Originally Appeared in The Times of Israel. Go THERE
Two years ago as a struggling filmmaker in LA, I was blessed with a fellowship providing me with the funds to make a film about anything I wanted. Anything, of course, as long as it was Jewish. I panicked because I, like many of my contemporaries, considered myself devoutly ambivalent toward a religion that always seemed more like my grandma’s thing. I didn’t need to pray, I had a shrink! My passionate apathy inspired the search to find my authentic relationship with Judaism, eventually becoming my web series, “Dude, Where’s My Chutzpah?” I dove in head first, interviewing more than 30 esteemed Los Angeles rabbis all of whom carried a universal confidence that I found puzzling, and at times smug. It was like God was one of those paintings from the mall with the hidden messages and I was the only one who couldn’t see the stupid sand castle. After a few months of false starts in LA and the deadline for my project looming, I knew I had to go straight to the source. I needed to find the organic, grass feed, fresh off the tap Jewwyness: I needed to get my tuchus to Israel.
After cross-dressing at the Western Wall and almost getting tear-gassed to death in Palestine my “character”(me with better clothes) mistakenly stumbles onto a bus headed for Tsfat, the most holy city in Israel and also the gravesite of the legendary Rabbi Yonatan Ben Uziel. Legend has it if you visit the Rabbi’s grave you will immediately find your BESHERT aka kosher Soul mate – only a Jew could be a matchmaker from beyond the grave. This mysticism causes thousands of Israeli’s each week to shell out 49.99 shekels to schlep on a sweaty bus, in the hopes of finding someone of their very own to scream at for not loading the dishwasher correctly. Obviously, I figured this would make for an Oscar worthy episode so we set out to Tsfat. I would get on the bus, say ‘sup to the dead rebbe get my hilarious footage and if art happened to imitate life and my soul mate (Ryan Golslingezberg) was waiting for me at the gift shop, who was I to argue?
I should back up a bit to my first journey to Israel: on my 2007 Birthright trip, aka discovering my deep and meaningful Jewish identity by eating shawarma and giving hand jobs to an Israeli soldier. At 5’4, his name couldn’t be further from the truth: Tal He accompanied us on the trip to serve as cultural exchange. After two weeks of “exchanging each others cultures” I decided to extend my stay a two weeks and bum around Israel with my own personal tour guide. Our adventures included skinny dipping in the Dead Sea at 3am(ouch), playing “house” at his parents cottage outside Jerusalem and getting stones thrown at us in the Ultra Orthodox neighborhoods after I bent over to tie my shoe (I know it doesn’t sound fun but Tal was being all knight-like protecting me and I was wearing a killer trench coat and a red hear scarf and–) I felt like he really got me before I even knew what it meant to get myself. Falling for Tal was like when your foot falls asleep, you know it’s going to hurt like shit when you stand up but you can’t help it, you just keep leaning on that foot…harder.
For our last night together we ate shawarma, got drunk, rented a seedy motel room, and proceeded to have drunken shawarma seedy motel room sex which, it turns out, is kind of the only sex worth having. After we (HE) finished I looked everywhere for the condom…the bed, the floor, the bathroom, the ceiling only to realize with horror that yes the condom was still suck inside me! Shit got real fast. Nervous laughter led to panic led to a trip to the ER and eventually climaxed in an Israeli Doctor pulling a condom out from deep inside me as he told me all about his 2nd cousin Udi who lived in La Jolla. And had I ever been to La Jolla? Tal held my hand but I couldn’t hold his back, I couldn’t even look at him for fear I’d start crying. And that just couldn’t happen because back then I was still the Jessie who thought crying meant that life was bad, or more so THAT I WAS BAD AT LIFE. When we finally left the hospital Tel Aviv was already in the middle of its bustling morning, our romantic last night together gone before it ever came. Tal kept checking his watch reminding me that HE was the one who had a plane to catch. He was headed out on his year of traveling around the world as most soldiers do after their army service is up. He was going to find himself; I was going to throw up. We stood frozen on the corner right in the middle of a Fellini movie as I choked down the morning after pill insisting, “I’m okay”. He grabbed me cupping my face assuring me “You don’t have to be okay Jessie” Everything poured out of me as I melted into him, finally for the first time in my life, I let the fuck go. It took a real Nimrod to show me how to feel loved.
Cut to now, and I’m on the bus after our shoot riding from Tsfat back to Tel Aviv, and who gets on the bus…. Who gets on the motherfucking bus? TAL!!! I know, I know it’s some “When Harry met Sally” bullshit but our chance encounter was the closest I’d ever come to a miracle. We freak out and hug and suddenly it all comes together: the years of numbing loneliness, the douche nugget excuses for men in L.A., the film project that brought me back to Israel, the dead matchmaker Rabbi. I just had to shut up and let him find me…again. He sits down next to me on the bus and I realize this is the man I’m going to sit next to forever.
But first we had to eat. We made our way to a café in Florentine, like Brooklyn but Jewish…so like Brooklyn. I gazed at him from across the table, his eyes still too close together, his teeth still too far apart: he was perfect. But then…my eyes caught on a glowing hoop coming from his right ear. It couldn’t be. he’d been…pierced. I was surprised by how much he looked like a tool and even more surprised that as my soul mate I would even be bothered by something so superficial as a pierced lobe. Whatever, no big deal. I’ll forget about it after a beer or two just like I won’t notice the Tevas he’s wearing…with socks.
“So are you um seeing anyone?” I asked knowing very well after faithfully stalking his Facebook profile that he’d just broken up with someone. Yes I knew Maya intimately: her love of dolphins and Hello Kitty and that every single one of her ribs that stuck out when she posed in a bikini. “Bitch put on a shirt, you’re an X –ray, we fucking get it!” was a phrase I’d often utter to my glowing computer screen after finishing off a bottle of—cake. “No, I had a girlfriend but she just wasn’t right. She got depressed and turned into a real fatass.” Maybe he mixed up his English and meant to say she wasn’t intellectually stimulating him anymore? Oy…
“How was your amazing world adventure? Did you make it to Greece? Africa? Tell me everything!” I asked excited for him to confirm all the fantasies I’d had of his Indiana Jones style-escapades. “ Oh I stayed in Australia and partied. Ran out of money pretty quick so I wound up selling some tacky art just bumming around.” “Cool” I screamed over the shitty techno though it sounded like the opposite of cool to me. I began telling him about my film shoot but he quickly interrupted me leaning in only to whisper those magic words that let me know you’re going to be my future ex boyfriend “So…when are you going to put me in one of your movies? You know, I’m a really good actor. I mean probably am.” Is this what my mom meant by being able to love someone long after you stop liking them?
Dinner was fine. Dancing was fine. The kiss on the walk home…it was all fine. But fine wasn’t what had kept my heart fluttering all these years, and it certainly wasn’t what I had masturbated to all these years. Tal was the guy I compared to all the schmucks I dated; he was never supposed to be one of them. As the sun began to wake up I found myself once again wandering the streets of Tel Aviv at dawn with nothing but a short dude named Tal to guide me. As we turned a corner we passed by “our” seedy hotel from that fateful night. Its neon signs buzzing and mirrored hallway starring back at me as I paused waiting for him to remember as well. Instead he just starred blankly mumbling “What are you looking at?” like a cranky husband who never notices his wife’s new hairdo. “Nothing at all” I mumbled as I picked up the pace.
We stood outside my apartment and I quickly said goodnight and that I’d call him tomorrow, hoping he wouldn’t realize I didn’t have his number. It wasn’t until I crawled into bed that I realized he’d never asked for my number either.
A few months ago I got an email from Tal “Jess! I’ll be in Tampa, selling paintings for a few weeks. I can come visit you up in L.A. Yes?” I didn’t respond, the Tal I like to imagine is way too busy on his epic around the world adventures for a visit with this schmuck.
As I sat down to write this piece I got my Google on and guess what I discovered? The Jewish Cupid himself, Rabbi Yonatan Ben Uziel, never married. He died single and alone. I could just see him living in a studio apartment next to the shul getting drunk on Manischewitz and mouth kissing his forty-four cats. But good ole’ Rebbe Yonatan Benny Boy taught me a lot: that you should always get on the bus, that nothing beats a good cry and that REAL love is worth fighting for even if you’re still not really sure how to throw a punch.