On the outside looking in or I am not sure where this is all going

It is a Tuesday morning in Los Angeles and I just had a flashback to August of 1985. I am 16 years-old and living in Jerusalem for the Summer. My trip is almost over and I am just beside myself because I don't want to leave Israel. I miss my family, but I am caught, captivated and mesmerized by everything around me.

The intifada hasn't broken out yet and I wander through the shuk and Arab quarter on a regular basis. I wander into the Jewish quarter and head to the Kotel. I am not sure why I am there. Up until a short time prior I had been convinced that I was an atheist. I hadn't been one for very long, but I was convinced that I was.

I can't remember what day it was. I know that it wasn't Shabbos, but it really doesn't matter. All I know is that my Hebrew is flowing and I don't feel like an outsider looking in. I just feel like I am home. I am in Israel, I am in Jerusalem and I am home. I am a content teenager. I don't care that my girlfriend and I broke up for the third time. I don't care that I don't have any money, I just care about having to go back to my other home.

Duality begins at that time, that is when I remember that suddenly I feel like I am two different people inhabiting the same body. So I head to the Kotel after having wandered aimlessly. I am invulnerable, I am powerful, I am alive in every sense of the word. I walk to the wall and lean against it. I slump down with my back to it and put my head in my hands. I turn and face it again and look straight up, I am like a crazy man trying to figure out how to become a part of it. But flesh and stone don't merge, no matter how hard I try.

I offer my thoughts and ask G-d to give me a sign. It can be anything. The strange older guy that is davening in the corner can deliver it. One of the notes can fall out of the Kotel and strike me on the head. Or maybe it will be something like ESP and I'll just know. Nothing really happens, but I just decide that G-d exists. It is kind of arbitrary and I feel a little peculiar about having just changed my mind, but I do and I wander away.

A short time later I am back at our base which in English was called the Goldstein Village. It is roughly at Ben Baba and Agnon.For what seems like an eternity we have lived in dorms with teens from around the world, primarily the US and Canada, but there are others as well.

The others are going to leave this evening. My group is staying on, but the others are going to head out. The friends I made are heading back to Toronto, Chicago, Cherry Hill, Nashville, wherever. It doesn't matter because it is another sign that the end of Summer is rapidly approaching and I will have to leave home to go home.

That evening we hang out with the other groups, it is a chance to say goodbye while they pack. At some point someone breaks out bottles of beer, vodka, wine, brandy, gin and who knows what else. I am one of the boys so I try them all. I have never really been drunk and now I am hammered, just wrecked. I can remember people trying to talk to me and we can't really understand each other. Ben tells me to stop speaking Hebrew, speak English. Mike says that he can't understand me.And now I feel like I am standing on the other side of a fence looking in.

I decide to get some rest, to sleep it off and I'll try to wake up to say goodbye to my friends. I wake up in the morning and my friends have all left. I never said goodbye, or if I did I can't remember. I remember thinking that their last image of me will be as some stupid drunk kid and it makes me feel worse than the hangover I have. I have never had a hangover prior to this, but this is as bad as any I have seen on TV. And that is really all I have as a reference point, I have never been drunk and the experience is turning into a bit of a nightmare.

The rest of my group heads out to take the train into Tel-Aviv. I stay at the base, I am too sick to travel. And now the teenager who doesn't mind spending time by himself feels alone. I am again on the outside looking in.

It takes me until 2 PM to get out of the dorm and head out into Jerusalem. I take a bus to Ben Yehuda and tool around. I hit Ritchie's Pizza, Pizza Rimini, Mr. T's and some other cafes. No one is there. I wander around the city and there are no familiar faces, but again the magic of that Summer envelops me and my batteries are recharged. I am home, now I just have to figure out how to go home so that I can leave home to come back home to Israel. I am 16 years-old, but I have a real goal in mind. And if nothing else, I am happy.


Stacey said...

What a beautiful memoir. And how wonderful that you were able to spend a summer in Israel as a student. I hope for the same for my own children. I can tell from your memoir what an impact this trip has had on your life. That is priceless.

Jack Steiner said...

I miss it. I am not one of those people who thinks that I have already lived the best part of my life, but I have enjoyed some amazing experiences.

Many of closest friendships were built that Summer.

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