From Beirut to Jerusalem, to my Bathtub!
Thomas Friedman changed my life. You may have heard of him. He is the left-leaning longtime reporter for the New York Times. He spent several years in Beirut, Lebanon and six more in Jerusalem as the Bureau Chief for the New York Times. He wrote a book that won him the US National Book Award for Non-Fiction in 1989.
My father gave me a copy of From Beirut to Jerusalem, thinking it would interest me. I had no interest in his years in Beirut, although I am sure it was fascinating—I wanted to see what life was like in Israel. You see, my wife is Israeli and she deeply missed life in there. Even though I am Jewish, I had never visited the Holy Land and was a little scared of the war torn Jewish State. I was very content to live my life in the US.
In her frustration with American culture, she would call me square—culturally speaking. I could not understand what she meant by this. Even though I used to pretend in Bible College, as I walked to class, that I was smuggling Bibles over the borders of China or into the USSR, the truth was that the closest I had ever come to leaving America was swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. I had a hunger for danger and adventure, but that is where it stopped.
So I began to read Thomas Friedman’s book. And the more I read, the more I understood that my wife was right. Culturally, I was square. I spoke one language (strange for most people outside the US) and had never even ventured past the Mississippi River (that I can remember). Here Friedman described another world.
A Different Mentality
His book is not about his politics, but a memoir of his time there. He describes the uniqueness of the culture. One story I still remember after twenty years is about a shop owner. The story was meant to illustrate the mentality of people who daily live under the threat of annihilation. The future is now. Not in a week, and definitely not in a year.
He buys a clock radio with a one-year warranty. It breaks after nine months. He takes it back and tells the merchant, a friend of his, that it is broken and he wants to return it.
The man said, “But you’ve had it for nine months!”
“Yes, I know,” responds Freidman, “but it has a one-year warranty.”
“I realize that, but you have had it for nine months!”
Friedman tried to explain that all he had to do was sent it back to the manufacture and they would replace it, but there was no reaching this man. All that mattered was that he already used it for nine months. Be happy it worked that long!
I read this book with great fascination. But it was one night in particular where I fell in love. And strangely enough it was in a bathtub, I jumped in to relax and took Thomas with me—the book that is. The more I read, the more I said to myself: These are my people! I belong in Israel.