Nighttime in Tel Aviv

The Truth About Israel, One Man at a Time

As you may recall if you read this blog with any regularity, my first visit to Israel was a fucking disaster. After being held at the border for nearly five hours, I arrived in Tel Aviv to find that I no longer had a place to stay with my would-be host; following a quick bus ride eastward, I found myself quite literally homeless for a night in Jerusalem, having gotten in after the last of the Holy City’s hostels closed for the night. By the time morning rolled around, I was frustrated, fatigued and confused — I got on the first bus back to the border. I happily paid the steep departure tax and vowed never to go back as I crossed back into Jordan.

So why did I return to Israel a few days ago?

Several tangible events and encounters played a role. I met a group of Israeli travelers during my trip to South America in March, all of whom were insistent that I needed to give the country another chance, in particular one I nearly bedded but didn’t. I pondered their implied invitation over the weeks and months that followed, seeing whether the decidedly negative views I’d developed about Israel — for instance, its brutal foreign policy and seeming apathy toward human rights — would linger as spring faded into summer.

Indeed, my disdain with Israel began to transform itself into a curious obsession of sorts. I became less concerned with the fact that Israel was how it is — and much more interested in investigating the cultural elements that underlie the existence of a nation that, whether you like it or not, is without a doubt the most successful sociological experiment of all time.

In the four days that have thus far comprised my second visit to Israel, thus far spent entirely within the cosmopolitan seaside metropolis of Tel Aviv, many of the revelations I’ve experienced have dawned on me under different instances of a recurring circumstance: Getting to know an Israeli man.

Need help planning your trip to Israel? Hire me as your travel coach!

Being Israeli

I woke up in seat 3B of an Aegean Airlines flight inbound from Athens. Out the window, a dazzling array of skyscrapers, retro housing compounds and downright old buildings appeared to be coming closer and closer. All of a sudden the development — and it was very developed, especially when compared to many of the other places in the region I’d previously visited — gave way to perfectly manicured grass and a smooth, flawless runway. Nearly a year after literally running out of Israel, I’d landed at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv — there was no turning back.

Once the plane parked at the gate, the too-beautiful man sitting across the aisle from me flashed me another of his suspicious smiles — and I characterize them as such because he seemed far too beautiful to be friendly to someone of my not-as-conspicuous beauty.

Our first interaction had been at a restaurant just outside the entrance to airport security at Athens airport. Like me, he’d been craving a salad and like me, quickly realized they were out. I chimed in before he got a chance to walk away. “They’ll make you a fresh one if you really want it,” I said, and took a bite of arugula. “Robert.”

“Itay.”

We’d crossed paths a few times after that, being on the same flight and all. Still, it surprised me that he began talking to me as we waited to get off the plane.

“I tried to tell you to come over here and sit with me,” he said, referring to the fact that I’d been crammed into a row of three people and he had his to himself. “But you were crouched over like this.” He did a spot-on imitation of my airplane sleeping posture.

As we walked up the jet bridge and into the terminal, the conversation continued. “Are you a Jew?”

I shook my head.

“Then why the hell are you here?”

“Well to be honest, I visited last year and had a horrible time. But I hate feeling bitter and plus, some Israelis I met traveling in South America earlier in the year strongly encouraged me to come back. So here I am.”

“Nice. So what do you plan to here?”

My heart sank as a slight young woman walked in-between us.

“Welcome to Israel,” she said, clutching a small notepad between her hands and sporting military attire. “Can I ask you a few security questions?”

I reached into my bag and pulled out a business card. “Contact me on Facebook,” I implored him.

“Excuse me,” she said, and turned around toward my new friend. “Do you know him, or did you just meet on the plane?”

“Just contact me later,” I mouthed to him. He knew to keep walking.

Thankfully, the questioning lasted less than a minute — a shock to me, seeing how I was barely conscious and experiencing difficulty forming words. Interested to see if, by chance, I could catch up to him by the time he passed through immigration, I picked up my pace and gestured toward him the moment I saw him looking back. He’d told me his name, but I didn’t remember — and to be honest, I’m not sure yelling would’ve made me many friends.

Within seconds of our chat resuming, however, we were at passport control, the place where I’d been held up nearly five hours at the beginning of my previous visit, albeit at a remote land border. Miraculously I breezed through, although I did get the dreaded Israel stamp, not wanting to arouse suspicion by asking the officer to stamp a separate piece of paper instead.

“So where in Tel Aviv are you staying?” he asked.

I removed my phone from my pocket, then opened up the note that contained the address of a guy I’d met online and read it off. Almost immediately, he realized that my destination was in close proximity to where he lived and before I knew it, we were in a cab together.

The conversation during the taxi ride was decidedly platonic and consisted mostly of him reading off a list of parties scheduled for the coming days, providing explanation and commentary where needed. As we zoomed past the iconic Azrieli Center, a sign that we had entered the core of Tel Aviv, I noticed the turquoise Star of David around his neck.

“So are you a Jew then?”

He laughed. “Not a religious one,” he said. His expression turned serious. “But I am Israeli, above all else, and I am eternally proud of that fact.”

I pondered his response for a moment, trying to filter out the political noise that began to fill my head.

He continued before I could. “I mean Israel, being Israeli, it’s all I have,” he said. “We’re surrounded by people who hate us, and who have hated us for thousands of years, and who probably always will, which makes it important for me to love who I am any way I can.

“Plus, the necklace is beautiful. My friend made it for me.”

As he taxi began to slow, he dug around in his bag and pulled out a 100-shekel note. He placed it in my hand. “Just apply this to the bill,” he said, “and pay the rest.” He kissed me on the cheek. “I’ll add you on Facebook. Good luck in Israel.”

He gently closed the door and strutted into his building, his pendant swinging back and forth in his reflection in its glass exterior.

And Then, We’re All Doomed

I arrived at Ayel’s apartment, door #5 on the second floor of the building above the post office, expecting to enjoy a quick sleep and maybe some naughty fun before setting out with him to explore the city’s hostel offerings. We’d met online — and not via a particularly kosher site either — so I was surprised when he informed me almost immediately after I arrived that I’d be able to stay for as long as I wanted.

I would soon be far more surprised.

“You can say anything you want about Israel,” he said, as I explained the circumstances of my previous visit as diplomatically as possible. “You won’t offend me — I’m about as left-wing as they come.”

Fatigued from the flight in — but thankfully not the interrogation that didn’t happen this time — I switched gears, fueled in part by my mounting hunger.

“Is it legal to sell bacon in Israel?”

“Do you want bacon?”

“Well, no, not particularly. I mean I’ll always eat bacon, but is it legal to sell it here?”

“Of course,” he said. “I love bacon, although I don’t eat it often.

The Jews are funny people,” he went on. “We like to get around the law. Technically, it is illegal to raise pigs on the land, so Jews use a platform called a misrah at a special type of kibbutz. You know what a kibbutz is, right?”

“Yes. It was near a kibbutz last year when I got taken off the bus and questioned why I was so eager to get back to Jordan.”

We soon headed down to street level to fetch some ingredients for breakfast. During our walk, Ayel pointed out a building he’d lived in as a child — and recounted a grim moment he experienced from the 20th floor. “A bus exploded right here,” he said, pointing at the memorial sign that had been raised. “And I could hear it. Thankfully, I didn’t see it. But I can still hear it.”

After inhaling the omelette Ayel made me, I felt nourished enough to take the conversation back into serious territory. “So what do you think the solution is? The final solution, if you will.”

“I think that Israel should invest the money it currently spends on defense in building infrastructure for the new Palestinian state.”

“So you think the Palestinians will win on September 20 at the U.N.?”

“No,” he said. “I mean Israel should build a Palestinian state, then set them free.

But they should burn Jerusalem,” he continued. “That city reeks of conquest. It’s cursed and should just be destroyed. But to be clear, I don’t think Israel will do what I suggest. They want to keep the war going — it’s been 5,000 years. And the hatred is deep: In spite of their relentless war crimes, Israeli soldier won’t even touch an Arab woman, even though rape is considered a show of dominance in war.”

Ayel, I would then learn, had found a way out of the military service that literally every other Israeli person I’d met had completed. But he nonetheless maintained what I would characterize as a relatively Israeli outlook toward the conflict.

To Ayel the 2010 storming of the Freedom Flotilla, which by many media accounts had been little more than a civilian aid vessel, had been justified since a foreign vessel was coming close to Israeli waters. “What do you think the American military would’ve done if a vessel ignored order to stop — and it did — and was proceeding into your waters?”

I attempted to rebut him, bringing up the distinction between the Israeli army and our own coast guard, but I soon realized I wasn’t going to convince Ayel of anything — he was just as strong-minded as me.

What he said next, however, made me adjust my line of thinking. “You know,” he said. “Last week, 80 missiles were fired on the city of Be’er Sheva, you know where that is?”

I nodded.

“Big city in the south. And we, um, what’s the word for when they shoot down the missile?”

“Intercept.”

“Yeah, they intercepted all of them. But two years ago, the Palestinians didn’t have that technology — they couldn’t have reached Be’er Sheva. The more their technology develops, the closet they get to being able to strike anywhere.”

“So in a way,” I said. “There rest of the country is a shield for Tel Aviv?”

“I guess you could say that.

“Anyway, I do believe Israelis do have reason to be scared. We’ve had more than 20 bombings since 9/11,” he said, referencing the upcoming 10th anniversary of the attacks. “Terror lives here every day, whether or not our actions belie it.

“But Tel Aviv,” he said. “This is the safest city ever, from missiles anyway.”

“So you’re never afraid here?”

“Not really. I mean, when a missile falls on the streets of Tel Aviv, it will be the beginning of World War III. And then we’re all doomed.”

A Matter of History

When I heard a dull tapping on the front door of the apartment the next morning, I had a feeling he might have arrived, one a sequence of loud buzzes confirmed.

I opened the door.

He reached out to shake my hand, unsure if he should hug or, worse, kiss. So we did all three.

“Oh my God.” He laughed in an old lady sort of way, somewhere between a giggle and a dry heave.

“How are you?”

“Good, good. And you?”

“Well, I’m here ain’t I?”

We both stood there for a second, then I broke the silence. “Shall we go?”

Seeing his nod, I grabbed the key out of my pocket, walked out the door and began to lock it.

“Aren’t you going to turn the air conditioner and lights off?”

“Oh, I guess I should.” I ran inside a did my duty — I’d promise Ayel not to flood his room while he was gone at work, something that would happen if I’d left the AC on. After a few seconds, I was back at the exit chute. “It just gets so hot in there.”

“Why? Because of the room, or because of you?” He old-lady laughed again.

I didn’t really know what to say, so I didn’t say anything and began walking down the stairs.

Assaf and I first met when I was in Peru this past March. He’d messaged me when I was in Lima, literally the first night of my South America trip, and asked me when I would be in Cusco. “I really want to meet you.”

We exchanged a few messages on a different gay “networking” site that the once via which I’d meet Ayel months later, which revealed among other things that Assaf was Israeli, a citizen of a country I’d grown fond of shit-talking. But my desire to drink soon got the better of me, so I went out in search of it and logged off.

I didn’t hear much from Assaf in the days that followed. Just before boarding a Cusco-bound overnight bus in the white city of Arequipa, I sent him an email message explaining that I’d be arriving in Cusco the next morning and staying at the Loki Hostel there. After I arrived at Loki, I opened my inbox to find a message from him. Loki Hostel was a good place, he said, and then said he knew because he was staying there. Could this match have been made anywhere but heaven?

I had work to do anyway, which gave me an excuse to be there besides just waiting for Assad to appear. Loki’s gringo recreational area, a college-campus-meets-summer-camp restobar operation staffed by long-term visitors and locals alike, was comfortable enough to waste away a few hours, anyway,

After gossiping for a while with some nearby girls about the juicy situation I thought was about to unfold, I saw a decidedly Jewish-looking young man creep up to the counter and sit down. He was also decidedly awkward-looking. I was sure it was him, but pretty sure he didn’t know I was me. One thing was clear: This wasn’t the rugged-looking man I’d seen in pictures.

Of course I knew being in out-in-the-fucking sticks Cusco would limit my choices to almost none, so I adopted an accepting attitude. There’s no chance he wouldn’t be into someone like me, I thought, so I might as well just go for it. And with that, I made contact. By the time I hit the sheets that night, we’d made plans to set off for the nearby Sacred Valley together early the next morning.

And that was where I learned the truth: The guy I wasn’t really into wasn’t really into me. It was disappointing — I wanted to get laid — but also seemed right, seeing as I felt the same way.

Strangely, I began to develop a fondness for his company, one he seemed to reciprocate. The tension grew strong as the days passed. Unfortunately, an apparently huge mistake on my part — I outed him to one of the girls we’d both gotten to know, as if she wouldn’t have known — caused our goodbye to be bitter and brief.

Before we fell out, however, Assaf and the rest of the Israelis in the hostel had learned of my experience in Jerusalem the previous fall and were insistent that I come back and give Israel another shot. Oddly, Assaf became a cheerleader for my return as my week in Cusco fell more distantly into the past.

It came as a surprise that he began talking to me again. About a month after I returned to the U.S. from Brazil, he’d gotten back together with the guy he told me about in the Sacred Valley, an also-closeted young man who was ashamed of their forbidden love, or some shit. I’m not sure why he thought telling me about who he was going to fuck instead of me would make me less disappointed that he didn’t want me, but rudeness had long ago proven to be Assaf’s M.O.

Simultaneously, I was began to chart out a trip I wanted to take at the end of the summer. Tel Aviv presented itself as a convenient stop in the itinerary, seeing as how I wanted to go to both Greece and Egypt. Coincidentally, I’d made other Israeli friends via gay personals sites.

Of course, these considerations were ultimately superfluous. At my root, I was growing tired of the one-sided bitterness I was carrying around with me almost everywhere I went — and I’d be lying if I said part of me wasn’t also curious about what the fuck Assaf’s deal was.

As we  exited Ayel’s apartment building and turned out onto King George Road, I knew I hadn’t become suddenly attracted to him, in spite of his earlier comment suggesting he had to me. His nervous demeanor was interesting, a disposition particularly befitting of someone with an unrequited crush. Or of someone into whose behavior I read too deeply.

The bottom line is this: Within the first 15 minutes I spent with Assaf, I began feeling that strange pull toward him again. This was in spite of the fact that he showed me a picture of his aforementioned boyfriend, who was hot beyond words — and certainly hot beyond him.

To be sure, he was vocal about how little he wanted physical relations with me. He was generally abrasive in the way he spoke and acted. And yet, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face whenever I was around him.

He suggested Benedict, a 24-hour breakfast joint — think Denny’s but much nicer and much more expensive — on posh Rothschild Boulevard. Initially, I thought it was sweet that he suggested we split an entrée and one or two side dishes, but then I remembered his trademark cheapness (He’d argued 10 minutes to save less than $2 on a cab ride in Peru) and chalked it up to that.

After breakfast, we walked west on Rothschild, , passing hordes of people who weren’t pleased with the city’s urban planning. The tents that compromised the internationally-televsions cost living protests that had been going on for months were less numerous than I thought they’d be — a week before, Assaf told me, many more people had been there — but those who remained were graceful and smooth in their defiance. We then headed toward the sea via Neve Tzedek, Tel Aviv’s first Jewish neighborhood, one that’s been converted into one of the city’s most unaffordable and is thus a contentious talking point in the cost of living debate.

He pointed to a skyscraper going up behind one cluster of tents. “Do you know how much a room, the cheapest room, in that place will cost?”

I shook my head.

“Five million.”

I began doing the conversion in my head, but he interrupted me. “Dollars, not shekels. Five million dollars. Israelis can’t and don’t live here. These are summer homes for rich foreign Jews. We make less than them, but everything here costs more.”

“So what do you — what do the protesters — want the government to do?”

He scratched his head.

“To stop encouraging foreign developers to proliferate.”

He smile. “Exactly!”

“We’re facing a similar problem in Austin,” I chuckled. “So I feel you. Say no more.”

As the protest site faded away, the topic turned to Assaf’s new job. He’d just finished training as a security guard for a courtroom in his hometown of Oranit, a city I often reminded him was in the West Bank.

“It is not in the West Bank.” He pulled up a map of Israel on his phone and ran his finger along the armistice line. “These lines, they won’t mean anything soon. He drew his finger out and around his town. “Israel will draw a tongue of land out to this city, and give the other side to the Palestinians.”

“You believe there will be a Palestinian state?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “But if there is one, this is how it will happen.”

We eventually got closer to the cool breeze of the Mediterranean but just before we did, we came upon a wall of extremely colorful graffiti. “Do you know who that is?”

I read the name. “Gilad Shalit?”

“He is an Israeli soldier that has been imprisoned by the Palestinians for six years.”

“He’s still alive?”

Assaf nodded. “Can you imagine how his family must feel, knowing their son is alive and trapped for that long?”

I was going to bite my tongue, but I couldn’t resist. “Do you think Israelis treat Palestinians any better?” I almost cited the white phosphorous bombings of the Gaza Strip, but decided not to play that card — Assaf had served in a combat unit in Gaza for a brief time during his tenure in the Israeli army. “Don’t you think all of the Palestinian territories are like a prison?”

But he had already set his narrative. “They don’t even give him TV!”

I laughed. “So Israelis give Palestinian prisoners TV?”

“That is not the point and you know it,” he said.

Indeed, it wasn’t. It was, however, becoming painfully clear that the feud between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East was far more complex than either left or right wing media had painted it to be. Both sides feel wronged, both feel like God is on their side. And although the angrier party is also by far the most powerful one, the roots of Israel’s anger are deeper than outsiders can even begin to understand: This is a matter of history.

Then then was the other point, of course, which began to take over my thought process as we made our way away from the sea and into the Carmel Market that sits between where we were and where we needed to be. Eventually, we found a shady bench in Gan Meir park, just across and down the street from Ayel’s place, and cracked open a couple bottles of piss-tasting local beer.

As our ever-playful war of words grew more and more contrived, verbal jabs soon gave way to physical ones and before I knew it, I was once again overtaken by my fondness for Assaf. Was he secretly interested in me, or did he just have a crazy sexual gravity that could draw even his model-looking boyfriend toward him?

Before I could finish daydreaming, it was time for us to part ways. I decided to send Assaf off with a smile.

“Have fun in the West Bank!”

“I don’t live in the West Bank,” he said. “Bitch.”

This Looks Funny

With one notable exception — Evita, located just south of Rothschild Boulevard on Rehov Yavne — Tel Aviv does not have gay bars, in spite of being the pre-eminent, by some accounts only gay destination in the reason. Rather, a majority of establishments in the city cater to a well-mixed crowd — and the rest of the queens go to large “parties” held in arenas of various size and shedliness.

After the sun set on my day with Assaf, I was at one in particular — one called “Drek,” which apparently means “crap” in Hebrew, held at a behemoth Shed know as “Block Party” — when I met Liron. Incidentally, I did see Itay again, who instructed me to add him Facebook via his own iPhone. He’d lost my card, he said, and was too fucked up to use the phone himself. That was the last I saw of him.

But anyway, back to Liron.

I don’t remember at exactly which point in the party I met him. After arriving just after 2:30 in the morning — classy, I know — I made my way through the massive crowd to the back bar and within less than a minute was swarmed. Liron wasn’t among the first group of men who approached me at the party, but he was aggressive once he finally did say something.

Without going into too much detail, I knew Liron a little better after I had him escort me to the toilets. Afterwards, however, I got caught back up in the hustle-bustle of the party and before I knew it, Liron was nowhere to be found. Until the party ended, that is.

He turned around as I approached the taxi line. “Where are you going?”

“King George,” I said. “And you?” As if I’d have a fucking clue — it was only my second day in Tel Aviv, at this point.

“Do you know Ben Yehuda Road?”

I shook my head.

“That’s OK,” he said. “It’s close. You can ride with me.”

Guess what happened boys and girls? When I came to, the same bizarre VH1 programming (it showed only music videos) was blaring on Liron’s TV, a sign that it was time to get up and go. When I woke him up to tell him I’d be leaving, however, Liron became sad. He threw off his be-logoed United Colors of Bennetton comforter and walked out of the room.

He yelled back inside, but not in an angry manner. “Come to the kitchen before you leave.”

When I emerged he was waiting in front of the toaster oven, looking at me like I was on my way to death row.

“I am making you breakfast,” he said. “This is a gozgizda, a bread my grandmother makes. She makes it by hand, so you better enjoy it.”

I laughed. “Deal.”

“Do you want to come to the beach with me today?”

“I want to,” I said, “but I have plans.” (Actually, that was kind of a lie. Ayel and I had tentatively talked about going to visit Jaffa, the Arab-Jewish port city that sits to the south of Tel Aviv, but nothing was set in stone.) If I’m honest, however, I just felt bad for having stayed out all night on a guy who was not only hosting me free of charge, but was treating me like a king. At 6 p.m. the night before, Ayel and his friends unveiled a huge platter of shakshouka they’d made me; less than 12 hours later I was sleeping in some other dude’s bed. I felt like a dick.

I took my first bite of the bread Liron handed me and remembered I didn’t have his phone number. “I can call you later — but I need your number.”

He ran into his room and returned back with a condom wrapper and a pen. He scrawled his number onto it and giggled as he handed it to me. “This looks funny.”

I devoured the rest of the bread. “I’ll call you tonight.”

I hurried back, but things don’t move quickly at Ayel’s household. Accordingly, we spent most of the time between when I arrived back there and when Ayel had to report for a night shift at his job watching videos on the Internet and smoking hash, except for a brief detour to one of his friend’s apartments — we certainly didn’t make it to Jaffa. I got back into contact with Liron shortly after Ayel left for work.

After I reverse-navigate the morning’s walk of shame, we decided to do dinner and drinks at a bougey restaurant called Goocha, a seafood place located along an especially bougey stretch of Diezengoff Boulevard. Our appetizer selection — Quail-Wrapped Sea Scallops — confirmed the bougeyness. Stupidly, I checked-in to the place on Facebook. I say “stupidly” because I was now afraid Ayel would know I was out with someone. And I was afraid that I was afraid — that meant not only that he liked me, but that I knew and reciprocated it. We’d become very boyfriend-ish in just a few days.

Liron on the other hand was a one-night stand — albeit a one-night stand I decided to go on a date with in spite of the fact that I don’t live in his city or know anything about him — but a one-night stand nonetheless. Not surprisingly, I wanted to know more about my sultry suitor, so I was eager to start up a conversation. Unfortunately, that would have to wait until he stopped replying to the frequent text messages he was receiving.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s my job. My boss, he won’t leave me alone. He says I’m doing a bad job.”

“What is your job?”

“I’m a manager,” he said, “at Steve Madden.

“I used to work at a store in a northern suburb of Tel Aviv, but now I work at the one in the port. It’s so much bigger, but I don’t have extra staff to help me. My boss always tells me how well I do when I’m there, but then texts and calls me when I’m off to tell me how bad I am. I’m sorry to tell you so much about it. I won’t use the phone again.”

“You can do what you need to do,” I said, “but what is going to happen with your job? What do you want to happen?”

“To be honest, I’d prefer if they just fire me. That way, I can get money from the state, and some extra pay from the company. You know, when you leave your job.”

Spoken like a true American!

His room had been decked out in bags and loose articles from high street retailers, so it wasn’t shocking to me that he also worked in retail, although it was a bit saddening — Liron doesn’t belong in retail, I could tell that almost immediately. During our dinner conversation, he talked through — and then talked himself out of — several potential escape paths, a point in life at which I’d found myself two years ago. He operated under the illusion that some mythical district manager somewhere would appreciate his constant ass-busting.

We were both clearly full after the meal, so I playfully chided the waitress when she offered us dessert. “I already have something sweet.” Apparently, these were magic words.

A few minutes later, a crème brûlée appeared on our table. “My gift to you.”

Liron wasn’t my boyfriend, of course. She probably thought he was. Nevertheless, I had a feeling he’d soon be unemployed so I offered to pay the bill.

But he put his card on top of mine. “I don’t like to be paid for. Let’s split it.”

He had to be home by 11:30 — his roommate would be installing an oven later in the evening, and Liron had previously volunteered his help — so we got back to his apartment early, with the intent of messing around a little and me being on my way. If you remember that this was my third night in Israel, the first two of which were sleepless, you won’t be surprised to know I fell asleep in his bed.

I woke up almost panicked at around midnight, having promised Ayel to be home for the end of his shift at 10:30. Just as I’d done in the morning I fled rapidly, although I didn’t stop in Liron’s kitchen to get a snack for the walk home — his surly roommate’s grimace was unwelcoming.

When I did arrive back at Ayel’s he was sleeping, so I quietly got into bed with him.

He noticed me almost immediately. “You’re here.” He stirred for an instant, then pulled me close to him.

An Amazing Fantasy

Ayel and I finally made it to Jaffa the following evening. It was Sunday but since the weekend is Israel spans Friday and Saturday, it felt like Monday to me. Jaffa provided an incredible view of the Tel Aviv skyline — and a rare example of Jews and Arabs working and living side-by-side with any apparent conflict. As we headed back toward Ayel’s place that night, however, I couldn’t help but be more struck by a comment he made.

“You know, I have like 10 guys who’ve asked me to meet them since you arrived and I’ve told them all I can’t. I’m unavailable.” He grabbed my hand. “I’m gonna have to meet all 10 of them to get over you after you leave.”

Initially, I couldn’t put my finger on quite what it was about his statement that had bothered me. It wasn’t until we got back to his place — and Ayel flashed an image of one of the guys he planned to meet after I left across his computer screen — that I finally said something.

“You know,” I said, “just because you know something’s going to end doesn’t make it insignificant.”

“I never said it was insignificant, but I will be sad.”

“And you think telling me about all the people you’re going to fuck after I leave — and now showing one of them to me — is going to make me feel better? That’s like introducing your sick old dog to the new puppy you bought to replace it. I care about you and you clearly care about me. Why should the fact that I’m going to leave in a few days have any effect on our interactions now?”

He sighed. “You’re not real. You’re a fantasy — an amazing one. But you’re not real. You’ll leave. And I’ll probably never see you again.”

“But I am real, right now. I’m right in front of you. I sleep in your bed every night — well, most nights. I wake up next to you and do dirty things to you. How much more real can you get?”

“You’re real — but you’re a fantasy. You’re an unsustainable guy. You don’t sustain yourself in my life. You can’t.”

A period of silence followed our exchange, during which I began to really ponder not only what Ayel had just said, but how my interactions with him and with other men in Israel had altered my perception of a place I wanted desperately not to hate — and mostly for the better.

Finding myself in a taxi with Itay had calmed me after what I assumed would be an arduous immigration process; Hearing his fervent patriotism before I even got out of the cab began my trip on a much more positive note than my visit the previous year had done. Reuniting with Assaf did little to clarify the emotional and physical ambiguity that still existed between us; It showed that in spite of having served on the front lines of the regional conflict, he had little hope that a resolution would ever be made, a pessimism underscored by his skewed perception of the underlying ethics issues. Liron, like so many people back in the United States, was a self-shackled wage slave who made absolutely no mention of any entity outside Israel’s borders, let alone the neighboring Palestinian territories.

And then there was Ayel. From the start, the perspective he offered on the country’s political situation was congruent enough with my own not to require substantial intellectual retreat on my part, but made enough thoughtful distinctions to allow me insight into the Israeli view, right or wrong. His philosophy was actually quite simple. The only way Israel can achieve and maintain peace is to build and secure the Palestinian state, something he doesn’t believe will happen. Things will continue as they are until Palestinian rockets can reach Tel Aviv — then it’s game over.

I won’t lie: Just four days here in Tel Aviv have left me absolutely smitten with the place and its cityscape. Most infatuating of all is the “Carpe Diem” attitude that seems to underlie the way people choose to live their lives here, a wild abandon I can’t help but think relates directly to the fact that it could all be over very quickly.

It could all end tomorrow, this much has become clear to me since arriving back in Israel. Terror attacks, regardless of what you believe their underlying cause to be, are a constant and real concern; And although strolling down Rothschild Boulevard or Diezengoff Street might make you think otherwise, the State of Israel is very much still fighting for its existence, a millennia-old battle that is no doubt at the root of the paranoid behavior I encountered near the frontier last September.

I guess you could almost say I’m pro-Israel, although I don’t support the policies or the rhetoric of the Netanyahu government. I do, however, support the Israeli people and the way they go about life — but I fear the agenda their government carries out in their name works to undermine the continued prosperity of their country.

“Unsustainable? Really?”

“Yes, I believe so,” he said. He pulled me toward him and began massaging first my wrists, then my forearms, and then my biceps before we united into a full-on hug. “But I’m not saying that because I want this to end — I don’t. I just know it will.”

Leave Your Daily Hell   Filed under: Israel

About The Author

is the author of 771 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!

 

informs, inspires, entertains and empowers travelers like you. My name is Robert and I'm happy you're here!

 
 
 

Get Email Updates

Like what you're reading? Sign up to receive my weekly email newsletter – it's like a trip around the world to end every week!

Upcoming Trips

  • Ireland July 19-30
  • Mae Sot, Thailand August 18-22
  • Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand September 1-4
 
 

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

amir June 24, 2013 at 5:20 pm

your writing is great. damn straight, haha. i was googling for gay israelies doing naughty things to each other when i came across your story, and just stayed with it to the very end. well done man. thanks for sharing your stories and views. hope you will always have lots of love in your life.

Robert Schrader June 24, 2013 at 9:14 pm

Thanks for your message Amir! I’m glad my story surprised you. I hope you keep reading!

Rob September 25, 2013 at 11:17 pm

I agree. Surprisingly good writing that kept me interested until the end.

Arunima January 3, 2014 at 3:36 am

So honest!! Kept me gripped till the end.

Robert Schrader January 3, 2014 at 5:45 am

Thanks Arunima! Glad you enjoyed it!

Ari Akkermans August 2, 2014 at 2:53 am

Very interesting take… Have you been to Beirut, btw? You should. It would offer you the radically other side, which is, in my view, radically the same.

Robert Schrader August 2, 2014 at 7:39 am

I have been to Beirut!

Ari Akkermans August 2, 2014 at 7:50 am

What was your impression? Did you write about it? I’d love to read it. Gay Beirut isn’t too interesting I feel, but the city, well, this is a clusterfuck, an additional galaxy.

Robert Schrader August 3, 2014 at 8:21 am

I liked Beirut a lot, but you’re right, gay Beirut leaves a lot to be desired. Also, I think Israeli guys are sexier sorry to say.

No Truth February 4, 2016 at 4:32 am

HI Robert. I’m traveling to Israel in April for about 10 days. I saw your article about meeting guys on Grindr, but I’m curious which other apps you found useful to meet guys online before you got there? I noticed that you are rather conspicuously vague about the apps you used.
About the article, I really like your writing style, although I must admit as a horny gay man I would have enjoyed some more details about all the hot sex you had.
I’m not so sure I agree with your conclusions about your “relationship” in Israel and the Israelis in general, or the politics of their government. As you describe them, they seem to be living for the future and looking at the long haul, calculating the benefits of one decision over another, but you are the one living in the moment. He sees you as not real because you won’t be there tomorrow, you weren’t there last night and barely made it there that evening. You are ephemeral. They are about tomorrow, whereas you live in today in a rather attention deficit hyperactive way. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, just a different world view. I’m usually juggling three to five guys at the same time myself when travelling.
I also think you judge the Israeli government rather harshly as I believe if the US was in the same situation, we would have annihilated the Palistinians completely a long time ago. I’m not saying that’s right, I just think the US government would be far harsher if faced with the same situation.

Robert Schrader February 8, 2016 at 8:10 am

I mostly just use Grindr!

Leave a Comment

{ 15 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: