You Don’t Mess With The Zohar

This blog entry about the events of Monday, June 15, 2009 was originally posted on June 16, 2009.

DAY 2: “It’s funny seeing you here, seeing that we never see you in New Jersey,” said a familiar face.  It was my friend Maya, an Israeli-American on vacation with her Filipino-American husband Mienri — also my friend, brother to Elaine (Nicaragua and “I’m jealous” fame), and cousin to Terence (Rio, Munich).  True, while they lived an hour drive away from me back home, I barely got to see them — different schedules or something, particularly with them having a kid: an uber-cute, two-year-old daughter named Olivia, the spawn of not-such-an-unlikely pairing of marriage; Maya and Min‘s matrimonial union was just one of a number of Jewish/Filipino couples I knew.  Their two-week vacation to sightsee and visit Maya’s Israel-residing mother was coming to an end, but their last day overlapped with my first.

Accompanying the family of three was a fourth: Zohar, Maya’s mother’s boyfriend, who was showing them around the neighborhood where I rendezvous’d with them: Old Jaffa, the scenic Arab town just south of Tel Aviv.  A former Arab port, Jaffa once served as one of the more important ports in the land, with a rich archaeological and biblical history spanning from the days of The Old Testament’s Great Flood to the conquest of Napoleon.  Pharoah Thutmose III, King Solomon, Greek hero Perseus, Jonah the prophet, Peter the Apostle, Richard the Lion-Hearted, and Napoleon all played a part in Jaffa’s long history — but I was more concerned with other facts. 

Zohan?  Like in the movie?” I asked Min about his mother-in-law’s partner, referring to the 2008 Adam Sandler comedy, You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, about an Israeli counter terrorist agent-turned-bad ass hairdresser.

“Ha, no.  With an ‘R’ not an ‘N,’” Min answered.  Maya just affectionately called him “Zo.”  Not that a switch in letters devoided him from any character.  An older man, who sported bad ass sunglasses and worked for a cellular company, was a good guy, always formally inviting me to do the next thing with them in his Israeli accent.  “You are invited to have ice cream with us.”

Ice cream would come later; first came my invitation to join them for sambosas, an Arab pretzel-like pastries filled with cheese, from a local Arab bakery.  I don’t know if it was because of the whole Arab/Israeli historical tension, but the Arab clerk gave the Zohar some attitude, but he put him in his place.

“There are so many Arabs here,” Min told me, analyzing what he had seen the past thirteen days.  “They’re all over.”

“Yeah, I’ve only been here a day, but one thing I’ve noticed is that it’s really diverse here.  I thought it would be super Jewish,” I said.  “I rode by like three mosques on my way here.”  I had rented a bicycle that morning and rode it eight minutes down the beach from Tel Aviv’s Yeminite Quarter to Old Jaffa. 

“[Those mosques] are just for the tourists,” the Zohar joked, as a call to prayer emanated from a nearby minaret.  “Quick, get on your knees and face Mecca!”

“Everyone here is an integrated immigrant,” Maya, my Hebrew-fluent friend told me, but in plain English.  “Ethiopians, Russians…”  I had noticed these races as well, in addition to Muslims, Filipinos, Africans and others. 

We wandered Jaffa’s flea market — harboring everything from old telephones, Christian chalices, Muslim clothing, and Jewish chotchskies — browsing for gifts back home.  One Jewish man started playing a tune on a slide whistle in hopes of getting some sales.  “[Why are you playing that thing?]” the Zohar said in Hebrew.  “[You’re a grown man.]”  He had also called out the B.S. another Jewish vendor gave us when he wanted to charge me for locking my bike in front of his stall. 

Outside the flea market, we walked the main strip of trendier clothing stores and cafés juxtaposed to fish vendors, down towards the clock tower for ice cream at Dr. Leks.  “The dairy’s so good here,” Min raved.  I indulged on a date, rum & pecan, courtesy of the Zohar.  Olivia got her scoop on as well (picture above). 

Our overlap in vacations was short, but I bid them farewell, and thanked the Zohar for his hospitality.  “Good to see you,” Maya said.

“Maybe I’ll see you in New Jersey,” I told them.  Although with our lives, it didn’t surprise me if our next rendezvous would be back in Israel again.

THE REST OF MY DAY I spent wondering around the historical sites of Jaffa before renting a surfboard and getting some surfing in on the decent-sized waves on the beach just north of Old Jaffa.  Afterwards, I rode up and down the beautiful Tel Aviv beach promenade, noticing that Tel Aviv’s diversity was not just between races, but between the diferent types in Judaism:  Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and the other types on that pull-down menu on JDate.  In fact, there is even The Separated Beach for Orthodox Jews who don’t believe in mixing men and women in such intimate affairs like sunbathing, hacky-sack, or matkot (Israeli beach tennis).

But everyone gets along civilized; my first impressions of Israelis were they are warm and friendly — that and the fact that all of them have ringtones with techno disco music.  Friendliness came particularly when I ventured way off the tourist area to a locals’ residential area that my guidebook dubbed “Little Tel Aviv” — the Tel Avivan district of Tel Aviv perhaps?  While sitting at Hummus Ashkara, indulging on the Best Hummus in Israel (with topped with sauteéd onions and mushrooms!) according to a national newspaper (which also received accolades from Time Out Israel), a friendly Israeli man noticed me flipping through my Lonely Planet.  “Do you need help?” he asked, letting his ready-to-pop pregnant wife wait patiently while he helped me.  “I see you’re looking through your book.”  He knew I was from out of town since the entire menu was in Hebrew, which made it obvious I wasn’t from those parts.  I told him about my plans to head up north to Haifa in the morning, and he recommended the train instead of a bus, and a few hotels listed on my pages. 

But not all Tel Avivians were so pleasant; a bitter old woman came out of nowhere and started yelling at the restaurant workers for breaking the boundaries of their sidewalk space by a few inches.  And, back at the hostel, I met Ofir, a nice, but overly talkative guy who would always butt into conversations between people that weren’t even talking to him.  (I confirmed that he too had a techno disco music ringtone.) 

Regardless, friendliness spanned way beyond Israelis that night, as a group of us hung out in the indoor common area to the roof, imbibing Goldstar beers, and wishing Australian/South African backpacker Donna a Happy Birthday.  Friendliness came in the Filipino variety as well when I entered the common area that evening, and within three minutes, I met, befriended, and made plans to travel with Lily, a med student living in Brooklyn, NY, who had only been in Israel a couple of hours.

“I live in South Slope.”

“Ah, Windsor Terrace,” I said, citing neighborhoods in Brooklyn.  “I live in Williamsburg.”

We made plans to the next morning to travel to Haifa by rail…


In New York City, the Filipino-pride parade often falls on the same day as the Israeli-pride parade; I remember Maya and Min jokingly saying a long time ago, “It’s because the Philippines is the only country friendly enough with Israel to share a day with it.”

Next entry: Conversations of Conversion

Previous entry: From Teaneck to Tel Aviv

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Comments for “You Don't Mess With The Zohar”

  • Off to Haifa…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/16  at  08:11 AM

  • Man, the mannequins are scary there too!!
    2 Q’s for you - if you have time: 1. do you hear about the Iranian revolution while there? and 2. do you feel old, or just the same as everyone?

    Posted by No-L  on  06/16  at  08:21 AM

  • @No-L: Revolution? / Old?  Yes and no; I’m in a hostel, mostly to meet fellow solo travelers (they come in many ages here).  Most of them are kids extending their birthright trip, or coming back for a second visit.  But they think I’m just as old as they are; little do they know is I’m the asshole in one of the hostel’s private rooms with a private balcony.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/16  at  08:27 AM

  • Erik - no, the green protests that have been happening in Tehran in the last four days.

    Posted by No-L  on  06/16  at  10:47 PM

  • ha:) you finally meet olivia - in israel! (i’m jealous!)

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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:
Conversations of Conversion

Previous entry:
From Teaneck to Tel Aviv


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

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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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