Sunday, 22 February 2015

Next year in Jerusalem

Israel and I are a classical example of beshert.

About three decades ago a fellow nerd and my best guy-friend (turned world-renowned eye-surgeon who gave me the gift of 20/20 vision last year) came to me all excited: he had found a way for us to be out several evenings a week without any of our parents objecting - namely my mom and his dad. We would join a choir! And there was more good news - it was a Jewish choir so we would be spared singing revolutionary songs!

Funnily, all these years later I feel nostalgic for my long-dead and disintegrated 6-in-1 home country of Yugoslavia. I even miss songs about Tito - I catch myself humming them sometimes... while shovelling!

The Baruch Brothers Choir LP 
My newly-found freedom seemed like the next best thing to living the TV show "Friends" in real life. Three evenings a week plus every Sunday morning we would attend rehearsals. What that meant was, we high-schoolers would be hanging around 'older' people such as students as well as really cool folks of all ages and backgrounds who found time and reason to dedicate themselves to music. My social life instantly improved. My somewhat raspy-sounding second alto suddenly became a part of something beautiful. My spirituality - though not in a religious sense - awoke. I didn't understand it at the time but I felt alive and connected to something divine and much greater than myself.

The Jewish City Hall where the Baruch Brothers choir held their rehearsals also smelled divine. Out of a tiny kitchen, a little old lady - I forget her name - was baking the best pretzels I had ever tasted. Always piping hot with coarse salt on top, they were such a ridiculously low price that even my modest pocket money could easily absorb the expense.

The best times with the choir were concerts - especially if travel was involved. This not only meant escaping school and chores at home, it meant packing onto a bus, over-using make-up, losing sleep and sharing snacks. Several guitars would pop up every evening and we would easily be surprised by the arrival of dawn, night after night. No regrets. "I'll sleep when I'm dead" became my battle cry. I was having the time of my life!

So when the concert tour of Israel was announced, I was beside myself with excitement. A whole month on a trip, visiting Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa... lodging in kibbutzim! Witnessing this land in the most authentic way - not just as an ordinary tourist. And to travel with friends?! Oh man - Yes!!!

Jerusalem of Gold
My mom and dad said "NO" in unison that evening leaving no room for argument. They had to sign the parent approval form in early July when I was still 17 - 17 and devastated. I didn't care if they thought it was too dangerous because the tour bus was scheduled to pass through some villages close to the Gaza strip and the West Bank. This was supposed to be my best summer, the one between finishing high-school and starting university. "But, in three weeks I am an adult!!!" To no avail. I had to return my lavender-coloured 100% polyester dress. And oh, how I loved wearing that dress!

So what does the Hebrew word "beshert" mean? It's a somewhat fatalistic way of saying "it's meant to be". In Arabic it's "maktub". It is written. It was always meant to happen.

It was no surprise to me that day, several years ago, when I was browsing the travel section in Bayview Village's "Chapters" that I opened a book on Jerusalem to the page of the holiest site - Kotel, the Wailing Wall. And no surprise that when the man with the smiling eyes asked me from the other side of the table if I had ever been there and I offered numerous explanations of how my parents had wronged me, "ruining the summer I turned 18" that we ended up having coffee for hours in Starbucks talking travel and life. No surprise that soon after that, we were planning travel and making a life together. And no surprise - he is a "sabra" - born in Israel. A Jerusalem boy.

For the record, the summer I turned 18 that my parents "ruined", our family travelled to my favourite place in Greece for a month and afterwards they sent me to visit our amazingly fun relatives in Hamburg Germany for two weeks. These were no longer 'the good years' under Tito. And even those good years were never as good nor easy for my parents as they had refused to be members of the Communist party and so had to paddle upstream for the the entire length of their professional careers. This was a major sacrifice they made for me. Belatedly, thank you Mama and Tata. Hvala. I'm sorry I was such a spoiled brat.
Good reason to buy a turntable

If you look really carefully at the photo at the back of the LP, you can see me in the form of the few pixels located in the middle 'girl' row second from the right - I participated in this recording in 1988 at Gallery Of The Frescoes. Or check out the YouTube clip of the Sephardic song we taped for Spanish television at the Belgrade's beautiful old fortress of Kalemegdan. You might recognize me as of the very first frame. The one with short spiky hair and a facial expression depicting a burden that only puberty that was nowhere close to being over could display. Gosh I am grateful that social media was not there to make more of the timeless memories of the moody and awkward teenage me!

Nevertheless, at the time of this writing, that bratty and disappointed girl is no more. Why? Because in about an hour I will be boarding an EL AL non-stop flight to Tel Aviv for my first-ever trip to the Holy Land - my sabra and kids in tow.

Some things in life simply need to be waited out. Some delays are necessary for the experience to be full. There is no such a thing as denial. Just one already written and required step, after another, after another. If you have to fight it, either the time is not right or this is not your story. Or, as so eloquently put by Elizabeth Gilbert: Trust the timing of your life.

Jewish Belgrade


  1. hi there. nerdy eye doctor on line. just stroke all the right strings here my dear friend. tons of memories just splashed me... and that video omg!!! have fun with your beatiful family, hope we can soon all crowd together!

  2. I said "fellow nerd"!!! Thank you for the love!
    B'H THIS year in Miami!