from Ari’s Facebook status update: December 5 at 5:05pm
“Leaving on a jet plane tonight, after today’s TJ Council meeting, finishing up a bunch of important things, then dinner with family (briefly reunited) as Kate’s arrived back from a week in Kosovo on Sunday and I’m leaving today, just 24 hours with the two us in the same country. Kinda crazy. Flying Turkish Air for the first time: Crazier still!”
So yes, it does appear that, on this first leg from IAD to IST on board Turkish Airlines, that I’m the only Jew on the flight. How can I tell? I can’t! It’s an idiotic comment, isn’t it? How do you ever know who’s a Jew and (just as importantly for us in our audience), who isn’t? The common lament at many of our post-show talk-backs is some variation on, “It’s too bad that there aren’t more non-Jews here.” To which we now respond, “How do you know there aren’t?” Non-Jews and Jews look remarkably similar when they’re in a theater. And it’s been a feature of our outreach from the very beginning to reach out to mixed audience — to be a culturally-specific, mission-driven theater that’s relevant and that speaks to non-Jews as well as Jews.
So is that why I’m flying Turkish Air? British Airways had just about the same fare (yeah, but I didn’t like the departure time). I’m on Turkish Air as a lark, I think. And for a split second, as I settle into the aqua blue seats in the close economy class cabin, I’m wondering whether this was a bad idea. Or maybe it’s actually a very orienting reality-check as I consider the geo-political reality of Israel being that proverbial lone Jewish speck in a roiling sea of Arab humanity. But this metaphor goes only so far these days. Israel is hardly a solitary anything; its economy isn’t small; its population is hardly monolithic. The clientele of El Al or Continental Airline’s a better microcosm. But something compelled me to purchase this plane ticket and be a distinct minority for 15 hours coming here, and 16 going back. Wonder if this is worth bringing up with the shrink? Somehow I think other headlines will emerge.
I continue in my journal: Does the image still hold, of Israel as a Jewish speck in a Muslim sea? Of course we read that Israel is more geo-politically isolated than it’s been in a generation or two; the result of seismic shifts in the Arab world; the result of a certain governmental braggadocio (or call it, “peace on my terms with not a whole lot of compromise” – or call it the new diplomatic Krav Mga; a fiercely defensive crouch in the face of mounting Islamic rejectionism; Hamas; Hizbullah, the Salafists, the Brotherhood, Ahmadinejad…
Reorienting again: I am going to take my place at a play festival. I hope I stay awake during the shows! Glad I bought gum. Hard to fall asleep while chewing gum. If I do fall asleep, hope I don’t snore. (I think I do wind up snoring, later in the week, during auditions in Ramallah – can we hope that that’s the only time?) I’m told I snored this summer in Sweden too, watching the 5 hour performance of The Saga of Gosta Berling by Selma Lagerlof, Sweden’s very own Gone With The Wind. Katie’s been really down on my snoring the last few years (TMI, anyone?), but it can’t be that bad, can it? We never really know what we look like from the outside. But here’s the point. As I’m flying Turkish Air and reading and writing and eating a really good airplane dinner, preceded by menu with the intriguing hot pink cover asking “Mutfakta kim var?” (I kid you not – “Mutfakta” – which, translated means “Who’s in the kitchen today?”) as they offer choices of Turkish style minced beef, Grilled chicken breast in a demi-glace sauce with parmesian polenta, or FEESH (that’s how they pronounce it, at least – it’s really grilled salmon with mixed vegetables and potato puree — I go with the chicken — more on that choice later; or maybe not) — what dawns on me is the total obvious: that this airplane meal is just like any other airplane meal, and that this transantatlantic voyage is just like every other; and that sometime a Turkish Airbus 340-300 is just like any other Airbus 340-300, aqua blue cloth covered seats not withstanding.
And so we touch down in Istanbul. And it’s interesting from the window. To see so many minarets amidst the office building and sea-side vernacular (to quote Sir David Hare) and so many oil rigs and freighters and flotillas of commercial vessels in the sprawling harbor. But this is just an airplane fly-by, touch down with sunset fading. I can’t report on Istanbul or its airport. Or I could but I won’t. Because I’m tired as we touch down. It’s very something in the morning my time. And I just gotta make it through the next round of security. Because there’s only 65 minutes between connections!
On board leg #2 — the two hour flight into Tel Aviv as dark descends, I’m reminding myself how important it is to take care of my stomach. Safety, Security, and Gastronomical Health Above All. How’s that for a set of values? So much for Peace Café dialogues! I actually write the following in my journal:
“The first watchword upon entering Israel (or any other foreign country I suppose — “watch you eat and drink.” In other words, “Don’t’ Get Diarrhea. Again. Like you did when you were 15.”) Funny the lessons that stick (I told you the 70s were a formative time). Even though it’s been decades since, I still remember the twin episodes of vomiting outside the Mitzpeh Ramon Youth Hostel, 6 times in one night, each time rushing out of the room onto the porch, and watching the stray cats of the night lap up the extra helpings… not a shred of evidence from my up-chucking even an hour later! And a month later, on Kibbutz Dvir, felled by eating too many unwashed peaches off the tree, I suppose, I stagger to the communal shower after too long a time in one of the bathroom stalls, and an old kibbutz “vateek” or veteran, reads my condition and tells me, “Ha-betten hoo Ham’chona she kol ha-guf.” “The stomach in the engine of the machine.” Why do I remember that phrase and that angular, sun-baked old-timer so vividly? He uttered that phrase to me 35 years ago, and yet it’s lodged in my brain, and in my habits. I always start out with bread and safe water to line the stomach — nothing daring on a first day in a new place, especially not in Israel. So I play it safe. Frequently. Especially at the start. As I remember another wonderful phrase from my early stays in Israel, when I’d sleep over in the girls’ room on the Shacham moshav outside Netanya, and those wonderful daughters, Limor and Anat and later Keren would abandon their room to let me sleep in theirs — Limor (all of 8 years old) would say, “L’orchim M’vatrim –– For guests, we sacrifice.” Which might as well be our mantra as a Theater J staff, right? “Family hold back?” Give-it-up for the customer? “L’orchim M’vatrim.” I love that phrase… and the that 8 year old said it…
We land. Get stamped. Get my bag. Nothing to declare. I don’t go to the new train station, and I don’t yet grab a cab. I don’t know what the email situation is going to be at the hotel, and I know at Ben Gurion airport they have free WiFi, so I sit in the waiting area, outside customs, and respond to email for 90 minutes. Is that kinda sick? I wonder what was so important that I respond to 90 minutes worth of office email upon first arriving? Well, it’s always important. The fund-raising letter. The need to let go of that extra week of rehearsal. Preliminary drawings for a show in April that must be approved by this Wednesday or we’ll be late! We travel with our work on our backs and at our finger tips and our entry into new surroundings, can be delayed, and delayed, in these airport weigh stations.
But perhaps something in me doesn’t really want to go into the teeth of Israel just yet. I’m missing the extra play tonight anyway (Kochav Ya-ir at Habimah Theater), so if I’m missing it, what am I rushing to get to an empty hotel room? I didn’t plan this evening exactly right. So it’s email at the airport. And then 130 NIS cab ride into town (because the 14 NIS train is a 45 minute wait and I guess I’m just too busy for that! — or maybe, again, a part of me is scared, and I don’t want to take the train upon first arriving in Israel. Shirley’s braver than me. And cheaper.) I go to the Caspomat and take out 1000 NIS for the week. Will it last? What’s the exchange? I check on line: 3.7409 NIS = $1. So I burn through $267 in Israeli cash in 6 days. Not so bad. But there’s a bunch of credit card charges I’ll be getting to too.
Let the festival begin. No more minutia. I won’t do anymore reporting on how much I emailed while in Israel. Or Facebooked. Because it’s kinda sad. I’m a prisoner, what can I say? But after a morning of jet-lag recovery and more email and lots of playing it safe, my time in Israel finally began to come alive. The afternoon of the first day of IsraDrama, December 7.
And it started with two great meetings. With my two best Israeli partners. And everything (quite prophetically) kept building on top of that.
So onward. I’m unpacked. Grace’s sister, Romey, as left for me an amazing Welcome to Israel shopping bag at the front desk with a plastic box full of chocolate rugulach. It’s okay that I missed breakfast. I’m eating late lunch with Sinai Peter at a great place off Bar Giora. Spaghetti bolonese. Ari’s playing it safe in Israel for his real meal! And the first of 5 coffees that afternoon to wake-the- fuck up! Turns out, I won’t be sleeping much this festival. There’s a lot in store.
(Up next: The Official Welcome!)