While visiting a kibbutz to give a lecture, and after dining on both hot desert-root vegetable soup and sushi, the speaker becomes the listener when someone in the audience completes an anecdote about Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre.
The terminal at Tel Aviv’s small municipal airport was crowded. All the passengers sat in the waiting area near the doors facing the runways. Two airlines had divvied up the passengers equally, and I stood in line, handed my confirmation to the attendant, and received my boarding pass. Buses shuttled back and forth from the terminal, and about half an hour later I, too, made my way to the runway.
No one was seated to my right on the plane. To my left, beyond the aisle, sat two men wearing boots, with their legs slightly splayed out, passing a cell phone back and forth. They spoke quietly to each other, and smiled secretively, about the pictures they were looking at. They compared and contrasted. They had something to grasp at, or at least so I assumed, but I could not penetrate their world. That is how far removed from me they were.
When I got to Eilat, I was met outside the airport by my driver, who turned out to be the husband of the library director. Very tall, brown moustache. He walked me to the car and we headed to the kibbutz.
The last time I’d been to the resort city, I was in my twenties. I went with another young man and a woman, both friends from Tel Aviv, to stay in a vacation apartment that belonged to my friend’s parents, who, like many other Israelis, had bought a time-share for a vast sum of money. They were only entitled to use the apartment for one month out of every year, and even that was hard to fill. Still, we went down there all those years ago, we sunbathed, and on the beach at night we met people who beckoned us with looks in their eyes, and we went with them to the places one goes to. The three of us: him, her, and me.
That was then. This time I came as a writer and I was dressed like a writer. My rolling backpack contained my laptop, one book in French and another in Hebrew, and some dates, spelt cookies, and so forth. As we drove to our destination, my host recounted his life story, which had begun in Boston and ended—thus far—on the kibbutz. He told me about his children, including a young daughter he’d adopted from a distant land, about his parents in America, and mostly about his brother. In particular, he related an incident that had occurred between them involving a misunderstanding, as well as remorse and guilt, all of which were now thirty years old. There were secrets that emerged in that car, departing one heart and entering another. I kept them secret and did not put them in writing.
I spent the long drive in anticipation, as the sun fell behind the red mountains, the roads became dusty, and the few provisions I’d brought began to dwindle. My host promised me one of two dishes at the kibbutz dining hall: hot desert-root vegetable soup or sushi prepared by a former kibbutznik who was now a well known chef in New York. By the time we got there, I was confused and exhausted from the journey, and even though my stomach was not grumbling terribly, I found myself asking for both. And so it was that the Japanese food and the desert food were brought to the table and placed before me. I sat there and ate ravenously with my host and his wife, the library director, and a few of their children and grandchildren who were visiting the kibbutz. I did not tell any of them about what I had heard on our drive from Eilat. I held my tongue, even though I was not asked to. That is my temperament and that is my nature.
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July - August 2018