The other night, I was invited to go to a lecture by a friend of mine, B, who is very much the liberal thinker.
Yes. I really do have one or two of those.
It was a lecture series on Jewish philosophy and how Judaism looks at world religions.
I know. The title didn’t do much for me either. Right away, B noticed I wasn’t thrilled. It may have been the rolling of my eyes that gave me away. Trying to win me over, she grasped my arm with wide-eyed enthusiasm and described in greater length what the evening promised. It was hard not to notice her breathing becoming more and more erratic as she further explained that it was a lecture series by the David Cardozo Academy organized in conjunction with Yakar, the center for tradition and creativity and the Elijah Interfaith Institute. At her mentioning the interfaith institute, I spotted her eyes glazing over as she broke into a sweat.
Already, I knew it was not up my alley and her excitement over it was freaking me out. Geez, liberals. A vision popped into my head of a room filled with men and woman collectively nodding their heads in rapture and shouting out “amen” and “halleluyah” in rhythmic intervals. It reminded me of one of my poli-sci courses back in college, where my communist leaning professor had his students slurping up every one of his words as if he just climbed down from Mt. Moriah. My memory then veered to another incident in the same class, where I was almost lynched for making a pro-Vietnam war statement during the class discussion. The only thing that stood between me and sure death from the hands of my crazed peace-loving peers was the professor who surprisingly came to my rescue.
“This lecturer is ahead of our times!” B added, snapping me back to the present.
My knee jerk reaction was to say no. I never cared for philosophy. Other than time-wasting, I always felt that it had no tactical purpose. It was for people who prefer to think in the abstract, for people who choose to dabble in the intangible and the vague rather than to seize reality head on. Reality is anything but vague. Life is dirty, messy, and physical.
I have no doubt that the field of philosophy began with noble thinkers and with noble thoughts – by thinkers who may have actually taken on this initiative from an altruistic stance, feeling a necessity to put the obvious into words. Yet, somewhere down the line, more and more joined the bandwagon of philosophical narcissists, asserting their intellectual superiority, and sounding off their thoughts to any who would deign to listen. For me, philosophy was synonymous with pretentiousness.
“Come on, Zahava, you have to broaden your horizon and write about topics that move beyond the Israeli nationalist narrative.”
I sensed a dare in B’s words. So, I agreed to go − grudgingly, and warned my friend that I might just punch this guy out before the night is through. What can I say? Life is dirty, messy and physical.
B was supposed to meet me at the lecture hall in Katomon, but just as I parked my car she texted me that she couldn’t make it − something about helping out with a friend’s emergency. Whatever.
She was genuinely sorry about missing the lecture. “Take notes,” I thought I heard her voice crack. “I want you to tell me all about it, tomorrow.”
Right. I fought off the temptation to call a friend and go out somewhere else, anywhere else.
The lecture was called for 8:00 PM. I showed up at 8:15 and it was already in progress. The place was packed, standing room only.
WTF? Since when do Jews start things on time? I might have walked in and found a place on the wall to lean against, had I not had two hundred eyes darting from the speaker to me, staring all at once, and stopping me in my tracks. I hate when that happens. Getting back to myself, I thought, they want something to stare at? I’ll give them something to stare at, and I took a step towards the room’s threshold. It was then that I noticed I would have to pass the panel of speakers, many of them elderly hard-core looking rabbis, white beards and all and I suddenly became very aware of my short skirt and thigh high boots.
I chalked it up to fate. Philosophy and I just weren’t meant to share the same space.
I left the building, walked past my parked car deciding not to waste the night and headed toward rachov Emek Refaiim. The weather was perfect, the night air calm having just a slight chill hinting that winter was around the bend, but not quite here. In my previous life, before moving to Israel, I believe it was known as autumn.
From the corner of my eye, I noticed a car driving parallel to me, too slow for comfort. I turned to face the driver and he invited me to hop into his car and drive away with him into the horizon. Well, he wasn’t as eloquent as that, but you get the picture. I politely declined. But, Israeli men, having a greater supply of testosterone than most, he wasn’t dejected, continued in slow drive for another block, and kept on trying to woo me. It was funny. And…not at all threatening, which was what made me give in to a smile. That and the realization of, Ha! I still got it!
Eventually, he drove off into the horizon without me.
Toward Emek Refaiim, I passed along the way numerous alleys intrigued by the maze of paths to which they led. My mind wandered back to New York City where girls learn from a young age not only to avoid walking through alleyways, but to steer clear of them altogether. Here in Jerusalem, though, there are no monsters lurking in the alleys and it’s an incredible feel to walk in the night without having to look over your shoulder, without fear, without having to strategically choose which deserted street is least likely to be life threatening. What a high.
That high followed me all the way to the main street where I ended up standing in front of the new Caffit restaurant/coffee shop. I hadn’t been to this part of town since before Operation Amud Anan and I was surprised by this new and stunning pristine landmark perched proudly on the corner of Rachel Emainu and Emek Refaiim. Encased in broad polished glass and sparkling white Jerusalem stone, the new Caffit glittered in the night’s ambiance. I stood there staring at it for several moments before reality took hold and my natural instincts kicked in, get over it, it’s a coffee shop.
Even so, I whipped out my cell phone to call a friend who lived nearby to meet me for a cup of coffee, but there was no answer and I looked disappointingly at my phone as if it failed me.
My attention abruptly turned from my phone to the unfamiliar voice coming from a friendly yet equally unfamiliar princely face standing before me. All right, he was freaken hot. “Something like that,” I shrugged.
“You look like you could use a coffee,” he said with a smile that could light up Norway during the day.
Coffee. Right. That’s what I was thinking.
“I just happen to know of a place not far from here,” he motioned to one of the outdoor tables two feet away.
We sat down at a table and ordered two hafuchs. He asked me if I was hungry. “I’m good with coffee, thanks.”
“You mind if I order something to eat?”
“Of course not.”
He ordered a toasted bagel with butter and offered me half. “No thanks. Really, I’m not hungry.” He cut one-half into quarters, and once again offered to share it. That time, I gave in. “I’ll be right back. I’m going to wash my hands,” he said and stood up from his chair. I looked at him curiously. He wasn’t wearing a kippah. I decided to get up to wash too.
Back at the table, “You know, you didn’t have to wash just because I did.”
“I know. But, I didn’t have an excuse not to.”
His eyes creased into that fantastic smile once more, and all at once, I was this schoolgirl not knowing what to do next. So I rambled off my ridiculous explanation. “It depends how determined I feel at the moment to follow through or not follow through on the mitzvah. And at that moment, I didn’t feel determined not to follow through.
Philosophy? Did he say, Philosophy?
Are you religious?”
I hesitated. I never like when people ask me that. I don’t like to be categorized.
“It’s really not a complicated question,” he said with a teasing tone leaning in towards me. I got a whiff of his aftershave. Mercy.
“Depends on how you look at it. There’s a lot more to it than just going through the motions.”
“That’s an admirable liberal viewpoint.”
“You’re a philosophical one. A thinker. I like that.” He removed his leather jacket revealing his longtime commitment to lifting weights.
I tried not to drool.
“Mmm, yes…Philosopher,” I smiled. “That’s me.”