On Patriotism and Independence

Three summers ago, when I was first preparing to move to Israel, I frequently wore a pair of flip-flops with American flag designs; stars and stripes, red white and blue, non-running colors, and so on. They were my dad's sandals, though, so I had to buy a new pair and give those back to him. When I did, he made a joke about how Israel, "won't be so crazy to have flip-flops like that."

Wolla! Thanks, Google!!
This is where I could paste in a picture of big old blue and white star of David Israeli flip-flops, but I wasn't sufficiently vigilant in finding them on the streets. You'll have to take my word for it: they exist.

Israel is a pretty patriotic place, I'm saying. In a time where some Americans are reconnecting with their patriotic feelings, while other Americans are repelled by the jingoistic overtones that accompany those patriotic feelings, I find myself in one of the few places in the world more patriotic than America. That's not a scientific finding. Nor do I have a lot of hard evidence about how patriotic countries besides the U.S.A. and Israel are; I know Russians are rather proud of their country, and May 8th, V-E day, is a day I'm to remember every year to congratulate my WWII Red Army veteran grandfather for; I didn't notice any overwhelming pride during my two months in Spain, but then not again, I wasn't there during the summer of 2008 or 2010 when the football team, La Furia Roja, took the world and country by storm. I will grant that most countries are patriotic to some degree or another, and maybe it's not fair to rank them on their respective levels of flag-waving and chest-beating. That said, I am sticking to my premise of the U.S.A. and Israel being very patriotic, and focus on those two countries, especially Israel.

(Note: I don't think Luxembourg, my next home, will score very high on the patriotic scale.)

Today is Independence Day. Yesterday was Memorial Day. The juxtaposition is intended to remind observers of the bittersweet struggle for independence and security that has been waged through several wars, ongoing fears, and 63 years, while also attesting to the country's desire for peace and acceptance. (I am not discussing the contemporary political issues of 2011 here, so feel free to read that last clause at face value or as skeptically as you deem necessary.) The holidays, as with all Jewish and Israeli holidays, go from sunset to sunset. Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) starts with a siren at 8pm, where the whole nation is to stand still in silence. There are services that night; the next day at 11am, another siren and set of services. And then that night, on to partying.

This year, there was a unique twist to the combination: Euroleague basketball. Maccabi Tel Aviv, one of the strongest European basketball clubs, something of a Yankees of the Israeli leagues, with all the good and bad that comes with such a connotation, was competing in the Champions League finals against a Greek squad, Panathinaikos. The twist was that once Maccabi made the final, they were slated to play at 5:30, an earlier time than originally planned: the final four organizers in Barcelona agreed to bump up the game to accommodate MTA's wishes to not play during Memorial Day, when all the TV stations go black for the siren and then broadcast services or memorial themed documentaries and programs. The nation hung on both the success or failure of Maccabi's game and the time it took to play, wondering if they could go about their rituals and still see if Maccabi would pull it out.

Though Israelis either love or hate Maccabi in the domestic context, once they play abroad, the team has a full country behind them. The Ha'aretz, the center-left newspaper I read, had an article boasting of Maccabi's fervent fans, outnumbering and outbellowing the other Final Four teams' fanbases while adorned in a sea of yellow, Maccabi's color.  Living on a main street in Herzliya, I could hear air horns and cheers from my window leading up to game time, then the hushed attention of people watching the game, and then the dying wheeze of a fanbase that realized it would only be next year - Panathinaikos was too strong.

The positive feelings for the country did not dissipate along with the dreams of Euroleague glory. The next day at school, after a nice, politically correct service about remembrance and world peace put on by high school students, I had a long talk with a new immigrant to Israel, a mother in her late 40s from an NYC suburb who professed Bronx-accented appreciation for her oldest son deciding to move here first and join the army, who wondered how to persuade her younger son to serve the country, and who talked about how her son's commanding officer gave parents his phone number in case of emergency, filling surrogate teacher and parent roles at once. I don't say that I shared oolll of the same views as this mother from oolllmost the Bronx, but it was thought-provoking in the very least.

Last night was the night of the big celebration, from which all these photos (except the shoe) come. I had no plans to go anywhere unless invited to something, but the constant din of horns, both the ones blown by mouth ala last summer's vuvuelzas and the ones kids could just push a button to sound, the little bastards (both kids and horns), and the proximity of Herzliya's festivities spurred me to get out of the apartment. I grabbed my camera and went for a stroll on Ben Gurion street, the main drag in Herzliya, hosting the Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day) activities and named after the first prime minister and major founding father of the country, David Ben Gurion (the George Washington of Israel, as it were).

The main part of Herzliya, where I am this time 'round, is a nice-sized suburb of Tel Aviv, not far from the city, the beach, or the hi-tech sector buildings located in Herzliya Pittuach, the beach-side of town. Last night, it was mostly host to families; I saw a few older couples, a bunch of high schoolers, but few people around my age who weren't already pushing baby carriages or toting large bellies. The 20-somethings either don't live in Herzliya or make sure to get into Tel Aviv for the night. (Note: last year, when living in Tel Aviv, Amy and I went to a party hosted by one of my M.A. program buddies at which both of us felt awkward, old, and out of place (well, maybe I didn't quite feel old, but you get the point). Then she met up with other friends and went to a party, and I went to bed, this around 10:30pm.)

In that the patriotic holiday in a patriotic country is a family affair, then, it made me wonder about the nature of Israeli patriotism. Undoubtedly, a small nation affords less escape from patriotism and possibly by its size more of a need for unity. At the same time, the contentious nature of Israel's history makes it more essential to cling to the idea of a country. Not to say everyone agrees with "the situation", that all Israelis have conforming views regarding the nation's challenges. More to say that given the ever-present potential for eruption in a political and military sense, and the intense daily behavior everybody engages in, the citizens who stay here will by their nature be committed to the idea of the state; it's the bias of self-selection. I would think that this applies to Arab citizens of Israel and those living in the territories, though obviously through a much different set of circumstances and logic.

There is also the newness of the state and its ongoing sense of danger that propels citizens to celebrate so furiously each and every year (or at least the three I've been here). History has taught us time and again that democracy, while perhaps a noble and desired outcome for all modern nations, does not come about immediately or suddenly, but almost always in an organic process - see Russia after 1991, Germany after WWI, Yugoslavia after 1991, Africa or the Middle East after colonialism, or even the U.S.A. until at least the civil war. Israel is only 63 years old, younger then the U.S. was when it fought itself over slavery; expecting it to solve all its problems is mildly unfair and at the same time a testament to the fact that Israel has done a pretty good job establishing democracy from scratch. At the same time, Israel's situation is unique, and I am one of many who think the country could do much more in seeking a solution, so I'm not nullifying all criticism as unfair.

A local curmudgeon - a mostly left-wing contrarian journalist whom, I sense, most Israelis ignore at this point - argued on one of the previous two independence days that once Israelis get over the celebration of themselves and their great survival that is wrapped in the Yom Haatzmaut national narrative, they can actually take care of the injustice that is the failure to make peace with the Palestinians.

It's mostly a wet blanket argument, one designed to be ignored on the day itself. But removed from the immediate holiday context, it is another thought provoker - would Israelis care quite as much about independence and their patriotism once those things became granted and confirmed in peace treaties and an affirmed right to exist from their neighbors? Is Israeli pride/exceptionalism the result of the conflict, or part of the cause? With peace, would new problems and bugaboos emerge?

Part of that discussion with the Bronxish mother was about how little Memorial Day meant to us in the States as kids - a parade, the beginning of summer, a day off from school, and a barbecue, but not much more. After 9/11, patriotism and the significance of sacrifice and suffering returned to Americans in a way it may not have since World War II. That sacrifice wasn't terribly well shared, and that significance and patriotism became something of a political football, as during the Vietnam War, but in the very least, we became aware of the issues, we Americans who as a nation were and still are, as a Russian condescendingly termed it to me, "childish" in our view of the world, and who have much more to blush and get angry about in both relative and absolute terms than Israel. Is it a good thing that we now think this way, more patriotically and more attached to rituals? That we only got here through a sense of suffering? I don't know.

Just as I was about to go back up to my apartment for the night, where I would stay awake till after midnight, jamming toilet paper in my ears to blunt the incessant if fading blare of the horns, the first round of fireworks went off. Kids previously messing around with skateboards or spray cans shrieked and ran by me to the intersection from where they could see the fireworks. Adults walked over to similar vantage points. I turned around, pulled to the flash and squeal of the rockets.

Fireworks inevitably serve as exclamation points for outdoor celebrations, especially patriotic ones. They are either ineffable joys or simplistic ones, satisfying the inner child's desire to see sparkles and hear explosions. Whatever happens to Israeli patriotism, American patriotism, both countries' desire for peace, or both countries' propensity for war, the ties between fireworks and patriotic revelry are not going to diminish. Neither will the inner logic beneath those ties.


New Orleans Hipsters to Herzliya Arabs - Breaking onto new Pitches

There was a moment in the game that Monday where a player on the other team stood at little past the mid line with the ball. Though it was a football (i.e. soccer - I'm going to use football the whole article, for consistency's sake) game, not necessarily conducive to man-to-man marking ala basketball, we were only playing 4 on 5 and I was ready to cover him. He stood there, however, with nary an eye towards me, nor towards advancing the ball towards our net. Instead, he looked at his teammate and cussed him out. This opponent of mine, the one with the ball, didn't look all that different than me; he berated his teammate in a language I don't speak, one that isn't too different from a language I do speak, but that to the uninitiated ear has a harshness to its beauty, a harshness that lends itself naturally to ripping into friends.

This yelling, back and forth, went on for about 20 seconds. Were this a true competitive endeavor, I would have had no trouble stealing the ball, sprinting to a breakaway against the distracted keeper, and misfiring on an easy shot. This a friendly outing, at least for me, I sat there and watched the conversation. I, the only non-Arabic speaker in the crowd, may have forgotten to keep my lower jaw from slackening. So when the man with the ball finally stopped his venting and turned his head back to the field of play, the nine of us, aware of the absurdity that featured me in the middle, watching all of this, burst into laughter. The laughter lasted another ten seconds, and then we resumed the game.

All the potential fruits of sports and travel, wherein we cross boundaries, realize anew how differences remain, and play on anyway, those fruits spilled out of those ten seconds.


For someone who never played formal football, I've had quite a career with the sport, as it were. There was high school cluster (i.e. intramural) football, where I gained rep as a fearless and athletic if not necessarily good goalie, the type of "intense competitor" who stayed on the field after the finals game senior year, one in which I gave up 5 goals, two of which I still don't hear the end about from a friend on the other team. Then there was fall workouts for wrestling in college, where we'd alternate between ultimate frisbee and football as conditioning games; I was notorious for playing hard and for a zero shooting percentage, my misses worthy of an hour-long blooper reel. For my two full years in Israel, I was improbably the assistant high school football coach, specializing on working with the keepers and the reserves; one of this year's captains still calls my motivational speeches "the best", though I should also point out that the team finished 5th this year in the final tournament without me after 7th and 10th (out of 10) with me.

The football career at the center of this post, however, is even less formal. I refer to the pickup games and local gatherings I've taken part of in various places. The excitement of the World Cup 2006 leading me into a regular game during my one summer in Durham, NC. The games I played that fall in the neighborhood rubber court with the boy from the family I lived with in Moscow, notable for the teenagers, two of them, who would smoke cigarettes during the "halftime" break. The game Ben brought me to in Madrid over Thanksgiving 2008, where the best player on the pitch was a girl who played at Oregon St. The game played in the sunset last fall in Rwanda with genocide orphans.

Here is where I could insert the cliches about the commonality of sports, the shared experience inherent in a game, the way boundaries can be bridged and friendships made over a meeting ground of rules and end lines and balls, all the stuff included in that "potential fruits" sentence that ended the section above, and then remind that there is no larger, more common meeting ground than football. Cliches are nice to lean on every now and then, as Paul Simon said in a recent piece on inspiration and "genius". As such, I allow you the space to lean on that cliche as much as you'd like.

That taken care of, I'd like to avoid the cliche by going into the particularities of these two recent settings, my last two games, one in New Orleans, the other in Raanana, Israel.


I lucked into the New Orleans game. One lucks into all of the soccer games they might play. One also creates their own luck. Seek a game and it can be found, as long as one is open to luck.

I lived in a "communal house", as the owner called it, a five minute walk from City Park in the Mid-City area of New Orleans. The house was freezing; the unadvertised downside of living in a warm-weather area is that all the houses are designed to be cool. This makes sense, is a logical approach even, a pleasing example of the convergence of architectural necessity and environmental efficiency. It also means that if the warm-weather area gets cold, due to a natural cycle, a climate change twisted world, or the impending apocalypse, one's abode is miserable to be in. In Israel, this was a problem of tile floors and windows facing North-South to limit sunlight; in New Orleans, big open wood floored rooms with no heating system made nights cold and rainy afternoons more pleasant outside than in. Add in the inevitable disappointment over the false bill of goods that a warm weather area has peddled to the visitor or transplant in winter, and time spent in the house, even for a homebody like me, takes on a significantly lower quality.

Anyway, in this communal house lived four other people. Two were the owner and her husband, she a New Orleans native who had taken on the hijab, presumably upon marriage, and he a Palestinian-American with a heavy Jersey accent, only slightly ground up by his Arabic tongue. Another was a New Zealand gal traveling around the world, paying her way by working as a waitress (on Bourbon Street here; her next stop was Nashville). The last was a Louisiana native of about my age, a nice guy named Bryant who happened to be on a kickball team and, even more pertinently, to organize a weekly football game. Such was my in.

A weekly game on a highly visible if officially private field opposite City Park (we were kicked off this field once or twice in the three games I played there) is bound to attract four different groups to its games:

1. The originals, meaning the founder(s) of the game and then their initial circle of friends who want to play. Keeping it to just this group will ensure a cohesive vision of what the game is meant to be about and what the level of the players will be; the drawback is that unless the founders are really popular, there won't be very big games. In the Israel game to be covered below, for example, I felt that all the players were of this group, with the exception of me of course. Cohesive, but also only enough for 4 v 4 without me.

2. A group of hardcore players, hardcore in the sense that they will show up come rain or shine, Saturday or Sunday, hard week of work or not. In our case, this group did not consist solely of the original members; Bryant invited one or two of them, who then invited the rest of their group, who then decided they needed to take the intensity UP a notch, leading to some friction between the original members who just wanted to play a nice game of footie and those who wanted to play some fucking football, brah!! This friction was resolved before I got there.

3. The semi-regular friends of the hardcore and originals, those who will play once or twice a month, who view it as either an occasional workout to get back to their athletic roots or a social outing (worth noting here I think that, fair or not, about 95% of the athletes at the NO games were male, and 100% for the one game in Israel). Essential to have a regular rotating cast of this group to have a fun, relatively good level game week in and week out. Conveniently enough, until I move to a place for more than a month or two, I fall into this category.

4. Passers-by and other strangers who happen to stumble upon the game via word of mouth or voracious search of a city's fields for a possible game. The biggest wild-card of the four groups, as the strangers can either add a joyous synergy to the game of unexpected quality or drag on the overall group's harmony or level of play. A tough thing to predict, but one can't turn away strangers.

The first time I played was within a week of moving into the house. I hardly knew Bryant, am not the most outgoing person among strangers, and so stuck to my lane. For pickup football, I interpret that to mean three things: volunteering to do the menial tasks that help the game along (playing goalie, fetching the ball when it goes astray in warmups or game time), playing hard but fairly, and keeping my mouth shut except to respond to people talking to me or making jokes in my direction (a smile and a polite laugh is all I need in those situations). Not integrated into the game and not a dominant player (or personality), I carved out the niche of running hard along the outside, occasionally getting the ball on breaks and creating opportunities for my team. I also leveraged my big advantage, besides hustling: physicality. At one point, I bumped into Bryant, who was playing on the opposing team, and threw some muscle into my efforts to take the ball from him. "Oh, hey roomie," he said in mild surprise as we tussled. I made sure to say sorry and put my hands up after I passed the ball away. In my unofficial stat keeping of the number of positive plays I made versus the number of times I messed up, I think I came out in the black, if ever so slightly.

I have long mulled over the words of T.S. Eliot in Four Quartets - "For us there is only the trying/the rest is not our business," though perhaps denuding the statement of its fatalistic/catholic meaning. I consider that to stand as a general prescription for how to lead one's life when existing in the blessed world of the western middle class, where we can expect effort, meaningful effort, to afford us continued opportunities and at least a reasonable subsistence. In pickup football, where no one can really expect anything of a player except effort, this trying becomes all the more singularly essential.

Why I wrapped myself in the protective shell of hard work and amiability, I observed group #2 in action, exhibiting their New Orleans particularity. A group of young fellows more or less my age, apparently NO natives who used to play together in high school or youth leagues, they offered both the upper crust of talent in the game and the majority of the talking, stamping their personality onto the spirit of the game.

Their personality, collectively, was loud and rowdy, reminiscent of, well, young men who like to play sports. Constant slurs and taunts flew between them as they played on opposite sides. I learned, for example, that "Jamook" is a taunt against people of Italian heritage. Also, I saw the plight of the athletic but not exceptionally talented female when playing in this crowd; every time one of the three girls who showed up over the three weeks would make a solid play, the bullhorn of this group would cheer for her: the intention was good, the result a little patronizing.

That said, this group, especially the louder fellows, consisted of mostly nice people. By my third (final) game, they knew who I was and were happy to see me. There was rarely if ever malice in their voices or taunts, just that constant veneer of shit-talking and easy joking that defines behavior and relationships among young males, in America at the very least.

What football, or any group activity, can provide to the traveler, the visitor, the new implant in a city, is a chance to tap into a new network, to find a way to connect to a new population in a new place, through doing something familiar, old. A friend of mine always said that the best way to meet people (I think she and I were talking about potential romantic partners at the time) is by doing the things you like to do in ways that allow you to meet other people. Fortunately, I stumbled on a romantic partner through a job, saving me from the dating scene. But when it comes to the occasional need that I feel, a need most people probably feel more often, to spend time with fellow humans, to interact, to laugh at dumb jokes about one another's physical incompetence, this strategy becomes valuable. Football as a way to make friends, I'm saying.


I didn't join the game in Israel because I wanted to make friends. I'm only in Israel for a total of 9 weeks this time around, and have plenty of friends who are still here. I'm a short-timer through and through, and don't need very many friends anyway. No, that didn't interest me very much. I was just seeking a way to workout, a way to run, to expend physical energy in a way not allowed by standing in front of children for 3+ hours a day.

Shortly after my return in late March, I met with my friend Yehuda, and my exercising desire came up. He, no football player, mentioned that he had a group of friends that played at the Sportek in Herzliya every Monday night. The group was a set of Israeli Arabs, at least a few of them students at the university Yehuda and I had just earned our M.A. from. This certainly intrigued me further, and a couple Mondays later, I was on my way to meet with the gang.

Political discourse in Israel finds itself in an interesting, if troubling place in 2011. On the one hand, the distance between politics and life is much narrower here than anywhere else I've been, closer than the occasionally energized U.S.A. in the last decade, closer than the easy benevolence of Western Europe, the unapproachable abyss sundering citizens from their leaders in Rwanda or Guatemala, or the laughable remove at which Putin and co. operate in Russia. The country is small, meaning that people are more likely to know their leaders or meet with their leaders, but more significantly, the issues are more important, matters not of just getting a job or paying an excessive amount of taxes, but of what the country is to become, of peace and war, of, in a reductive phrasing, life and death.

At the same time, Israelis that I encounter appear to be worn out from caring, eager to submerge political discourse underneath the easy calm of everyday life, an everyday life that, when removed from the question of the territories, the fact that most young people serve in the army, and so on, is pretty nice. The weather is great, the economy has done as well as almost any western economy in the post-crisis climate, and cultural life here is unique, a mix of European heights and Middle Eastern zest. Why bother with the difficult issues that affect the country, especially when they're not going to be solved either way?

I don't mean to simplify the situation, nor to judge, at least not as harshly as the above question might appear to do. Humans do not have the capacity to take on constant complexity and moral ambiguity over a period of 10 years, 20 years, 63 years, thousands of years, depending on how you define the situation. Politics are still talked about, still essential, but there's also less reason to talk; most citizens have made up their minds one way or the other, and either the status quo will hold on for the coming years or the logjam will break and the floods of change will reach Israel as well, for better or worse.

That digression takes me away from the story though, and I apologize. I meant to say all this as an introduction to the fact, unfamiliar to many who haven't visited Israel, that there is a large Arab population within the country itself. About 20-25% of the citizens of Israel are Arabs. They vote, they live in mixed communities as well as their own, and they are a part of the daily fabric of life here (for some obvious examples, often Arabs work as gas station attendants, and not coincidentally many gas stations feature good Arab restaurants). Definitely, there is discrimination for the minority, but from what I can tell over my time here, the best historical analogy of the Arab situation in Israel itself would be to African-Americans' place in the U.S. before the Civil Rights movement. Arabs in Israel have more rights, I would say, but there is more intensity to the feelings between majority and minority.

That further digression is to explain that while I had no intention to bring up politics with these Arabs in either an explicit or implicit sense, I thought it would be very interesting to spend some time with the group. I knew Israeli Arabs, either through school or through frequent encounters, but I wouldn't number any as acquaintances even. This was an opportunity to open a window on a different part of Israel. And to run around and kick a ball.


I ran to the Sportek just after 9:00pm on that Monday night. The main organizer, Nabil, had mentioned the possibility that the courts would be full in Herzliya (we would play on a basketball court, basically), and that we might have to drive to the next town over, Raanana. For that reason I couldn't bike over either. I ran to make sure I wasn't late.

I got there, didn't see anybody, and called. Nabil and co. had made the decision to drive over to Raanana and somebody would take me in a car. I gave the description of what I was wearing and where I was, and after a while, a cat named Weill (that's how the name sounded, anyway) found me. He called the driver, who brought the car over, full of passengers already. The driver had a long black beard, the type we associate with religious Muslims named Omar (his name). Another car pulled up with Nabil, who shook my hand happily and said we were going to Raanana, so pile in. I squeezed into the first car, a compact, Weill sat next to me, and we drove with 5 passengers over to the next town, I trying to quiet my inner alarm bells.

As cultured and well-traveled and unfazed as I claim to be as a modern liberal citizen of the world, those bells persisted. My concerns numbered as follows:

1. I have just gotten into a car with five young Arab guys I don't know. The one friend who told me about them is a great guy but who knows if his judgment is always the sharpest? Again, for purposes of analogy, think about getting into a car with 5 locals in, say, East St. Louis.

2. Never mind what they might do to me, that's ridiculous - I had already brought very little money with me, I'm unimportant, they came recommended, that's fine. But what if the cops happen to see a heavily bearded Arab driving a car and notice that he is driving a car with five passengers for 4 seats? Wouldn't it figure that there would be trouble? That might not be good for my job security.

3. Did I remember to put on my Tom's of Maine brand woodspice-scented deodorant that night, or just in the morning, and if not, had that morning application worn off?

As usual, these fears were exaggerated and unrealized (well, except for #3, but then, we were men about to run around: bad smells were typical). Weill and I had a pleasant if mildly uncomfortable talk about our university, uncomfortable not only for the clown car conditions but because he wondered why an American would ever bother to study in Israel. I explained that I came to work here and then just studied while I stayed an extra year, but avoided the subject of the Jewish right of return and the identity Jews around the world feel with Israel, sensing that could get us into a drawn-out political conversation that while likely to be perfectly reasonable, would have perhaps been a little premature in our relationship.

We arrived at the court safely and found a couple guys shooting at a hoop on an otherwise vacant court; the adjacent court had a full football game with Israeli kids going, and so we would have to find a way to convince these guys to let us play. These two players, like many of the kids on the other court, wore kippas, denoting their religious beliefs as Jews: if Herzliya is one of the most liberal and secular places in the country, Raanana is a little bit more conservative and certainly more religious: I remember driving through their once and seeing an ad campaign for women's underwear, a series of ads on the median of the main road, crossed out with big white stripes.

This was the other big inner tension I felt during the game; the possibility of friction between our group and any other groups at the park. Again, any fear was unfounded, but as a dovish, grovelling, peace-loving American from a land where everything works (more or less), as a middle brother in all senses, I was eager to see no further tensions emerge. I imagined how Jewish Israelis might perceive the harsh foreign sounds of Arabic or the accent my fellow football players had when they spoke Hebrew (which they did better than me, of course), I imagined them (the Raanana Jews) finding them (the Herzliya Arabs) aggressive, pushy, rude, and them (the HAs) feeling the same way about them (the RJs), and me stuck in the middle, powerless and in between.

Again, nothing really happened. When balls were kicked from one court to the other, each group helped the other get the ball back, as marks typical football behavior. There was no anger spilled over from one group to the other, no signs of serious tension. Well, except for the anger and tension between the two guys on the other team of my game. And that is all well and good on the court in some measure.

The game then, was like many other football games, for me most reminiscent of the ones I played in Russia on a similar rubber court. 4 on 5 made it hard to play truly evenly, and there wasn't quite as much running as I'd like, but the energy was expended ne'ertheless. I was again about a mid-level player, good at running and hustling, not so great with my touch or shot, better than average when playing in net. The other players were in general better with the ball but not as quick or aggressive. It was just a football game, not much different from the one in New Orleans, and mostly different because of the numbers and the ground we played on.

The difference was all in the details. Like how every call or word the others spoke was in Arabic except when they spoke to me (in either Hebrew or English) and then maybe for a phrase or two afterward as they repeated what they said to me or stayed in the foreign tongue unconsciously. Like how Arabic became slowly more comprehensible to me, or at least the sounds became more distinguishable, rising from an initial bouillabaisse of, "ha-ra-wa-la-err-yuu-fa-ras" to words I could grasp, words I could ask about, like himsa ("five", if I remember right) and erjaa ("get back," yelled all too often for the team of four). Like the yelling I started this piece with.

There is little other profundity or humor that came out of that night. We had a good time, the guys dropped me off at my apartment after the game (only four in the car that time), I said I'd come and play after Passover break, I talked with Yehuda about the guys last night. We didn't achieve peace, we didn't become great friends, we didn't get into any fights. We just had a good game, and plan to do it again.

When moving from place to place, a traveler, me or any other, has to devise a balance between experiencing the new place and keeping a sense of self intact. That sense, that balance, is thrown off at times, which is one of the jarring effects of travel, opportunities to change for better or worse. But one cannot always be jarred, and so there emerges a need to straddle the divide between the world, new and foreign, between being with other people and being alone.

Just as doing things you like to do is a good way to meet people, so is it a way to find that balance abroad. The activity remains familiar, the people different, and the time spent more meaningful and amenable at the same time. And when it comes to finding common activities to do with strangers, there's little better than kicking a ball around and running after it.

The Art of Wearing Yourself Out as a Way to Feel Your Best (Really)

I begin this post sitting at a gate in Ben Gurion Airport on my way to Chicago, via Warsaw. I mention it only to provide a setting, to allow the reader to picture me sitting with my oversized laptop on my lap frying my future children, beat up headphones resting over the ears in a general fashion, guitar curled up at my feet and ready to trip unsuspecting elderly folks who don't look down to notice and scold me in time, hypothetically of course. This setting finds the writer, me, weary but confident, cocky even, about the flight to come, about managing the jet lag and the long flight, strutting over a reasonably comfortable Israeli airport security experience, full of hubris over life and love and all the rest of it. Take what follows, then, aware of my comfortable perch, in a metaphysical if not literal sense.

To catch up with the plot, I returned to Israel to work as a long-term sub for the last quarter of the school year, a span of 2+ months. To be more specific, three weeks ago, I flew to Israel from Michigan. My return ticket is for June 11th. In the best case scenario, it takes two flights that involve about 14 hours of air time and roughly 20 hours of travel time when factoring in layovers, getting to the airport early, and travel to/from the airport. For this very flight (i.e. not the one that brought me to Israel three weeks ago or that will bring me back to Michigan in June), my total travel time, including the train to Michigan, is somewhere around 28 hours. On the return flight in two weeks, it'll be about 38 hours.

I will presume that for the few (two?) people who have waded through the previous paragraph, a few questions might occur. Allow me to suggest the following:

"What are you, nuts?"

"Why the hell are you flying back to the states in the middle of a 2 1/2 month assignment in Israel?"

"Do you keep talking about yourself because you're incredibly self-centered, or just extremely so?"

"How do you manage to travel all that way without feeling terrible?"

Let's stop there. Let's say that I can't really answer the 1st and 3rd questions except to say, "Yes," and "Incredibly" respectively. That leaves us with the why and how of this trip. The why is the most frequently asked, the how more interesting to me at the moment, even if I don't usually go into the mechanics of traveling. So allow me to address those questions, the former with a brief, seemingly unrelated anecdote, the later with the rest of the post to follow.

The Anecdote

Freshman year of college, I returned to school shortly after Christmas to be with the wrestling team. I wasn't competing then, taking a redshirt year at time (i.e. I didn't compete and just worked out with the team), but I wanted to be around the team when they traveled to dual meets in Columbus, Ohio (obviously, I just wanted to be at Ohio State; incidentally this took place just about when they won the Fiesta Bowl against Miami in a great game. But I digress). The whole story about that trip can be told another time, including the part about my pouting about the matches despite not wrestling, and the time we went snow tubing in West Virginia on the way back and our ailing 125-pounder, Mr. Tommy Hoang, miraculously recovered from the back ailments that kept him out of his last three matches the day before to not only ride on a snow tube, but to do so standing up and doing spins and so forth. For our belated purposes, one small moment from that trip will suffice.

On a drive that trip, I'm fairly certain this the night after the matches, we stopped at a gas station. As is my wont, owing to my sweet tooth, I went to the gas station store and bought a snack, almost assuredly a Reese's related product. Our coach, not being fond of poor eating habits, only let me pass because he wasn't watching when I bought it and got into the car. Instead, my triumph was aborted when, alerted by my backstabbing teammates of the possibility I had transgressed, coach's two middle kids, ages 7 and 8 roughly, climbed to the back of the van where I sat and inspected my possessions, successfully ferreting out my hoard of sweets.

Chagrined, I sat in the rump of the van as the butt of the jokes. I have served a long and distinguished career as butt of the jokes, but it does not come without its bad days. That day, annoyed about the totalitarian nature of the food inspection, I had to listen as one of my teammates, the aforementioned Hoang, decided to speculate on what I would be like in a relationship. Since I had only been in one dating situation of 1 month in high school, there was plenty to speculate about.

"Shortman is going to be so whipped," he said to quiet laughter and sleepy heads. "Can't you just see him running to his girl, doing what she commands, wearing what she tells him to wear, being just what she wants him to be?"

"Shut up, Tommy," I may have replied, thinking about how I would someday be a good partner, not a whipped one. Also that his back should have hurt too much to joke like this.

"Shortman, what are you going to do when she starts taking away the things you like?" Tommy continued on this bent for a while, all mostly in good fun, but based as all good humor on reasonably accurate observations. "What are you going to do when she takes away your sweets?" he said finally.

Chagrined, tired, riding the balance between playing along and getting annoyed, I buckled, replying in a somewhat unreasonable though hardly offensive fashion, throwing out a last, pleading rejoinder.
"She'll never take my sweets," I muttered, as most of the van passengers settled into the somber silence of a bumpy nighttime ride, Tommy cackling as he picked up on this feeble response.

I end the scene there, resuming my writing from the cozy casa violeta in small town Michigan, a day and a half removed from a 29 hour in total trip back to the states, to this home. I write hopefully that you will have caught the reason for the insertion of that anecdote, that you will grasp why I have gone from Ben Gurion to la CV, that some of this will make sense. The next step is to explain how I've managed to get up at Amy's silly early hours of 8:30 and 7 am, respectively over the past two days.

(And we will pass over the incident a few weeks ago where a mild dispute between the two of us led to me stomping on a Reese's Big Cup, and what that implies for "my sweets". Quickly.)

The Strategy - How to stay standing after a 6-8 time zone flight

(The reader is advised to consider that my age is 26. I.e., as much as I'd like to tout my strategy and experience and know-how and whatnot, youth may be the key ingredient.)

The westbound trip across 7 time zones is the easier one. If you have control over your itinerary, the best move is to fly in the morning, sometime around 10. Factoring in a stopover or two, you should be able to get to any destination Chicago or eastwards by 6 in the evening, on the late side. Factor in being at the airport 2-3 hours early, taking an hour or two to get through the airport and home if you live a reasonable distance from the airport, and you're looking at a, on the high end, door-to-door time of 21-22 hours. (My trip was longer because I finished it with a train ride and didn't have the ideal times, as will be explained).

Dealing with this travel and the jet lag, then, is fairly straightforward. Sleep a slightly less than full night's sleep, owing to waking up early and staying up late packing and being nervous about the trip. Get to the airport full of adrenaline, which wears off by the first meal on the plane. Then doze for a couple hours. Endure the rest of the day, with maybe one more short nap, arrive at your destination feeling like it's 4 in the morning and you've been up all day, go to bed shortly thereafter, and eccola!, you feel a little weary but more or less in gear.

As an example, on this last trip west to the states (I resume my writing already returned to Israel), I didn't get as much sleep as I'd like on the night before, due to going to bed later than necessary. I didn't sleep as well as I'd like on my first flight, a 4-hour flight to Warsaw, due to the two Russian Israelis behind me who were having a lovely but loud conversation about everything under the sun (they were strangers). I stayed awake for most of the flight from Warsaw to Chicago correcting tests and watching Bolek i Lolek, a Polish cartoon from the 50's (at least, I hope it's that old). The adrenaline rush from my only having an hour and a half to get from plane seat to train seat in Chicago reinvigorated me - and was also needless, as the train was delayed by an hour - and then I finally succumbed and dozed a little on the train ride to Holland, Michigan. That said, I lasted through a door-to-door trek of some 28 hours and had only one really sluggish day to follow, and no nights where my body thought it was 9 in the morning. Success.

(I can add here that while I am young enough to endure days like this, I have never been a natural sleeper, one of those who can nod off at any moment, on a bench, in a car, on a plane, etc. I've trained myself to be a better sleeper (i.e. I've aged?), but it's not an automatic process for me.)

Go Eastward, young man! (See, even the phrase is harder)

Indeed, going east is in its way more difficult. I find as a strategy, staying awake for a 30 hour day easier to adapt than what one has to do going east. To travel east further than a direct overnight to Europe, you have to go through a combo platter: not only does success ride on staying up for long hours on low sleep, but you're best off sleeping on the plane too. If you can't manage that, it's trouble. And if it's a direct flight to your destination, even then it can be tricky.

That is to say, take a typical transatlantic flight. Flying from an East Coast destination, NYC or Boston for example, to Paris is tough because the flight leaves in the early evening, so the traveler is coming off a partly abbreviated day. Still, travel adrenaline makes it hard to nod off right away. The flight will only end up being 7-8 hours. Not feeling like it is time to sleep until the plane is somewhere over the Titanic wreck, the traveler will get a mere 3 hours sleep, piled on top of the fatigue of the travel process. They will arrive to a bright morning, getting to their hotel/friend's home/apartment around 10:00 am. Exhausted, this person will decide they need to take a nap. I will watch this person (you?). I will scream, internally of course, "NOOOO!!!!"

The problem with this scenario, which is just as likely in the longer trips from deeper in the states or to deeper locations in Europe or the east, is that the type of person who thinks taking a nap immediately after a trip, when it's 10:00 am (or just 10:00, since we're in Paris now and there's not necessarily am/pm), is also the type of person who will say, "I'm just going to take a nap, wake me up at 11:30," and not budge until 3 or 4 pm. At that point, feeling almost completely refreshed, that person will stay up at least until midnight if not later. A typical  rhythm, a workday rhythm at least, will be hard to find for a few days yet.

So, as Lenin and Chernishevsky both posed, Что Делать?, or in other words, what to do? Revolt against capitalism? Anger Vladimir Nabokov?

No, the solution is not so drastic. I propose two different approaches to handling an eastbound plane, if no help for a downbound train.

1. Mess up with your rhythm a little before the trip. Namely, don't sleep very much the night before. I've long believed something told to me when I was a wrestler, that the sleep you get two nights before is what affects your energy more than the sleep you get the night before. Adrenaline, grit, and determination can carry you through the day after. Two days later, your body has to pay the check, and is out of energy currency in its savings account (earned through sleep) to pay it, leaving you to suffer.

When traveling, sleeping little the night before shouldn't ruin your day. If you're traveling from burbs like, say, Grand Rapids, and you need to fly twice just to get to the NYC flight that will take you transatlantic, that might ruin your day, but one bad night's sleep shouldn't. It should allow you to fall asleep after the first meal served on the plane, though, which will allow for the necessary six or so hours of sleep to get through the next day, if groggily. Again, one long day to endure and then another to adjust the other body rhythms, and the traveler is back in gear.

2. As the clever reader might guess, the other trick is to just suck it up after the fact and endure through that desire to take a nap, then go to bed as early as reasonable. 19:00? 20:00? Whatever.

Again, an example, though one filled with mistakes or exceptions. For my return to Israel, I again went via Chicago and Warsaw. I didn't go to bed early enough the night before (largely Don Draper's fault) and only got six hours. While this looks like a strategy #1 prescription, it left me with a mild headache. I didn't sleep on the train at all, and then was active for a 6-hour layover in Chicago. Next, the flight to Warsaw, on which I got adequate sleep. I arrived in the airport a little fatigued, further exhausted by the long line to go through passport control, and found myself with 12 hours in Warsaw and a fading interest to go into the city as I had planned.

Instead, I dozed on an airport floor for about a half hour, hung out in the airport cafes and worked, pushing through my day as if a warm bed and normalcy awaited me. They didn't exactly await me. I still had a four hour flight that night. For which, though tired and blessed with a whole row of seats to myself (as was the case going the other way from Tel Aviv to Warsaw), I couldn't quite sleep enough. I only got maybe 90 minutes instead of 3 hours like I would have liked. Though I did have my last Lot Airlines meal, complete with a "salad" of one piece of lettuce, one slice of tomato, one of pepper, and two of ham.

All the same, I had no choice but to splice strategy #1 (the short sleep while still in Michigan) with strategy #2 (pushing through short sleep once on the ground in the eastern clime), as I had to go to work about an hour and a half after I arrived home in a cab (door-to-door travel on this trip ended up being 39 hours, give or take a few minutes). Youth and providence won out one more time, however, as I had a light load at work, and so by the time I got home at 4 pm, relatively relaxed, all I had to do was stay awake until 7 before I could have a full night's sleep. That was Monday; Tuesday was fine and by Wednesday I was more or less back to normal.

To summarize the message in this post, which is meant to share one of the few concrete skills I have certainly acquired over the past few years, traveling well, I say the following: sleep less before you go on a trip that spans 6-7 time zones, sleep little on the trip if you're going west and as much as you can if going east, and then do everything you can to stay awake for a full day before you go to bed in your new location at local night time.

Or be young. Either one.