Israeli Movie Stars, the Western Wall, and Other Awesome Mistakes

So. I’m in Israel. We’d just had our two free hours in Jerusalem, virtually the only free time on this whole manic 5-day, 20 hour-a-day conference they call ROI 120. There was a reception with wine and hors d’oeuvres and a former Prime Minister who I’d thought was in jail, but, hey, good for him that he’s not. (Which — oops! — sorry I don’t know anything about politics.) Kobi Oz, who’s an Israeli rock star, showed up for a surprise performance. But (a) it’s the Three Weeks, when we’re not supposed to listen to music, and (b) it was, as I said, our only 2 hours to do something, so I left my seat and ran.

I turned inside, to the amazing Israeli animation pavilion that the event was being held outside. Everything about the pavilion’s architecture reminded me of the Disney studios in the 1950s, which they always used to show you at the beginning of the Disney Sunday Movie, the Place Where Magic Happened. Hey, that could be all of Israel. Inside the lobby the only other Orthodox person was hiding out, a refugee from the music. He grinned at me, a companion in his zealotry. And I hated to tell him — but I wasn’t a refugee. I was a runaway.

I ran outside. I ran down the hill to Jerusalem, the real Jerusalem where cars drove like they didn’t believe in pedestrians and restaurants seduced you with neon lights and pictures of melted cheese over basically everything. I stopped at my sister-in-law’s house, who I haven’t seen in a year. Who just had a baby, and even though they’re total first-time parents and are paranoid about opening the door on a sleeping baby, let me see him. He was breathing so radically. His chest rising and falling, half his body mass growing. I stayed for ten minutes, trying not to let my anxiety kick my butt, just talking to them. And eating pizza.

And then I ran to the Kotel.

I don’t know why going to the Western Wall has occupied this spot in my life. The one thing I need to do in Israel, and the one thing I always try to squeeze into 3 minutes of time. Most of the time involves running to and from it — just going through the Old City is a 20-minute trek each way — even if, as I did, you cut through the Arab Shuk and coast along the stones and almost break your neck. And then you get there, and you throw yourself against the wall and say Shema, you say Psalms, you grab for any script you can, any arrangement of words that’s already been written for you, because there’s nothing you can say of your own that packs in quite enough pain and/or power. And you cry, without really knowing 100% why, maybe because you’ve built the experience up in your head or maybe you realize that all of the problems in your life, and all the incompleteness you feel, is all because you’re waiting for the Messiah to come and heal it all and bring back your dead best friend and stop worrying about your kids quite so much.

Or maybe it’s the Wall itself. The promise that hasn’t been fulfilled yet, so it could be basically promising anything.

I finished praying. Ran back the long way, through the main streets of the Old City, hoping I’d bump into someone. Didn’t. Grabbed a cab back, used my last 20 shekels, because I was late, and why would I change money when I could make a crazy zero-time dash to the Kotel instead?

I ended up returning to the party before the buses showed. Figured I had time to run to the makolet (translation: bodega, or, for you real English-speakers, a mini-mart) in the corner and grab some kosher Doritos for the family. Bumped into Matt Bar on the corner, who ran with me. He dashed into the store. While I swiveled on the front step, because this guy had just walked out and was in the process of bumping into me, and he was six and a half feet tall in a white shirt with tzitzis hanging on top of it and I had to pick my jaw up off the floor, because the last time I’d seen him had been on a movie screen, and he looked more like this:

I asked if he was Shuli Rand. He nodded guiltily with a smile. I told him I loved him. I think he understood how I meant it. Matt Bar took the opportunity to shove my book at him (which he’d had in his hand) and told him I wrote it, which I think showed him that I wasn’t a crazed fan, or, at least, I wasn’t just a crazed fan. He apologized for not being able to read English well. I told him I’d send him a copy if we ever got it translated. And I told him I’d just finished my first movie, and I hoped it was going to make the world a better place like his, and not just screw things up more.

He pulled me out to his car, which was tiny and black and old and totally awesome. It was a total fulfillment of his prophecy in 

, the movie he wrote & starred in, that even if he did get all that miracle money, he wouldn’t spend it on something stupid like a fancy car. And his wife — His wife! The all-time Adi Ran lip-synching champion of the world!* — pulled out his new CD. Because he wanted to give me his address, and that was the most convenient way to write to him.

So now I’ve got an assignment. Remind me, please, if you get a chance. And, yes, by the time Matt and I got back, the buses still hadn’t left. So we were safe.

* — you’ll know what I’m talking about if you see the movie. So see it. Really.

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