Off to Israel, Through Germany

I leave Dulles at 6:30 – have with me 85 three-page journal entries from my 17 students. Need to finish reading them on this sojourn. I get through 10. Then sleep. Now it’s 8:30 AM in Frankfurt or 2:30 AM back in the States. Frankfurt prices. It costs 5 Euro, which is like, what, $9 these days, to order a luke-warn latte and a bone dry croissant at the self-serve “Kuffler & Brucher.” A tub of jam costs another .50 Euro. I should have ordered it. I will run out of battery power in the next hour. Frankfurt is the airport where they once arrested and fined someone for charging their laptop in an electrical outlet, alleging they were stealing power from the terminal. It’s fine. Let Germany be Germany. The language is all Greek to me. And the airport is incredibly like Paris’ De Gaulle airport – like out of a scene from Brazil – sprawling, exposed, guts splayed open, a traffic jam of cars and busses on serpentine byways below. God give me Dulles any day. Did I just say that? Ah, to be an American abroad.

I will arrive in Israel at 3 pm and my cousin Raffi will pick me up in his brand new cab – a white Mercedes Benz that now sits in his driveway in the moshav of Beit Yitzcahk. A year ago, Raffi sold the 2000 sheep he’d been tending to on his farm – the sheep are still there, behind the house, but the business is sold and Raffi doesn’t have to wake up at 4:30 in the morning anymore. He’s made much money selling off the lucrative business. And he’s bought himself a lot of time to set sail off the Herzliyah Marina to all points Turkish, Cypriot, and North African. But man cannot sail alone. And so Raffi has chosen to go full circle, returning to the profession he adopted in America when he was studying hotel management 35 years ago. He operated a cab out of Evanston township. Now Raffi’s the last German-Jewish yekke picking up passengers at Ben Gurion airport. The people who travel with him are shocked. Raffi dresses up. He talks a blue streak (this is all reported from his wife, Irit, letting the family know on a group email how the Shacham family continues to evolve and astound). So I’m looking forward to my arrival.

After checking in, I’ll be seeing two plays – great shows I’ve known a lot about. Wintertime in Qalandiyah by Nola Chilton at the Arab-Hebrew Theatre of Jaffa. Were it not for a 17 person cast of young people from Seminar Hakibbutzim, I’d have considered bringing this show over already. Of course, I never finished watching the DVD I was given of the show. I only saw about half. But I was fascinated by it at the time. Now I get to experience it all.And then at the Cameri, we see the award winning Master of the House by Shmuel Hasfari. It was produced at the Laguna Playhouse this past spring and came highly recommended to me as a manuscript. Our reading staff, and Hannah as well, read the play and all reports were quite blasé. Maybe it was a bland translation. What’s it about? I’ll know tonight and will be to report and see what all the fuss was about.

Ah, the Germans I’m sharing a table with here come back with Toblerone from the kiosk, which reminds me that I should buy Raffi a present from the Duty Free just in case he doesn’t accept cab fare. I should have something to give him.The major dramatic question of these early days of IsraDrama will be: Do I stay awake in ANY of the performances? I can see falling asleep in every single one. That won’t be very fulfilling, will it? So I shall call on the great Gods of Adrenaline and summon energy whenever it’s needed and worth the while. I have a test wherein I’m visiting a theater not my own and I give a play 20 minutes. If it doesn’t grab, I allow myself a little relaxation. 30% of the time I nod off for the next 20 minutes checking in periodically to see how the action’s unfolding. My favorite theaters to fall asleep in Washington are, of course, The Shakespeare Theatre which is to theater what Avery Fischer Hall is to the great graying population of New York; a good place to take a snooze listening to yet another classic. I’ve fallen asleep at Arena Stage during my first viewing of 33 Variations. But not the second. Guess what? It was much better when watched while awake. I think I’ll recommend that to students: “Much better when watched while awake.” And so will be my motto on this trip.

Hell, I’ve overcome jetlag before. In Australia last summer, I didn’t slumber a bit on my 5 days in Melbourne. But I was on the whole time, or most of it. It’s one thing to be “on” in the theater. Like at Theater J, I never fall asleep. Even as a spectator watching a performance, I’m on as the producer, worrying, wondering, appreciating. Oh, also fallen asleep a lot at Studio. Not always. But plenty of times. I guess I sound like I’m 70. I don’t really totally fall asleep. Just catching some shut eye. It’s really bad to do that when you’re paying 100 bucks for a show on Broadway. I caught a few winks during Stoppard’s really disappointing ROCK ‘N ROLL which I’d read and found lacking. After the 8th disappointing scene in a row in that endless first act, I allowed myself to slumber for 15 minutes. I awoke to the best scene in the act. At least, I think it was. I was asleep for the scene before it.So we’ll see. No exemplar here. I’m just Joe Six Pack going to see 25 plays in 8 days in the Land of Israel. Should be plenty to report.

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