I arrived home early Friday morning from a ten-day trip to Israel on the Taglit-Birthright program. I went because I could, because the nation of Israel wants every young Jew in the world to have the opportunity to see their country, because I want to take every opportunity to see any country in the world. I hoped for good travel and perhaps a few likespirited friends from my group who would share it with me. I even hoped some of those friends would be Brazilian, as this was to be the first dual-nationality trip in the history of the program. Beyond all my attempts thus far to explain away the why, what I’ve come home with is a whole new branch of family; and all I find myself wanting to do is introduce everybody to them. Nobody exchanged last names on the trip, but we came to know ourselves as Brusa.
Ariel was the patriarch of the group. He was the oldest and had the fullest beard. If our guides wouldn’t tell us where a bar was, he would disappear for an hour and come back with directions. If people were in a quiet mood, he would convince the proprietor to turn the music down and throw out the cover charge. He was the first person to ask the hardest questions in the room, and it was his unquenchable opinionation that gave me the courage to have as rich and difficult of moral-political discussions as became common by the end of our trip.
If there was a trickster in the group, it was Adam. He made a point of telling humorous lies about himself whenever faced with an icebreaker activity. Whether intended or not, he did a brilliant job of disrupting all character radar: by turns a grouch and a clown, a boxer and a busdriver, a writer of musicals, and a secret speaker of Portuguese, erstwhile eavesdropping.
Half the trip went by before I got to know Alessandra, but we made up for it by diving straight into the richest of conversations. She was the person who sat cliffside with me, meditating over the massive and enigmatic landscape of Mizpeh Ramon, passing back and forth our favorite and most potentially embarrassing conceptions of reality, always met by the other with enthusiasm and warmth.
There was a Ben from Milwaukee whose misinterpreted zodiac sign provided the most bombastic of so many groupblast laughterbouts on the trip. He and I walked together through the art markets of Tel Aviv, nerding out a tune for two of history, myth, literature, and gaming.
Ben the Jew was one of my constant companions on the trip. We hiked the Galilee, rode the bus, picked tomatoes, sang songs, and failed to design a t-shirt together, rarely going ten seconds at a time without finding something worth laughing about.
As did Ben and I on the t-shirt design, so too did Carol and I fail to write our grandiose 39-verse rap saga about every member of the group. We blame every possible detail of circumstance.
It was with another Carol that I was able to explore some of the most frustrating thoughts sparked by the trip. After listening to two Arab speakers one morning, Carol and I talked at length about our political upbringings, her always hearing the Zionist end of things while I heard mostly Palestinian voices. It was a truly fine thing to come to the conversation on each the other’s terms and try to understand rather than correct the situation. Our conversations even inspired me to draw a picture that she now carries with her.
Catherine was quiet and I did not find the chance to know her very well, but in our last couple days she made a habit of tugging at my beard and speaking lengths of Portuguese at me. In time, I learned that she was calling me a cute little beaver, saying that she would like to put me in a little pot on her desk at home. What greater compliment does a person hope to get?
Among many other roles, Clara played the snakecharmer to my inner entertainer. We were taken, on our second evening, to an Ethiopian Community Center in Beit Shan, where we learned about the overnight rescue of thousands of threatened Jews in that country and the difficulties they’ve faced and overcome in their new home in the two decades since. One of the women there taught us the art of dancing out scenes with just our necks and shoulders. Clara and I were asked to dance out a scene where she attempted to seduce me and I played hard-to-get. Our performance was so celebrated that I felt at full ease to dance my limbs out at freak force that night and to my mounting surprise, my flailabout goof stylings became one of the most celebrated motifs of the trip. I’ll have it engraved in cloudstone that I owe my fame to Clara’s napely inducements.
My clearest memories of Daniel spring from the meandering art streets of Tzfat. We walked from vendor to vendor, through a candleshop, and around a synagogue in the course of getting to know each other. He could seem stoic at times, and I find him difficult to put into few enough words here.
Daniel, on the other hand, was perhaps the rambunctiousest fellow on the trip. He had the impeccable talent of saying exactly whatever he wanted in whatever situation did or didn’t call for it and I trace much of the group’s rapid course to intimacy on Daniel’s own precedent. It was nice to have someone else around who was more familiar with Asian religions than our own Jewish tradition and to try and navigate a few comparisons together. He also gave me the immense compliment of being the shaman of the group.
On the original grounds of Kibbutz Gvulot, some of us were separated out to perform scenes from the community’s history. With the help of the siblings Holway, Deborah and I re-enacted the day that a stranger showed up in the communal baths.
Eduardo was ever my compatriot in cross-cultural dialogue. He loved nothing more than picking at the norms and taboos, assumptions and limitations between one culture and another. Alright, one thing he loved more was when the trajectory of such a conversation led to the very natural conclusion that, arbitrary socialized habits aside, there was no reason a given girl shouldn’t hook up with him. That being said, he gave me the coat off his back on a very windy walk through mid-night Jerusalem. That being said, it made an excellent excuse to snuggle up with others for warmth.
Fernanda was quiet and we didn’t get to know each other especially well. She was, however, a fun dancing companion and a fine smiler, which can make you feel close to someone all the same.
There was another Fernanda who was not quiet at all. We walked up and down the trails of the Yizrael Valley, the streets of Jerusalem, and the banks of Jaffa talking about art, nature, her adopted home in New York, her forsaken home in Brazil, my home in Minnesota and any possible reason a person might want to visit me there. She also gave me a thorough list of Brazilian films to watch, which is good because I’m already missing dearly the sound of Portuguese in my daily ears.
It took all of one moment to realize I’d adore Flavio. At the end of our first day, everybody unkempt and underslept and airsore, we were brought at sunset to Beit Alfa where a couple kibbutzim immediately set to entangling us in a series of highly energetic nonsense games. Flavio perked right up with me and set about matching their spirited silliness, everybody else taking some while or longer to rise to the childishness of the occasion. From then on, I knew I could turn to Flavio for all matters in which spirits needed lifting.
Gal was not a member of the group, per se, but our Israeli bodyguard and medic. In immediate terms, he was a tall, muscular man with short-cropped hair and a gun on his hip, setting off pretty much all of my leftover phobias from high school. It was as much a de-conditioning experience, then, as it was a joyous one getting to become so jauntingly, jokingly, embracingly close of friends with him. Most of my favorite Gal stories might not be prudently published here, but I hope there are others who know why I’ll always remember the way he watched out for us while we rode camels around the Negev.
The de facto master of celebrations on our trip was Ian, a DJ from Los Angeles, but I think I’ll remember him best for an uncharacteristic sentimental moment. On the hinge of our trip, we took a day away from travel to observe Shabbat on a verdant kibbutz in the north of the Negev desert. After lighting the candles at sundown, people took turns sharing stories and traditions from their own lives. It was Ian who connected the holy day specifically to family, telling us about the relationship he’s been able to hold with his grandfather in recent years. As he spoke, I found myself crying and uncertain why. I’ve just learned that my own grandfather had passed away earlier that same day, and I thank Ian, in whatever manner, for bringing us together in that slow and peaceful evening.
Jaimee had the uncanny superpower of seeming to take seriously and kindly everything anyone said. Traveling with forty-some travel-high strangers and one younger brother, I think that’s as dear an accomplishment as anything.
The award for biggest laugh elicited on the trip goes to Jessica. During my brief stint as a lost person in Jerusalem, she posted a dashingly aloof picture of me on facebook with the caption “Last seen at the Western Wall.” There’s something very cinematic about the whole thing that I can’t quite place but keeps making me laugh. It’s really great.
I can’t express powerfully enough how drawn-in, celebrated and adored this whole group made me feel. This was especially the case with Joe. Our last night in-country, we all went out to a club together. Joe found me dancing wildlike in a far nook of the room and asked why I wasn’t where the dancing was. I complained that there was never any room to dance in dance clubs. Not two minutes later, I found Joe pulling me across the room and hurling me into a space he’d cleared. As far as I can tell, he went to that much trouble just to see me mirthing.
Katie and I were partners in sinister manifestation. Sitting in a cold white room, waiting for everyone to show so we could do our seventh icebreaker activity, Katie and I started waxing on about how great it would be if instead of a fun fact or a special talent, we were all prompted to share our most embarrassing experience from the last year or else our worst childhood fear. Just seconds into the circle, Ariel shared that he hadn’t been to the bathroom since Sao Paolo. The room rapidly degenerated into outlandishly overpersonal admissions, bawdy tales, and tumbling hysterics. When it got to Katie, she shared a secret she’d been keeping for 16 years. As the circle was completed and Katie and I started congratulating each other, all historical precedent was broken and people started going around again, actually enjoying themselves and loathing that the icebreakers might end.
Kelly was the first person I met at the airport and he first friend I made. Going all the way back in history to a time when I was still just hoping for a couple of decent traveling companions, I already knew that the trip would be a hit with Kelly along. Over the next ten days, we drew in her Ryan Gosling coloring book, wandered the edges of the Jaffa Port, sampled all manner of foreign fruit, and sang songs around a Bedouin fire.
My lasting memory of Kyle is a very simple one. While placed as roommates together in Jerusalem, we went up in between events to take an honest hour’s nap, then proceeded to make each other laugh right through to the alarm.
When I came up with this very novel blog structure, I thought it would be easy to tell the events of the trip by simply sharing what I did with whom, and why that person made it special. As I write I realize just how hard it is to pull the events out of the relationships, its like taffy from too much hair. Anyway, Leo made me laugh a lot; like, in every corner of the country. Marilia never acted out or said anything that didn’t matter, so I always looked to her when I needed a contemplative comrade. Masha kept me in good conversation on the way home, when my mind might rather have been moping. Max and I did our best to work out every possible position and motion one could maintain in the surreal buoyancy of the Dead Lake (I refuse to call it a Sea). Monica argued historicism with me in the serene dank of a 2,000-year-old Masada cistern. Nicole bought me the wonderful tea that I sip on right presently, reminding me all the more vividly of the experimental desert greenhouse where it was grown and all the fine faces that roved there with me. Olivia was my steadfast partner in marathon dancing, boisterous enthusiasms and general wanton foolishness. Paula was a devoted friend from the moment she decided she was anyone’s friend; she was also the only person who actually got up at 5 in the morning to say goodbye to the first few of us who had to leave. Rachel was a cohort in some of the best conversations I shared about race, nationality, gender, and feminism.
Alright, wait. I need to slow down a little at the end here, vowed as I am to finish writing this before work. Rebeca needs her own paragraph for sure. She was one of my constant companions, whatever the terrain, and the giver of some of the best smiles I’ve ever met. At the apex of the only bad mood I got into on the trip, Rebeca sat with me and we started making a list of things that made us happy. Soon enough there was a whole crowd sitting with us, calm in the center of a convention floor, all together raising the ghosts of joys passed. It was a little bit magic; incant the right words and the rest simply comes to be sort of thing.
I sat with Roland on the airplane to Israel. We didn’t talk the full ten hours there, but his companionship did a lot to prepare for the flurry of thoughtful histories and fast-grown friendships that were in store.
It was with Sarah that I shared my finest misadventure of the trip. You see, all we did was overestimate the logic of our ancestors and assume Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter was built on a gridwork. That one tiny, really very insignificant, understandable miscalculation launched us all over every bend and bound of the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, the golden dinge of the whole Old City, and an hour late to our rendezvous. Thanks to our shared capacity for the uncertain, we managed never to panic, rather basking in our ever whereverward rushing. We got to see a whole lot of what we didn’t think we’d have the chance to and it ended up as one of the most remarkable experiences I had.
The clock is ticking silently on and I’ve still three beloved friends to go! Here’s an expedient for you: Tali and Tamar were sisters, seasoned revelers, and invaluable colleagues in the Anti-Complaint League, which the three of us developed with Ariel lest we even for a moment lapse into human habits and forget what amazing luck and privilege had brought us on our trip.
During our stay in the Bedouin settlement, our guide took us out for some empty desert stargazing. Slow and wonderstruck, Thiago and I walked back together and talked about how very long we seemed to have been traveling together. I told him how funny it felt, but also how true, that I should think of him as one of my oldest friends, someone I could go to if I really needed someone to understand me, after having met only six days prior. He nodded in agreement and we walked on a while longer together. Nothing needed to be said for us both to know how good it felt.