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I Fell in Love with an Israeli Soldier

The most powerful thing Israel had given me was a soldier in plain sight, whose choices and mandate in life went against the values I had been brought up with...

Nazareth. CREDIT: Joan Erakit

In those early morning hours as the sun crept up the Tel Aviv sky, I loved that soldier with everything I had, knowing that an important lesson was being formed: When in doubt, give out more love.  Naturally, you will soon see that the rest takes care of itself.

You stood naked in front of the open window looking out at the moon, faint sounds of traffic whistling nearby.  The Israeli sky was at its most potent, and so were you.

“Do you want some more tea?” you asked, looking over at me.

I pulled the sheets up to my waist, looked across the room and smiled.

“Yes,” I responded.

“Okay.  I’ll make you some more tea and then you can tell me whatever you want.  I’m a good listener,” you said pulling on some shorts and opening the door.

That evening, I poured my heart out.  I let my fears, my insecurities and my dreams lie bare across the cement floors of your 4th floor apartment.  I’m not sure what came over me — maybe it’s the vulnerability of making love to a man who has seen more in his short life than you will ever see in your future, but whatever it was, it was powerful.

I admit that by the time we found each other, I was broken.

We met after Shabbat dinner in the communal kitchen of the hostel I was staying in, while I put the dishes away and wiped off a counter top.  You approached me brazenly, asking me where I was from and what I was doing in Israel.  It was December and I had fled my life in New York in search of a few weeks to write. With every answer I gave, you smiled brighter and my stomach did that inevitable flip–the one caused by the electricity of two aligned souls, meeting for the first time.

Before I set the dishtowel back on the rack, you asked me for my phone number and suggested we meet for a cup of coffee in the next few days.  I told you I’d be going to Nazareth to write, then to Jerusalem to see one of my best friends, so maybe, in the end, we’d meet.

When you live in New York, you’re told that the measure of your success will be based on how badass and brutal you can be towards everything–and sometimes everyone–in your life.  I mastered this until there were only remnants of my old self in every part of the city.  From failed relationships, unfulfilling jobs and endless editor rejections, I was a bit of shell the night I spent in your bed.

Grand Central Station, New York. CREDIT: Joan Erakit

You listened to all my stories–the trip to Burundi, the breakup outside Grand Central Station with the diplomat who forgot to tell me that he was still technically married and not divorced; the helicopter ride with General Mendoza in Colombia, the loss of my family home, and my struggle with anxiety and depression.

With you, there was no judgment. You told me that in your life, you had seen many difficult things.  You had done many difficult things.  You had lost the ones you loved and had to learn how to forge a life ahead without attachment.  You told me that you lived your life simply, and that being with me in that moment was a no-brainer.  In any day, you could be called back to the front line, and you weren’t sure if you’d return home.

In your experience, life was not a promised thing, so smoking a joint, drinking tea and rolling around on a mattress on the floor with the windows open until the sun came up was the only antidote.

I’ve often wondered why, when traveling alone and searching for something you can’t really explain, you fall helplessly into the arms of another without hesitation.  What is it about being so disconnected from everything else that allows you to connect so deeply with a stranger?

That night, I stayed in your bed, afraid to return to my mine knowing very well that I’d soon leave the land of milk and honey.  I memorized every inch of you so that I would be able to comfort myself once back home.  You laid your head on my bare stomach and fell asleep, dreaming of whatever it was you could not tell me in that moment, and I was okay with that.

Defensive in New York. CREDIT: Joan Erakit

A year later, I was having a glass of wine with Mark* a man I had loved, when he suddenly paused and asked what exactly Israel had for me that the US did not.  I looked out the window and watched a taxi pull up to the curb so that a well-heeled blonde could get in. Summer was approaching in New York City, and so were my thoughts of you.

“I don’t know,” I said sheepishly, “I guess I go there when I’m feeling lost and need to reboot.”

“Is that the only reason?” Mark* asked taking a sip of his beer.

I looked him in the eye and smiled, remembering the fear I had felt at the thought of losing him.

“I met someone who reminded me of you,” I said calmly.

He nodded his head and then looked down at his plate.

“Did you fall in love?”

“Does it matter?” I replied.  “Anyway, it’s not important to talk about.”

“A soldier?” he continued.

Men have a tendency to ask questions they already know the answers to.

I couldn’t bring myself to admit that I had fallen in love with an Israeli soldier. I could hardly speak about my trips to the country without an attack from friends and family–all sharing valid points about the violence and discrimination against Palestinians, all wondering why I would dedicate so much time and energy writing from there. It was strange to feel ashamed about a person who brought me so much peace.  I had no words to defend him.

I had no words to defend myself.

Israel had given me many things, truly, more than I had bargained for. However, its most powerful gift was a soldier in plain sight.  A man whose choices and mandate in life went against the values I had been brought up with–here was a resolute conflict in giving myself to him–like selling out to the other team when you knew they were grossly responsible for the destruction of others.   

“You can do that and sleep at night?” Mark* asked, pushing slices of tomato across his plate.

“It’s complicated,” I responded.

“With you, it always is,” he said looking up with a smile.

Mark* wasn’t wrong. I always wanted more than what a man could give, simply because I always gave more. For years, we had had this conversation–words against words–what he couldn’t give, what I wanted.  I had wanted to be with him and only him, and finally, in this drawn-out battle, I gave it up and went to Israel.

Tel Aviv. CREDIT: Joan Erakit

In those early morning hours as the sun crept up the Tel Aviv sky, I loved that soldier with everything I had, knowing that an important lesson was being formed:

When in doubt, give out more love.  Naturally, you will soon see that the rest takes care of itself.

My soldier taught me to appreciate the small moments we have in life, to understand that nothing is ever black and white–the sun nor moon ever stay in the same place–human relationships are complex, and sometimes, you fall for the person you were told to be the most fearful of.

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