bad full of candy. It was mishlot manot — or food bags for neighbors and friends.
“Hey, can you get me to 88 HaYarkon?” I asked.
“Of course!” he said, as he pulled his rabbi friend and they gave me detailed directions. As I thanked them and continued on my way, the shot of vodka going to my head, I didn’t know what to think. But as I got to the hotel, I ran out of questions. I dropped off my large pink companion and headed out to the beach, looking at this new body of water and wondering how I survived this entire journey from Tzfat to this last leg. I had less than a week left here in Israel, and as I looked over the water I felt this wash of sadness along with the rush of the waves.
Although I hoped to make it to Jerusalem for Shushan Purim, the ladies of Na’amat that I was joining arrived too late to make that a reality and I had to settle for a dinner on Ben Yehuda as the rest of them. I walked down the street awkward at their presence; I had become so used to traveling by myself. I ate by myself, plugged into my music and walked as fast as I wanted. Now all of sudden here were people I had to pull along with me.
We settled at the local café after the rest deliberated. It was a place with local dishes, and I ordered almost as an expert, getting served chicken maqluba (an Iraqi chicken stew) and hot water with nana (mint). I felt out of place from the rest of the women as they all engaged each other in the continued conversations they had from the plane ride in.
That’s when I saw them: Four women sitting across from us, drinking little pink shots and sitting attentively while listening to each other. I though of my friends back home — Julie, Brie and Melissa. We would be doing this here if we were all together. I recognized those body positions to be ours, leaning over tables and giggling, listening to one another talk.
As we finished up, I stopped one of the women and told her about my girls, and how I saw them in all their faces. Her face broke out into a giant grin.
“These women… we have been friends for 20 years,” she said in broken English. As we hugged each other, even though we just met, I felt like no matter where I was some things didn’t change depending on the culture. There were still friends all over the world meeting for drinks, people sitting in cafes drinking coffees, all living normal lives. I felt homesick and at home all at once.
As I settled into bed that night, my pink suitcase finally finding a home in the corner, I realized in a week I would be returning home to Los Angeles. I didn’t know where this next week would take me, as Israel seemed unpredictable and comforting at the same time. But I was keen to find out.