At 5:30 this morning, I arrived at Ben Gurion Airport for the third time in six months. I have been traveling for two days. I haven’t had more than an hour or two of sleep since I left San Francisco, took a red eye to London, worked in the UK office for the day, and took another overnight flight to Israel. But I felt the energy of this place the moment we landed. I always do. It’s something I’ve heard other people describe, so I know I am not alone. When I went out to get a cab, the sun had just risen in a perfect orange ball over the airport. I am always looking for signs, especially when I am dispiritingly exhausted, and walking out into the sunrise was all I needed to know that I had left home to come home. I love it here.
It was 6:20 by the time I got to my hotel. I was more than ready to collapse into bed, but the gentlemen at reception told me that he didn’t have any rooms ready, and I’d need to come back at 9. Two and a half hours to kill, on Shabbat, at sunrise… Tired as I was, I put on my walking shoes and headed for the beach.
Even at dawn on a Saturday, the Tel Aviv beach path is buzzing with energy. The hard-core runners are already out in bands, competing with bikes, dogs and walkers for the right of way. This city is seriously physically fit. There are people out here running the way I do when the doors are about to close on Caltrain – but they are doing it for miles and miles. I couldn’t keep up with them if they were all wearing clogs and carrying mini-fridges.
Fortunately, I don’t have my running clothes this morning, so I am pretending that I want to be walking instead of running – even though that isn’t true. Runners make me want to run. There is something sexy about morning runners - all those men and women busting their asses, their faces stern with effort- while most of the world is sleeping in. It foments a certain lust, something I want, or want to be, especially when they're people I don't know. Somehow, the anonymity makes them grander. I think the language barrier helps too; I can’t understand them for the most part, so I assume they are having important conversations while they run, perhaps about national security, economic inequality, water conservation. In reality, they are probably complaining about a bad night’s sleep, dissing their co-workers, and fishing for compliments on their parenting or their hair-- just like the rest of us. If I knew what they were saying, it might not have the same heat.
About an hour down the beach, I stop at a café for a latte and a croissant. My favorite part about reading the menus in Israel is looking for transliterations of words I know, like “KROSONTZ” or “STAYK”. I usually try to order in Hebrew, and if it’s not too busy, the waiters are usually happy to let me stumble through, making sure that I don’t accidentally get a quail sandwich for breakfast and gently correcting me when I ask for the receipt instead of the check. I love sitting by myself at cafes and eavesdropping on other people’s conversations – particularly parents with young children, because they tend to speak slowly and clearly enough for me to follow along. Then I walk home, repeating phrases to myself – zeh ha-acharon achshav, cheshbon b’vakashah, ani rotzah mashehu matok… The words come back to me when I hear other people saying them. No one even looks at me as if I’m crazy when I talk to myself. They probably assume I’ve got a Bluetooth hidden somewhere, that I’m actually having a conversation with someone other than my inner Hebrew tutor. Truth be told, I wouldn’t behave any differently even if they did think I was nuts. The beauty of being halfway around the world by myself is not much caring what impression I leave. Solitude is a luxury in the life of a mother with young children, and I revel in it, even when my heart aches from separation.
So now I am back at the hotel, at 9:25, still waiting for the room. But ultimately, it was a blessing in disguise that I got kicked to the curb when I got here. It’s a beautiful sunny morning, and instead of being up in my room sleeping through it, I was out with the people of Tel Aviv – my home-away-from-home people. Jewish people. The people of Israel. Shalom, brothers and sisters. You are so beautiful.