It was an exciting opportunity that I did not think twice about: move to Israel and work as a consultant at Intel in the southern town of Qiriat Gat. Even better, I would be living in the nearby coastal city of Ashqelon, the first city north of Gaza on Israel’s Mediterranean coast.
Israel was a place I had read a lot about and always wanted to see. I knew there was some surfing going on there, so I packed a couple boards and hoped for the best.
Surfers are a tribe, and you are either in or out. It can be a worry when you travel because localism can create a lot of issues. It was never a problem, like all Israelis, the local surfers were warm and open and they took me into their tribe immediately.
Surfers there are known as the Giborim (heroes) and it was not long before I was hearing “Ma kore, gibor!” (“What’s happening, hero!”) being yelled from passing cars when I walked through town.
You hear about the missiles coming from Gaza, but until you live there you can never really understand. In my first week, some new-found friends were taking me out for the after-surf meal of choice-shakshuka, a spicy bowl of marinara sauce with two poached eggs on top and a sausage inside.
When we got to the port and headed into the Scubar cafe, we found that the back wall had just been blown out by a Qassam missile from Gaza. The wait staff was cleaning up and simply said they would be closed for the night, but come back tomorrow.
A bit taken aback, I asked one of my companions what that meant--should we head home? He replied that it meant that we eat next door at the Blue Bar, and that I would not be able to have a Guinness with dinner. At dinner I asked how they could be so nonchalant about the missile. I was told that this is the life, and you must learn to live it and love it now. The missile was an hour ago, but good company and dinner were now. Not to enjoy it was to let the terrorists win. The shakshuka was good.
Sometimes things felt a bit surreal. Like the morning we awoke to waves worthy of Indonesia, clean 200-yard barrels peeling down the beach, a dream anywhere but particularly in the wave-starved Mediterranean. After a few incredible rides I sat a little outside the lineup and relaxed, taking things in when I felt a concussion wave strong enough to make my ears pop. Soon you could see smoke rising from Gaza, which is easily visible from the south beach. The explosions became regular. It took me out of my bliss and made me think about how different life was just a few kilometers away. It was not unexpected, as there had been some missiles the night before, but the feeling was still a bit melancholy.
Like surfing, the missiles would come in waves. One of the worst attacks happened while I was on a surf trip to Puerto Rico with a couple of new Israeli friends. It brought the mood of the trip down, and a lot of the down time was spent trying to get news from Israel. One of our best friends, Elan, who owns the surf shop, was hit by shrapnel standing in the parking lot after a surf. He was in the hospital for a month. I talked to him later and he said he felt grateful--his kids had been playing on the beach only a few yards away.
The good outweighed the bad by far, and some of the best memories of my life are of there--sitting on the beach with Yakir and Chico, debating religion with my back resting on an ancient pillar, or hanging at the surf shop with Elan, Yaniv and Juda reliving every wave from the morning surf.
Israel is a special place for a lot of reasons, but for me it was the place I learned to let go of what is out of my control, to appreciate the goodness and beauty around me and the gifts that I am being given, one wave at a time.