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.
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.”
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.
Robert Schrader is a travel writer and photographer who’s been roaming the world independently since 2005, writing for publications such as “CNNGo” and “Shanghaiist” along the way. His blog, Leave Your Daily Hell, provides a mix of travel advice, destination guides and personal essays covering the more esoteric aspects of life as a traveler.