In May I spent ten days in Turkey with my friend Lauren. While there, we kept noticing the similarities to Israel: the food, the architecture, the weather, and even the people looked the same. Little did I know I would be going to Israel soon thereafter.
The day we arrived back in New York, I received a wedding invitation from my Israeli friend, Iddo. The wedding was to be held at a kibbutz in July near the Sea of Galilee, or Kinneret in Hebrew, and I was told to be prepared to ride a donkey, swim and sleep in a tent. Having just been a 30-minute flight from Israel, I had no intention of going back to that part of the world so soon. But then I thought, when will I ever be invited to a wedding on a kibbutz again? Also, I like donkeys and swimming.
My friend Jon was invited to the wedding as well. He booked our flights El Al, which I was really excited about because its security is second to none. However, I was not thrilled to hear Jon tell the El Al booking agent that I needed to be seated behind him because I had a flatulence problem. Once I had our confirmation number, I fixed our seating arrangements, putting myself in a nice window seat near the front of the plane… and Jon in the very back of the plane. The airplane gods were on my side too: I had an empty seat next to me and Jon had two overweight men sitting next to him.
The first two of my five days in Israel were spent in Tel Aviv, I shopped, swam, ate, explored and suffered heat stroke. (Note: do not visit Israel in July or August. The heat is unbearable and it is overcrowded with tourists.) About 60% of establishments are air conditioned, so there was some relief. The shopkeepers of Dizengoff Street thought I was crazy for walking around in the heat of the day. Many of them advised me to go back to my hotel until the sun went down, when Israelis come to life. At night along the beach, there is volleyball, folk dancing and a lighting system that projects into the water for surfing after dark. The joggers and cyclists also emerge after sundown. Needless to say one does not sleep much in Tel Aviv.
My favorite things about Tel Aviv: the juice bars, burekas, the shopping, great boutiques on Shanken Street, the beach, and hotel security (they were very willing to help me remove Jon from my room).
The second part of the trip was spent on the kibbutz. I traveled there from Tel Aviv with my Israeli friends who live in New York. We drove in a caravan style, and though the trip was only 90 minutes, we stopped for a coffee break and then for a very Israeli picnic consisting of hummus and pita. The Israelis thought this was a major trip that required at the very least two stops. I had to laugh. In the States many people make a similar journey twice in their daily commute.
Upon arriving at our destination, an Israeli friend gave me a crash course on kibbutzim (plural of kibbutz). This particular kibbutz was not privatized, but was an authentic kibbutz rooted in socialism and utopian ideals. In other words, it was one of the poorer kibbutzim.
Indeed, it was certainly not the most modern place, but except for the insects, it was quite charming and peaceful. Our communal tent, which was actually an art studio, was, to my delight, right near the barn. The kibbutz had five well cared for horses, a herd of cows, some chickens and a very large swimming pool (for the humans, not the animals). The pool was fabulous but only provided some very temporary relief from the heat, thanks Jon and Oded. I only got to enjoy the pool for about an hour as we were asked to leave because of the boys' illicit behavior.
Over drinks late in the evening, I was thrilled to learn that there was a kangaroo reserve less than 2 km away from the kibbutz. I excitedly looked to my friend Sagi who drove me to the kibbutz, but before I could say anything, he immediately said in his very Israeli accent, “We are not going there.” Everyone died laughing.
The actual wedding was beautiful, and the bride and groom both looked smashing. There was great food and music and fantastic company – 300 people in total, just an average sized Israeli wedding. Most of the guests came for only the ceremony and reception, and did not stay to actually experience the kibbutz.
On our return trip to Tel Aviv, we only made one stop for gas, but I was happy to discover that the kangaroo farm was next door to the station. The kangaroos were very Israeli and, unlike me, tried to avoid the midday heat by gathering under trees. It was so hot that I couldn't be bothered to argue my case about going inside. Seeing them from the distance was enough.