Israel and my Time Travel Experience

Before you deduce that you are reading the rantings of someone delusional or at the very least a little off, I urge you to continue reading. I realize that by telling you that I have always been mildly obsessed with the concept of time travel and that my obsession was recently satisfied unexpectedly does very little to argue in favor of my sanity, but nevertheless on my recent trip to Israel that is exactly what happened. I did indeed experience time travel.

When you are a writer you have a tendency to choose words or phrases carefully. It is no accident that rather than saying “I travelled in time”, I wrote that “I did indeed experience time travel”. Allow me to explain. Prior to this recent trip, I had not been to Israel in 28 years. 37 years ago when I moved from Israel back to the U.S. I finished off a stint in which I had lived for 3 1/2 years out of 5 living in Jerusalem. Naturally in that time I traveled to different parts of the country, establishing my own personal relationship with various places and people. When I arrived at Ben Gurion Airport I tried to recognize the place, but I would be lying if I said that I did. In fact, my passage through immigration and customs was so easy I almost felt as though I was in the wrong country. When my friend Danny, whose wedding 28 years ago was the reason for my last visit, picked me up from the airport to take me to his home in Bet Shemesh, while it had been more years than I like since I had seen him, the difference was hardly enough to be shaken by the change. But on the trip to his home, a trip that included part of the original road to Jerusalem, I started to feel that sensation that I knew I had been here before. When I got to his and his lovely wife Anna’s home, and saw his family over the next few days, a family that I had not seen for well over 10 years and of which sons were of age to have changed significantly since I last saw them, I had my first brush with time travel. The next day when Danny had a party and I saw 10-20 people I had not seen in at least 3 decades, I experienced it again. I looked at their faces, I saw the same people, even felt the same feelings, but they had changed. Some more than others, but all of them, myself of course included, had changed. There was the female friend that had been my daily phone call for an unspecified amount of time when I was 16 and arguably my best friend at that time, and that very memorable female that I “went out with” when I was 15 who were very much the same even decades later. All of these experiences pulled me back to the past, but in that healthy way that only made the present more enjoyable.

When I went to Tel Aviv, and visited the area by the beach with the steep steps looking towards the Sheraton Hotel, I could almost feel the time I was there, I am going to estimate 37-38 years ago, the moment a pregnant woman stumbled, only to be caught by the man standing with her, and the subsequent near cardiac arrest I suffered at seeing what thankfully only almost happened. When I looked at the beach nearby I could only look at it and smile inside and out and remember some moments that could only be described as magical.

When I went to Jerusalem and walked to the address where Richie’s Pizza once was and to the location where I think the American Difference once existed, all the way down to the spot where I loved Cafe Atara’s world famous onion soup on Ben Yehuda Street, I felt all these sensations of travelling in time. When I sat at the base of Ben Yehuda, where it meets Jaffa Street, the spot know as Kikar Tzion, Zion Square, I felt an almost mystical connection to my past, present and future. As I wrote in a previous post, that moment made me feel something I did not remember feeling since at least the last time I was there.

All these brushes with time travel only enhanced what was turning into an incredible trip and one that I not only will remember for quite some time, but one that changed me for the better and very possibly forever. That all being said, it was not till I went to Hashmonaim to visit my friend Yonah and his wife Rhonda that time felt as though it had stood still, jumped forward, and shifted all over the place all at once. To understand this better a little historical context is needed.

Some time in between 1981 and 1984 I met Yonah in Israel. He was in a Yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem, and as I was prone to do, I went there to visit a friend, or friends. Yonah and I did not take long to become friends, and when we both ended up back in the NY area, the friendship continued and grew. To the best of my recollection, Yonah was at Bar Ilan University with the mutual friend that was the bride at the wedding where I met my once future now ex-wife in September of 1989. I was to be married in September of 1990 and prior to my wedding I shared an apartment with Yonah in Kew Gardens, Queens. As is customary at a Jewish wedding following traditional law, 2 witnesses are required. These witnesses need to be Sabbath observant and not related to the bride or groom and should be someone special to the people getting married. My bride made her choice, my choice was simple. My choice was Yonah. Months later, as a married couple, my wife and I would attend the wedding of Yonah and Rhonda.

The months and years later are a little hazy for me, but one Shabbat at the Lloyd’s in Teaneck, New Jersey not only stands out for me, it is in some ways one of the epicenters of my time travelling experience. I tend to think that based on the age of Yonah and Rhonda’s oldest daughter, and the fact that I can not recall my ex wife being there, this likely happened after my marriage ended in 1996, making it approximately 25 years ago, give or take a year or 2. You know you enjoyed a Shabbat at someone’s house when it sticks in your memory for so long. I remember going to synagogue with Yonah, marveling at how I had never met anyone so demanding of perfection from the Torah reader other than my father of blessed memory, and how there was a man praying with us who had lost a daughter in a terrorist attack in Israel. I remember Rhonda being the most natural, genuine and fun hostess you could ever ask for, and I remember their absolutely gorgeous little daughter Aviva. Aviva could not have been older than 3 or 4 at the time. I do not remember if their second daughter Shira had yet been born-sorry Shira. I’ll make it up to you later in this piece-but seeing as she would have been a baby, she may very well have been and I just do not remember. The one memory that is most etched in my brain of that weekend has always been Aviva wearing a hockey jersey that was so much bigger than her it dragged on the floor and covered her feet. I almost remember, but can’t be sure so no need to thank me Aviva, arriving with and giving her that jersey, but that fact is the smallest and least important fact of this story.

My journey in time at Hashmonaim actually began the moment I saw Yonah. One of the most important things I have learned as I have gotten older is that there is a reason people become friends and that regardless of time or circumstances, that which connected you once, be it spoken or unspoken, instantaneously or over a certain period of time, ultimately has a very good chance of connecting you again. That explains why it took under 2 seconds from the time I saw Yonah for me to feel like I was in the presence of a special friend, and that I had just stepped out of a time machine, just to see my friend 25 years later.

When I went into their home I soon realized that Rhonda had clearly not gotten the memo and did not look much different than she had 25 years ago. But her personality and warmth was so much like I remembered it that I still felt as though I had travelled these 25 years forward. It also needs to be said that when it comes to details, moments, even some conversations that took place decades earlier, my memory can be so uncanny that I blow some people’s minds. I guess I am a savant when it comes to that. But the pinnacle of sorts of this time capsule, was in the kitchen of their home. I almost do not remember moving in what I think was close to an hour and a half there. I walked in and met 2, maybe 3 people I had never met before. Their daughter Shira, I’ll remember you for sure this time, their son Rafi, and their daughter Talia. I said earlier that I do not remember moving. While Rhonda stayed as long as she could before she had to get to something previously scheduled, and Shira and Yonah needed to branch off for a bit to attend to work related matters, the other 2 stayed, and as I remember, they moved as little as I did. Talia seemed transfixed in awe over what she was hearing from everyone, and Rafi reminded me even more of why Yonah and I became friends, because I knew in listening to him speak, that had we been contemporaries, I likely would have become friends with him as I did with his father. I even went as far as thinking that had I met him, hearing him speak I would have felt as though he reminded me of Yonah, even if I had not known Yonah was his father. Also, for the record, it is not as though Rafi had nothing else to do less than 1 week from his wedding. And Talia had such a similar face as Rhonda that I would have seen something very familiar in her as well.

But all of this time travel experience coalesced when Aviva, now a wife and mother and living next door showed up to visit and said that she knew by looking at me that there was something familiar in my face that she remembered and I could still see the face of that 3 or 4 year old girl, now as a grown woman. While it seemed as though all of us were talking about absolutely everything that ever happened, Rafi found a video of his parents wedding. It needs to be said that I was already overcome with emotion on numerous occasions before I saw this-I understand if the kids remember me as their Dad’s crybaby friend-this video tipped the scale. I saw a video of me and my ex wishing the newlyweds a Mazal Tov. Even more overcome by the emotion that time travel induces, I will be forever grateful to Shira for compassionately asking if I was OK. In case I didn’t answer you then Shira, the honest answer could have been, I was never better.

None of these memories, flashbacks, or yes, jumps in time were anything other than a positive experience. When I recall a great evening with my step brother of sorts, Gaby, and meeting one cousin I never met and another I had not seen since he was 16 years old, he is now 44, time was jumping happily all over the place, and I was its center of gravity. We are where we are meant to be, and if we do not accept that and embrace that fact, it is not the fault of what happened then, it is the fault of what we did next. This visit to Israel, this travel in time did not bring closure to my past, it brought continuation, in all the right ways. When I got into the car and left Hashmonaim, while I was transported back to the present, I realized more clearly than ever the role my past had in making today as good as it was.

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