Jewish Mother, American Dad

This blog entry about the events of Saturday, June 20, 2009 was originally posted on June 24, 2009.

DAYS 7-8:  “It’s amazing, isn’t it?” said a middle-aged South African tourist admiring the scenery as we waited under the shade at a bus stop rest area midway between Jerusalem and Eilat.  “It’s amazing that they built all this in such a short period of time.  How did they do it?  It’s amazing.”

I stated the obvious.  “Well, foreign support.”

But he was on a rant.  “How can they do all this, and not believe in the Messiah?  That’s the amazing thing…”

Oy yoy yoy.  Here we go, I thought.  Another preachy Christian South African fanatic.  I hadn’t encountered one since that South African Creationist I shared a room and boat tour with, ironically in the Galapagos, birthplace of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution

He continued, “That they can still be blessed by His grace and build all this in a short period of time…”

Fortunately we were on different buses to Eilat, and we had already started to reboard.

I HAD PLANNED to hike Wadi Qelt, a beautiful natural landscape in the Palestinian West Bank near Jerusalem, with Sarit, but a phone call from her earlier on the early morning bus ride to Lily’s phone canceled it.  (Sarit had been up all night.)  I debated whether or not to still go to Jerusalem with Lily, and then just do the hike myself, but as much as everyone I’d met raved about the trek, it was highly-recommended not to do it solo for fear of being shot or robbed by Bedouins.  With that said, I scrambled ideas in my head and ultimately took Lily’s suggestion to not get off at Jerusalem, stay in transit, and head south right away — saving Jerusalem for last. 

Four and a half hours later, I found myself in Eilat, Israel’s riviera on the Red Sea, a resort town on the small strip of shoreline Israel actually has on the Red Sea between Jordan and Egypt.  Eilat is wildly popular for Israelis and foreigners alike, spawning high-end hotels from the Atlantis-like Hilton to the modest guesthouses on the beach or near the bus station.  My guidebook said it’d be near impossible to find a place without a reservation, particularly on a summer weekend (which it was), and I was left to the luck of touts at the bus station, which the book told me to expect.  “You need a room?” asked a middle-aged Israeli woman in her accent, where “TH”-sounds sound like “Z"s.

Long story short, I ended up going with her, Cohova, who showed me an apartment for rent just up the hill from the beach, after I had declined her other option: a place in run-down house near the bus station, which another guy with no reservations jumped on.  The modest apartment she was showing me “next to the beach” had a lot of room — a bedroom with three beds and TV, a large bathroom, and a living room with couch, cable TV, kitchenette and dining area — but not much natural light.  It was not my image of the place I would stay in such this beachy paradise, since I had my hopes set on the Eilat Guesthouse down the block.

“You like it?” Cohova asked.

“It’s… okay,” I said, hung up a little on its steep price.  But at four hundred shekels a night (about $100 USD), I supposed with all that room you got what you paid for since it slept at least for comfortably.  “I dunno, I thought it would be on the beach.”  (Later I learned, no hotel is on the beach; they are all offset by at least a block.) 

“But ze beach is chright zere,” she tried to convince me in her Israeli accent. 

I was still skeptical, but also conscious that this might be my only option, being there on a whim.  It was getting late too. 

“Come on, I’m not trying to cheat you.  I’m a good person just trying to make money,” she said.  “I just need to support my family.  I have five children.”

Five children, I thought.  A Jewish mother.  Here comes the guilt trip.

As any Jew knows, their Jewish mothers are notorious for using guilt as a means of controlling their kids (like in this scene from The Hebrew Hammer, which everyone who gets Jewish humor needs to see).  This is similar, if not the same as Catholic guilt, which Catholic mothers used to control their kids.  (If A comes from C, and B comes from C, then A and B come from C.)  As the awesome satirist Stephen Colbert says in his book/audiobook I Am America and So Can You!, “There’s also this notion of Jewish guilt.  Hmmm, sounds familiar.  Maybe because it was originally called ‘Catholic guilt.’  Quit trying to take our spot as guiltiest religion, Jews!  If your mother knew about this blatant theft, it would kill her.”  (That’s not to say Muslims don’t use guilt too, because they do.)

“What about the internet?” I asked.  “You said there was internet.  I need to work too.”

“Don’t worry, there is,” she said.  “My son set it up.  I know I am paying for it.  You can check it.”

Macbook on, wifi connected.  Still, I was wishy-washy.  “I dunno…”

“But you said you would stay if there was internet.”  She was keeping strong on the Jewish-Catholic guilt trip.

“I never said that,” I said.  “It’s just that, there’s no one here.  How will I meet anyone?”

“But there are two tourists in the next room,” she argued, with the shoulder and arm gestures Jewish mothers have.  “I don’t know where they are now, Jordan maybe, I don’t know.”  She tried to give me a persuasive Jewish motherly smile.  “But you can bring a girl here if you want,” she said, implying a night of the bing bang boom with a nice Jewish girl.  “Or you can bring a boy, I don’t care.”

I chuckled.  “No that’s fine, I like girls.”

We continued to go back and forth like a Jewish mother and son.  “But a two night minimum?  What if I decide to go to Jordan tomorrow?” I argued.  She was adamant on two nights at least.

“Jordan, Petra, you only need one day.  It’s very easy.  You go early, you come back later in the evening,” she said, also telling me she could set that up if I wanted.  “Why you want to go to Jordan for two days?  There is nothing after Petra.  The Arabs are poorer people, they are always asking for money.”

And she wasn’t? 

In the end, I succumbed to the Jewish/Catholic guilt trip and just went with it.  Later I learned it was a good move because the Eilat Guesthouse was booked solid for the next two days. 

* * * * *

AFTER AN AFTERNOON AND EVENING of soaking in the rays with beer and hummus with fava beans, swimming, and wandering the beach-side promenade of boutiques, shops, cafes, fast food restaurants, and stands selling slushees and beach toys, I ended up booking the scuba diving trip I had come to the Red Sea for.  Five years ago I had been diving in the Red Sea out of Dahab, Egypt (my answer to Most Laid Back Place), but little did I know that I would be back in Egyptian waters this time around.  According to my guidebook, and the nice woman at the Eilat Tourist Information Office, all the shore dives out of Eilat into Israeli waters are pale in comparison to the colorful fish and coral reefs on the Egyptian side.

“There’s nothing here but children and soldiers,” said Eric, a Newport Beach-born ex-pat hailing from Colorado, who had decided to move his family to Israel nine years ago.  He had been living in a suburb of Jerusalem in the West Bank, in an ex-pat community of American and British Jews, running a computer support and consultation company.  At 51, he was thinking about what he would do in his retirement years, considering being a dive instructor.  “I just want to be a worker again,” he told me, after years of being the boss of nine technicians. 

Eric was traveling solo — “My wife and I take separate vacations” — and therefore paired up with me to be my diving buddy on a couple of dives.  We met at the Aqua Sport dive shop on the beach a couple of miles south of Eilat’s town center.  More than being my designated dive buddy, he was a good guy, a fellow American-born who gave me the inside scoop of living and working in Israel, particularly in its tech sector.  I told him I’d noticed the presence of Google, Intel, and IBM in southern Haifa, and that Eyeblaster, a rich media vendor I worked with in New York, was headquartered in Tel Aviv.  (BTW, Eyeblaster used to hold the sickest happy hours.)

“Windows XP was invented here,” Eric told me.  “SMS was invented here.  Cellular phone technology…” he continued, citing that many American companies have R&D facilities in Israel, tapping into the brains that also create high-tech weaponry. 

Corrina, an Austrian dive instructor, and Maya, a young Israeli dive instructor, completed the quartet that got a ride just down the block about a mile to the Egyptian border.  We walked from there, passing through several checkpoints in the No Man’s Land border between the two countries, thankfully air-conditioned.  (One checkpoint was a ear swab, checking for swine flu.)  With passports stamped, we simply walked into Egyptsans firearms or porn.  Right on the other side was a casino and the big Hilton resort of Taba, which had the Egyptian side dive shop and yacht which we boarded to dive amongst the other tourists going snorkeling

We cruised and dived at three dive sites that day, seeing colorful coral, live clams, parrotfish, angel fish, Nemo fish, and, for my first time, two octopi climbing and swimming in their amorphous, slithering way, along the sandbed and coral.  There was also one blue parrotfish with buckteeth like a mule that I tried to get near, until Corrina pulled me away.  “It was getting aggressive,” she told me, explaining the position and behavior of its dorsal fin.  Can you imagine?  Death by parrotfish.

Amongst the views of the Red Sea (picture above), and the land views spanning Egypt, Israel, Jordan and even the horizon in Saudi Arabia, I continued to chat with Eric, the American Dad.  It was nice to hear the American ex-pat experience in Israel; his business success came from his tactics of American service — being on-call 24 hours a day, especially at 3am since a lot of his ex-pat American clientele worked Pacific Time Zone hours remotely.  “Israeli service is no service,” he put it, commenting on the apathetic attitude of Israelis in the service industry, never really caring about the customer.  It was true; I had dealt with many service workers that always had this attitude with customers, like they’re sick of doing you a favor.  “It’s changing though,” Eric said.  “Kids are going overseas after the army and realizing that they should probably get good service the way they do in other countries.”

AFTER THE DIVES, we walked from the Egyptian resort to the border and went through the snappy 15-minute border cross proceedings again.  And so, with a couple of Jews, I had walked out of Egypt into the Promised Land like Moses — I reckoned he didn’t have to go through two metal detectors.  While waiting for our ride back to the dive shop, Maya and Corrina commented on the differences between Israel and Egypt.  “The Egyptians are much nicer,” Eric added.

“Israeli service” got me nowhere trying to get a bus back into the town center; I asked bus drivers if it was the correct bus, and they curtly said “No” and closed the door on me without telling me which was the correct one.  Fortunately, Eric had his car.  “Come on, I’ll drop you off at the mall.”

After diving with him all day, I guess I had no qualms asking Eric about the taboo subject of politics, always a touchy conversation.  “So what’s the whole Obama stance here?”

“Oh, we hate him,” he said firmly.  He told me about his conservative stance, and how Obama won simply on his charisma, but not his policies.  “I don’t know, maybe I was asking the wrong questions,” he continued.  “But you have to judge him by his friends.  He’s had ties with Farrakhan… and other known anti-semitic writers.”  I didn’t argue; my sources in the Jewish media (Lilit) had told me the same thing:  “A lot of the older generation think Obama is a secret Muslim planning to destroy Israel.”  And his call for new Palestinian settlements is just what they feared.  (This is contrary to Sarah Silverman’s pro-Obama “Great Schlep” campaign, which helped get him into office.)

The American Dad dropped me off at the mall, near where I was staying.  It was around there that I booked my trip for the following day, and got some more insider opinions of Israel from Mazal, the Israeli-born tourist agency woman, who exemplified the opposite of Eric’s notion of “Israeli service”; she was more helpful than anyone I’d met, offering me pomegranate juice and conversation.

“Everyone hates us [Israelis],” she told me.  “But I don’t blame them; we hate them as much as they hate us.  But I don’t believe in it.  To kill, to live to kill.  What’s the point?  Some people live to die, not living to live.  It’s a waste of a life.”

I wouldn’t waste my life, and so booked my trip to Petra for the following day, in the neighboring Islamic country of Jordan, no matter what a Jewish mother or American dad had to say about it.


Next entry: Erik Trinidad And The Second To The Last Crusade

Previous entry: What Would Jesus Do?

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  • Sorry these entries are sub-par, but I’m just trying to knock them out…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/24  at  09:50 AM

  • I just want to jump into the water. Now, Now, Now!!!
    I am impressed (but not surprised, since you’re you!) that you got into the Politics conversation. Can’t wait for pictures from Petra.

    Posted by No-L  on  06/24  at  05:29 PM

  • what’s the diving hand signal for this fish is about to eat your face?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/25  at  05:59 AM

  • So SBR no more!!! (Not to mention DBR - delayed blog reader since I am finally reading a blog of a trip you are currently taking). Have been enjoying the blogs from this trip and the photos of the Red Sea contrasted against the sand are amazing!  Hope you are taking some time to just enjoy it as well!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/25  at  07:35 PM

  • Sorry, I’m days behind… it’s been non-stop action, religion, and politics since I arrived here in J’lem…  Will update as soon as I can…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/26  at  01:00 AM

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This blog post is one of sixteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Holla! In The Holy Land," which chronicled a two-week journey through Israel, with jaunts into Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian West Bank.

Next entry:
Erik Trinidad And The Second To The Last Crusade

Previous entry:
What Would Jesus Do?


Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

NIZ: acronym for "No Internet Zone"; a place where there is little to no Internet access, thus preventing dispatches from being posted.

SBR: acronym for "Silent Blog Reader"; a person who has regularly followed The Global Trip blog for years without ever commenting or making his/her presence known to the rest of the reading community. (Breaking this silence by commenting is encouraged.)

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The Trinidad Show: a nickname of The Global Trip blog, used particularly by travelers that have been written about, who are self-aware that they have become "characters" in a long-running story — like characters in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

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1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.

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