“The Last Falafel”: Broadway in Israel 2011, Day 3

28 06 2011

Thursday, June 16: Thursday may have been my favorite day of the entire trip to Israel because of the incredible people I met and the conversations I shared. Over breakfast that morning, our tour group mixed a bit of Broadway gossip with a continued discussion of Gabriel Bach from the night before. Shortly after, an hour and a half bus ride brought our tour group to Masada, a legendary fortress on a plateau overlooking the Dead Sea. After the First Jewish-Roman War, the Roman empire laid siege to the fortress; rather than be slaughtered or taken as slaves, the men killed their women and children before committing suicide. This was seen as an act of courage.

The history of the ruins was fascinating, the weather was scorching – but at a certain point, I was only half absorbing the legend of Masada because I was engrossed in conversation with a fellow tourist in our group. As a young theater critic and practitioner, one of my favorite aspects of “Broadway in Israel” was hearing the life stories of those who have succeeded in making a career – and a life – in the arts. Many came from conservative, small town backgrounds and knew from a young age that they were meant to do something different, somewhere else. Their families were usually supportive, if initially anxious about what it meant to make a career outside a conventional 9-5pm job structure. Many started as actors – the most visible career path in theater – before finding their own niche as producers, agents, etc. And many recall a particular mentor who changed their career path and guided their journey. (Manny is one of mine.) Now, it is their turn to pass it on; they are eager to mentor and support new talent. Even though I had made my way to Israel “alone,” I was surrounded by this warmth, generosity, and community throughout the trip – friendships and connections that will continue beyond Israel. It is a testament to the types of people that Manny surrounds himself with, as well. I was amazed at how many couples split themselves up on the bus and at mealtimes, getting to know everyone in the tour group.

We took the cable car down from Masada, boarded the bus, and headed to the Hod Resort Hotel for a buffet lunch and a float on the Dead Sea. For someone who typically sinks, it was a strange sensation to kick back and relax in the crystal clear, 34% salt water. That afternoon, we hiked to the Ein Gedi Oasis, a beautiful waterfall in the middle of the desert. It was a stunning trek to the top of the mountain – but what a disappointment when we reached the top! We couldn’t frolic in the waterfall as in previous years because a guard was standing by. Still, the highlight of the hike was the conversation along the route rather than the actual destination. We snapped our photos and hiked back down to the bus.

Back in Jerusalem, we had “dinner with young Israelis” at a local Italian restaurant. Ron’s son had invited his friends to join us; I’m sure the random 20-something Israelis were a little confused by an invitation to dinner with a bunch of American tourists, but it turned out to be my favorite night of the trip: chatting with Israelis my own age, hearing their experiences and sharing my own. Our table included a woman named Dana, who became a psychologist after her mandatory 3 years of military service. In those “worst years of her life,” Dana lost 38 friends in a short 8 month period. She also pointed out the strange juxtaposition of military and civilian life in Israel; unlike US soldiers who are sent to foreign countries for service, her service was on home turf. On her days off, Dana would visit her family, go to the movies, and have coffee with friends. Shuttling between these radically divergent lives takes its toll.

Because of mandatory national service, though, every young Israeli we encountered was remarkably articulate and politically aware. According to Manny, American teenagers search the world for purpose; Israeli youth have purpose built in. Forced to grow up quickly, both burdened and blessed with such responsibility, every young Israeli we encountered was globally-aware, confident, and opinionated.

At another table was a young woman named Ruth, who is a fellow musician and composer! Ruth and I hit it off immediately. After her 3 years of military service, Ruth decided to study music; she took a year to catch up on theory and was soon accepted to the prestigious Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. She has just graduated with her degree in music composition and currently teaches music theory to fund her creative practice: composing contemporary classical music for chamber ensemble. Hopefully she will wind up in the US for an MFA in composition within the next few years.

Ruth and I met just as dinner ended, but our conversation continued into the night; a group of the “young Israelis” and the “young Americans” from our tour group next made our way to the Festival of Lights in the Old City. As we wandered the crowded art exhibits, I chatted with Ruth and her cousin, a classically-trained pianist who starts his dissertation in linguistics at Cambridge this fall. What a smart, multitalented group! As we said our goodbyes that night, we promised to connect later – on facebook, of course.

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