Nathan Lyons


So I flew to California, hoping it would help.

Downtown San Diego, another dull clean American street and so far nothing. People don’t really walk here, not this part of town, between CVS, Starbucks and UPS.

Soon enough, half-hidden under a bus stop FREE PALESTINE in pink chalk.

Throughout Balboa Park you find the remnants of a wheat-pasting frenzy, every lamppost pocked white with torn-off propaganda, ‘…IVER to the …EA’, desiccated graphs, statistics of Gaza’s child population, ‘Rio Al Mar’, ‘…IFADA’, freedom fighters in brave poses, minus a head, an arm, a flag. 

Who vandalised the Pro-Palestine wild posting? Should we be proud of a Jewish superhero in a tallis who rips and tears by night? Or was this cleaning up the handiwork of a park bureaucrat, ensuring life stays blank and anaesthetised? 

On a steep hill out by the port an Israeli man, bald and wiry, cries into his medicinal-strength bong. He stares red-eyed at a damaged car, his former UBER income. 5-star rating before October 7th. Before he opened his mouth.

Rejected by the IDF at the grand old age of 52. ‘Can you imagine what it does to a guy like me? Ex Special Forces? Do you know how many of them I killed?’

He’s the sort of guy you don’t disagree with, and I don’t.

‘When my commander told me there would be a peace process – peace! with them! – I got the next flight to America. Never been back.’ He doesn’t accompany me to shul for the free meal. Given the rage and THC rolling off him, I don’t push. He accepts a hug and a half-hearted ‘yiyeh be seder’ – all will be ok.

Mostly it’s so silent, the sort of America where you don’t smile at strangers. As evening falls, apartments glow phosphorescent through the curtains, the many-faced television god. The homeless camp out in tents under a bridge by Little Italy. They don’t talk. I tiptoe past their gentle snoring. So that’s it. When you escape the trappings of consumerism to live wild and free, it’s bed by nine.

Israelis don’t do quiet. At Del Mar I meet a woman from Bat Yam who stutters with horror: her physics teacher was butchered at Nova. At Chabad in Pacific Beach thick-accented Tel Avivis praise brothers and cousins who serve; in tanks, infantry, signals. Their pride is met with respectful nods from three yeshiva bochers visiting from LA, pasty and nineteen, neurotic and clueless. 

On Friday night at the conservative shul on 3rd Avenue, the female cantor in her smart blue kippa leads the congregation over a microphone, with Bathsheba on guitar: ‘Habayta, Habayta’. There’s not a dry eye in The Sanctuary. Then it’s kiddish and oversized red chocolate cookies and inane ‘what do you do?’ formality.

‘Never been to Israel but we’d love to, someday.’

‘Say, did you see the Eagles game?’

California: crowded weekend bars, ball games on giant screens, the slow vast pacific like a bracket cradling the equation ‘America’ over to its right. Baseball caps and empty beautiful synagogues. Gleaming SUVs driven by teenagers, fish tacos, craft beers, shiny white teeth and dollar stores and billboards with personal injury lawyers’ names in letters 3-metres tall and not one poster of the hostages.

About the Author
Raised in the UK, seasoned in Israel, Nathan has a background in bonkers hi-tech projects, where he's got to meet the great, the good, the bad and ugly of Israeli industry.