Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Birthright Israel: We’re Coming Back (Part III of ?)

Read these first:
Birthright Israel: We’re Coming Back (Part I of ?)
Birthright Israel: We’re Coming Back (Part II of ?)

I was not looking forward to Israeli food leading up to my trip. I know, I know: But Ben, Mediterranean food is great! That’s what everyone says. I didn't agree during my first trip to Israel when JD and I ate McDonald’s every chance we got.

I have broadened my horizons since then, and as it turns out, Israeli meals weren’t much different than what I normally eat: lots of vegetables, chicken and maybe some rice. There were some notable exceptions, beginning with hummus.

Israelis eat hummus with everything; on anything. I could have made a case for the nutritional value of berries or cauliflower, but they apparently wouldn’t hold a finger to the superfood, hummus. I promised Republican that I’d try it—I did, and was unable to swallow the putrid substance.

Since hummus and falafel share the main ingredient, chickpeas, I was reluctant to try the latter. But I wanted to prove Republican wrong again on her culinary predictions. It turns out that falafel—an overstuffed pita with cucumber salad, pickles, onions, lots of hot sauce and void of anything resembling hummus—is the world’s superfood.

Shawarma in IsraelInstead of McDonald’s, I alternated between falafel and shawarma. Egg suggested we order “half-and-half”—shawarma and falafel in the same pita. I still salivate over the thought, but ultimately only God can decide which is better.

Back in Arlington following the trip, I was in shawarma and falafel withdrawal. I craved them for lunch every day, and tried a couple Mediterranean eateries in Arlington, but they were a joke in comparison. These two lunch dishes are the reason Jerusalem is the focus of the world, and don’t believe otherwise.

During the Sabbath, we (somewhat) followed traditions, like not photographing others or traveling, which means I couldn’t grab my normal heavenly lunch. Instead I played basketball on the court next to the hostel. Shooting around or playing H.O.R.S.E. is one of my favorite activities. Before cancer, I loved playing Knockout, 21, or actual basketball games with friends. But I can’t do that any longer.

On the first nice spring day following my cancer surgery a decade ago, my friends had come to my house like usual to play PlayStation 2. But first they had wanted to play basketball. I sat in a lawn chair and watched. And then years later during college summer breaks, my friends would get small games together, so I’d either sit and watch or shoot by myself on the opposite basket. I was not bitter—they were playing a game I loved but could no longer participate, and I would not bring them down to my level just because of that.

So on that court in Israel, when someone suggested we play 21, I said, “You guys go ahead and play,” and sat down to watch. When that game ended, Maximus invited me back onto the court to play 2-on-2. “Nah, I can’t run,” I said.

“So you’ll be on my team. I’ve seen your killer shot, so you won’t even need to run,” Maximus said.

I accepted Maximus’ invitation. I felt silly at first, walking across the court as the others ran. I pump-faked before shooting, even though I obviously wasn’t about to drive the lane. Eventually I took to my role, moving across the court as fast as I could, hopping on only my right leg, and getting in my opponent’s face to alter his shot. Maximus smothered his man, grabbed all the rebounds, drained his shots, and even passed to me for my mid-range daggers. He and I won the game.

Maximus saw my physical handicap, taught me how to move past it, and won with me in spite of it. Maximus, far more kind than mighty: thank you. Thank you.

I wouldn’t be playing much basketball after entering the Dead Sea. Because of the high concentration of salt, the Dead Sea is known for its healing abilities. Dead Sea mud supposedly has a healing effect, as well, so before going into the slimy water we lubed up.

Benjamin Rubenstein and Birthright Israel group at Dead Sea, Israel

I’m not so sure about the mud, but I believe in the healing effects of the water. I had a small cut on my finger that nearly disappeared later that day. But the Dead Sea also caused significant harm. All the rocks leading into the depths of the sea were either slippery or jagged, and were painfully hard and awkward to step on. Each step was a struggle, and by the time I got in and out, I had slipped and caught myself dozens of times. I was scraped, gashed, and dripping with blood after my battle with the Dead Sea rocks.
Scraped up from Dead SeaScraped up from Dead Sea

This garnered the attention of our armed escort, also our medic, WillYouMarryMe. A soldier, medic, and illustrator, there isn’t much that WillYouMarryMe can’t do. She could add model to her list of talents if she wanted to.
Beautiful medic and soldier on Birthright Israel trip
Beautiful medic and soldier on Birthright Israel trip

…No but seriously, will you marry me?

Keep reading:
Birthright Israel: We're Coming Back (Part IV of ?)