Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Farewell to Tel Aviv

Two weeks ago, I loaded a box of papers and a potted plant into the trunk of my car, hugged my coworkers, turned in my keys, and waved goodbye to GreenRoad.  I had worked there for two years and two months.  The strain of wrangling a 10-hour time difference into submission, and the frequent travel abroad, had taken its toll on my personal life and my energy, and I needed to reset.  The Next Big Thing felt elusive, and I didn't think I would find it in my "spare time" if I was still working.  My intuition told me that it was time for a longer sabbatical than the five weeks I had taken over the summer.  It was the first time in my career that I planned to leave a job voluntarily, without having my next gig lined up.

As right as it felt to do a course correction - into the blinding headlights of the great unknown - I felt melancholy about losing my connection to Israel.  When I gave notice, our CEO and I agreed that I would make one final trip to Israel to do knowledge transfer with the team.  I was glad to have an opportunity for closure.

On October 19, for the last time in the foreseeable future, I landed in Tel Aviv, the city I have come to love like a second home.  By the time I pulled out of the Hertz parking garage, the sun was starting to set, a fiery orange ball dipping into the desert.  It was breathtaking.  I took it as a symbol, a portent of good things to come in the week ahead.

I had envisioned a farewell to Tel Aviv with the rough theme of "you can sleep when you're dead."  Reflecting on the highlights of my visits over the past two years, from early-morning runs along the sea to a Christmas Eve drag show, I wanted to cram my week full of memorable encounters- not to mention world-class meals at Tel Aviv's excellent restaurants.  I was particularly looking forward to the graffiti tour I had booked for Friday in the Florentin neighborhood.  

As fate would have it, the theme was closer to "you can't breathe when you're sick".  Less than 48 hours in, I felt the telltale ache in my bones, my throat swollen shut, the Kleenex piling up in my trash can.  I slogged through work on Monday, but by Tuesday, I couldn't even get up.  As the days went by, I canceled one set of plans after another, staring at the ceiling of my apartment.  Never mind the largely-aborted knowledge transfer mission; I was missing out on my last bout of Living Out Loud in TA.  7,000 miles from home, in one of my favorite cities on Earth, all I wanted was my mom.

Thanks to friends who delivered NyQuil, nasal spray, lotion-infused tissues, and the best kreplach soup I've ever had, I recovered enough to handle a few meetings on Thursday.  By Friday, I was legitimately on the mend.  I wasn't leaving until Saturday morning, and because the work week ends on Thursday in Israel, I had one full free day left.  The options for how to spend it felt overwhelming.  Should I take advantage of my rental car and drive to Yam Kineret?  Or stay in Tel Aviv and visit museums I'd never had time to see?  Would any farewell be proper without a final visit to Jerusalem?  I couldn't decide.

But by the time I finished breakfast at Benedict with a friend, I'd made up my mind to spend my final day in Tel Aviv just being there.  I rented a green bike-share cruiser from one of the many stations around the city and headed for the path along the ocean.  I rode down to Yafo, through Florentin, across HaTachana and up Rothschild.  I stopped for lunch and eavesdropped on the Hebrew conversations around me, just watching the people of Tel Aviv enjoying their weekend with friends and kids.  I was a fly on the wall, soaking it all in.  It was perfect.

The tour of Florentin did not disappoint.  Two of my colleagues joined me, and together with our excellent guide, we strolled through this neighborhood in transition, learning about its Greek heritage, Bauhaus architecture, exceptional burekas and prolific graffiti art.  By the end of the tour, we could rattle off the names of half a dozen prominent street artists (including my favorite, EPK- the Eggplant Kid- whose purple globes are everywhere you look.)  Florentin's graffiti speaks to the political and social themes of Israeli culture, and it seemed an apt way to wrap up my time there.

The next morning, I found myself at Ben Gurion Airport, getting high on espresso while I waited for my flight.  (I learned early on not to order decaf in Israel... it might be possible to get it some places, but they look at you as if you just asked for a mug of shit.)  I felt that combination of anxiety and heartsickness that comes with an impending long separation from someone you love.  I had no idea when I would next return to Israel, and it left me unsettled.  I wasn't ready to say goodbye without knowing that I would see her again.  She is a part of me forever.  It's hard to explain how I feel.

Just before it was time to board, I darted into the music store.  I wanted to take with me something sensory, something evocative to keep the connection alive while simultaneously affording me some Hebrew practice.  I picked up two Hadag Nahash CDs - their new one, and one that the clerk insisted I had to have- reminiscing about their live show in Tel Aviv two years earlier.  "And something Mizrachi", I asked the friendly clerk.  Without hesitation, he handed me an Eyal Golan CD.  I handed over all my remaining shekels and ran for the gate.

I won't say goodbye, Tel Aviv... I will just say L'Hitraot.  "See you".  I hope it won't be too long.  In the meantime, I will be singing along.  Elohim, mah ha'inyanim...