One month after returning to America, I couldn’t stop thinking about Jaffa. I was living in Los Angeles and working amongst media and tech fanatics. At first, the speed with which I had dropped back into the fast-paced life of starting up again excited me, but eventually it wore off and I began to feel lonely and fucked up. I yearned for Jaffa.
It was a funny thing. I needed it to be both contiguous and finite all at the same time. While I deeply wanted to feel eternal connection and unity between my experience there and my current existence in the U.S.—if anything just to justify the time I had spent there and make it real—I also needed my relationship with Jaffa to be finite: something I could wrap up and package as a neat little “life experience in Israel beyond Birthright” or whatever to be presented to others… and to my self, so I could get over it and move on to my “real life.”
I quickly realized this to be bullshit. Jaffa was not the kind of time or place I could squeeze into a neat little box. Rather, it was a city bursting at the seams with possibility, and cultural wonder. Jaffa was ancient, unresolved, uncontainable… it had made me feel alive, and doubtless it had had the same effect on others like me throughout history: wanderers and writers and seafaring salesmen who might have alighted on Jaffa’s shores only to be completely encaptured by her stunning seaside streets and alleyways.
The graffiti was ubiquitous, and so was the nargilleh smoke. The clopping of horse hooves and the beating of love in my heart pervaded my dreams, even those I had prematurely before landing in Jaffa. I dreamt one night of a love so intense and natural it made me awake with a start, wondering if it had been real or just a figment of my imagination. It turned out to be something in between. My relationship had merged with my sonambulatory premonition of a comfortable and timeless romance set against the backdrop of Jaffa. And then it had ended, so abruptly as to make me wonder if any of it had ever happened at all.
I had to temper the urge to flee back to Jaffa at every waking moment, telling myself the magic would be gone—or at least not there in the same way now that I had already left once. It might feel too small, or too empty, or too quiet now that my friends weren’t there. And without the rosy sheen of young love in an unlikely place, I was worried that Jaffa would no longer seem romantic and begin to feel a bit depressing and foreign—like somebody that I used to be best friends with but couldn’t quite reconnect to, after being changed by life’s odd and unpredictable circumstances.
Speaking of circumstances, the oddest ones are those we push ourselves into, convincing our superegos that we’ll be “better off” or more successful somewhere else. It’s all bullshit. We’re not better off somewhere else, when we’re happy. We’re already there—in the sweet spot of work-life balance (sometimes that balance might be viewed as imbalance by the rest of the world: in my case it looked a bit more like 15 hrs a week of work and the rest for strolling on the tayelet and writing bits of nothing in cafes or my backyard, while spending at least 60 hours a week relaxing and talking with friends, observing the Sabbath and making love in the late hours of the night when we both knew we should be sleeping, or better yet working, according to the law’s of society that dictate being “productive” at ungodly hours of the day and night.
The truth was, Jaffa had been more than just another blip in my personal travel log. It wasn’t just not Vietnam, because it hadn’t ended in medical disaster or been cut short by a drastic re-route, especially since I had my own little hospital vignette in Israel involving a speeding truck full of Arabs (I hated that they were Arabs, I had wished they were just Jews so it wouldn’t have been significant), and a hallucinatory bout with morphine and my Russian nurse Natasha.
And it wasn’t Thailand, or Korea, or Europe for that matter because it had eventually started to feel like home. (And didn’t, all at the same time, but that didn’t matter because I was so in love with the place—intoxicated both by its realness and its ancient mystical allure.) It was Jaffa, Bride of the Sea, where wile and outlandish ideas for making a living struck me and then somehow, with a bit of research, didn’t seem so unlikely. They seemed very reasonable, and likely to lead to inspiration and even, dare I say it, happiness on my part. After a period of feeling very foreign and strange, I begun to feel accepted there—like the immune system of the city had stopped spitting me out as an unwelcome virus and begun to assimilate me into the cultural and temporal weave of its multifaceted, multifaith history. I started to think of it as home.
I had fled with the fear of assimilating to a place that wasn’t my own, but also with the fear of change. That I wouldn’t be able to survive, or justify surviving, in Jaffa without Niran and Tikkun Olam. But it was all a hoax. The irony was that all the anxiety I felt while living in Jaffa about the normal things I was not doing (and “supposed” to be doing) here was unfounded: I quickly realized that all I wanted was to get away from all this and be back there. Next to the sea, being called to prayer in a language that wasn’t even my own, and hearing stories of strangers who, like me, had fallen in love with Jaffa and weren’t about to let it go for anything.