Tale of the Jaffa Juice Bar
The first night I went to Jaffa, I didn’t expect anything. In fact, for my entire Israel trip I expected to fly under the radar when it came to dating. Instead, I was entranced by the city’s old charm and mystic zodiac leanings. I climbed around the gardens and wished I could walk across the metal wishing bridge.
Stepping into the main courtyard, lit up like a lantern in the night, I noticed a juice bar. I recognized it, even though I had never seen it; it was in a YouTube video from Tel Aviv in a takeoff of Pharell’s “Happy.” (Even though the video is here, it actually wasn’t the juice bar, but it didn’t matter in the end) I approached the juice bar with a smile to match the song.
He stood there with the shorn fauxhawk that I had been seeing throughout the country among the secular boys, with a spiral sticking out of his right ear. I walked up and mentioned I had seen this place in the music video. He looked at me confused, as he had never seen it. I tried to explain to him the song, and he was still quizzical. I told him to forget it and was about to walk away.
“No, wait,” he said. “Would you like something to drink?” His English was actually quite impressive, albeit with a slight accent.
“Oh, no thanks,” I said.
“Not to purchase. I was already making some. Would you like to share with me?”
I smiled and agreed. Unlike some of the other shopkeepers I passed in Jerusalem and the like, he didn’t seem to want to do this to sell me something. He was genuinely warm and welcoming, albeit with a smile that had pretty bad teeth (this is actually quite common in Israel).
He handed me a glass and we drank pure pomegranate juice, tart and tasty as I could feel the seeds dancing in my mouth. We talked for a few minutes and I admired his sleeve tattoo, but I was running out of time and had to go meet the other ladies from my group. I began to walk back into the main courtyard, thinking nothing of it.
“No, wait,” he called after me again. “What are you doing later?”
“I have a dinner, but after I’m free.”
“Do you want to do something?”
“Sure, I’ll give you my number.” And as I pulled out my phone I realized something: The sticker with the number was gone. So I collected his number, introduced myself and he introduced himself as Leshy. And at 9:30, after getting back to our hotel, I called him and suddenly had a first date in another country.
As I began to primp myself up in my room, I was shocked by my audacity. This wasn’t going to lead to a relationship, so why was I curling my lashes and applying lipstick? But then again, I had been telling myself over and over again that when I came back to the States, I was going to get serious about my life and try to get into a real relationship. So what harm could one more fling get me?
As I walked out of the hotel I saw him, and beyond the counter at the juice bar he was actually very attractive, with a slim build, angular face and glasses with clear frames. He looked like he wouldn’t be out of place in Los Angeles. In fact, Tel Aviv was so like home it was hard to separate the two sometimes.
“What do you want to do?” he asked.
“Um… this is my first real night in Tel Aviv,” I said. “What is there to do?”
“Well, we can go to a bar, or go dancing, or take a walk on the beach.”
At first, I told him that we should go get a drink, but then as we began to walk I realized I didn’t want to do it in a bar. Luckily, that’s no problem in Tel Aviv. When I mentioned I wanted to walk on the beach, we headed to a local convenience store where he bought two Goldstar beers and my favorite Israeli chocolate bar with pop rocks. We then walked down to the shore, carrying our beers openly and talking all the way there.
The Mediterranean was clear and beautiful, and unlike the startling crash of the Pacific, it seemed to have a lulling, luscious quality here. I thought of my family, who for hundreds of years before they came to the United States made their homes along the Mediterranean, whether it was in Toledo, Spain or in the ports of Istanbul. This sea was foreign yet home.
Leshy and I buried the bottoms of our beers in the soft sand and spoke about our respective lives. They were rather different: Most of his family was much more religious, and he called himself the black sheep. An army officer until his late 20s, he was working at the juice stand while going to school for sound engineering, often occupied six days a week between the two. He was even getting ready to move to Australia after he finished school and work on music projects down there.
I was here almost on a lark, a girl on a spiritual and emotional journey through a country she barely knew. I was born in Los Angeles, went speedily to college and began to work fast, and now all of a sudden found myself in a different country due to charity work with Na’amat — a name he recognized immediately.
“You are a good person,” he said.
“Yeah, I guess,” I replied.
We spoke about our families, our individual struggles. It was different from the dates I had been on in the states, where it seemed to be all about the surface and each person trying to impress the other. There was sincerity about this moment, about this person I was sitting next to as he put his head on my shoulder. Most Los Angeles guys don’t want to risk being as open or vulnerable, something as refreshing as the different body of water that I sat next to. Then again, Los Angeles guys don’t actually ask you out, either.
We continued talking as the wind swept around us . I wondered when he was finally going to kiss me, feeling like the teenage version of myself who didn’t really know how to approach a romantic encounter. I inched closer and put my head on his shoulder, pondering what it would take. The words were unsaid as a quiet seemed to settle over us. Finally, his lips moved to say the words that I was thinking.
“You’re teasing,” he said.
“No, you’re teasing,” I replied like a five-year-old trying to win a stupid argument. But as his soft lips met mine, the fight was gone and my body was giving in. My mind started peeling the layers of consciousness away as I enjoyed his mouth on mine, his fingers finding their way through my hair, then moving his mouth away from my face to look at me, really look at me, with his hands on my cheeks.
“You’re so beautiful,” he said before kissing me again and again. It was a phrase that I died to hear from guys in the United States but they couldn’t seem to utter even if their lives depended on it.
Every once and again, we’d take a break to enjoy some more conversation, but get wrapped up in each other’s skin once more.
“I enjoy your company,” he said at one point. “Not just the kissing. The kissing’s good…”
“Yes, yes it is,” I laughed.
“But I also like the… how do you call it? Conversation. You’re full of life and fun.”
The night seemed to move forward as the making out became fervent. It wasn’t pure lust that took over like famine. Instead of rushing to get under my shirt, I was savored. I was being enjoyed as he gently kissed the corners of my mouth and ran his lips down my neck. At one point, he paused and he pointed to me the bright tower in the distance that was Jaffa.
“You see that?” he asked wistfully. “That’s where we met.”
When he said that, my mind was startled. It was as simple as anything, but it registered as real in my world, where my hometown was a place more of sparkle than substance and I had lived seven years of my life in a state of delusion because I wanted desperately to believe the boy I was married to actually cherished me this same way. I had become jaded from the fallout and the two years living on driftwood in the middle of an ocean of boys that never called or were looking for the next best thing.
And now, without any expectation of having it happen here, I was swimming through Tel Aviv next to someone new without a care in the world. We were paddling past bars covered in green for St. Patrick’s Day with me explaining the holiday to him. He steered me away from the fast bike riders parallel to HaYarkon Street. We eventually made our way through the waters to a hidden private island, a hotel off the beaten path. White linen sheets lapped up around our ankles as we explored this new world, as if we had always known about it but also experiencing it for the first time.
As we laid there afterwards, his face seemed to glow beyond the sweat, his mouth open in a smile and eyes looking up as if he was floating on the bed. My eyes wandered peacefully across his long, lanky body as his hands reached for my face, pulling me in close to kiss me, breathing me in as if I were air itself.
“That was incredible,” he said. “Was it as good for you?”
I answered truthfully, which was yes, but it went beyond that for me. The last guy I slept with in Los Angeles told me I was mediocre in bed and then asked in the same conversation to be set up with one of my friends. Now here was this person who, 24 hours ago, didn’t even know that I was walking this earth and crossed into the meandering river that was my life. He actually wanted me, of all people in this universe. And for me, that was downright strange.
As we hailed a white taxi to take me back to my hotel and we sat in the back, I wondered how this worked now. I knew how it worked in the States — send me on my merry way so I could live out my life while seeking a new source of love. But I was in Tel Aviv, half a world away from the place I call home, where I barely knew how the world worked.
“How long are you going to be here for?” he asked me in the silence of the cab.
“I’m here until next Monday,” I replied.
“I’d really like to see you again.”
My grin must have been a mile wide. “What does your schedule look like?” I asked.
“I have work and school tomorrow, but Wednesday I’m free,” he said. “Does Wednesday work?”
“It does. Call me then.”
And as I kissed him good night and wandered into the darkened lobby of my hotel, I couldn’t even begin to comprehend it. I was dating on the other side of the world as my friend sent me a text asking me to go out on St. Patrick’s Day, not realizing that mine had already happened. And somehow, the luck of the Irish spread to a Jewish girl in Tel Aviv.