“Being a tourist, …” “You as a tourist,” “Many tourists say so” – the label ′tourist′ followed me everywhere when I lived in Israel in 2009-2010. Locals seem to be very economical about words, perhaps since the times when words had to be hammered in a rock to be transmitted to future generations. So, when encountering something strange or unexpected, they usually searched for a word they already knew to define new reality. If a foreigner is not an ethnic migrant (oleh/~ah) or a guest-worker, this person must be a tourist. In the beginning I used to get offended. “If I was a tourist, I would be here for fun! I would not have to report or account to anyone!” Israelis are used to seeing plenty of lobster-skinned, hummus-instagraming temporary visitors around them. Did I look like one? The secretary of my Hebrew school had no doubts. “Are you an olah?” she asked, registering me for a class. I started explaining, “No, I’m a…” “I see, a tourist…” “No, I′m not a tourist, I study here.” “With the Birthright?” “With a student visa.” “OK. A tourist.” My friend N., a PhD by now, once turned up at a Purim party dressed as a tourist – in a stereotypical poorly matched outfit of sneakers, baggy pants, a cap and a T-shirt that read “I <3 Israel.” Towards the end of my first stay I embraced the label, and this year was the first time when I actually went to Israel as a tourist, with almost no business to take care of. Also, this fall my dear friend, writer and public intellectual Yuval Ben-Ami started exploring his native country as a tourist and blogging about it for +972mag.
Reading Yuval′s stories brought back lots of memories about my own visits to the nodes of what Yuval calls the Beaten Path. When I traveled to some of these places, I wrote articles for Lithuanian press, blogged, emailed, and took notes for later. As you probably know, my old dream was to be a travel writer, like Yuval is. Whereas Yuval′s stories from the Beaten Path are political and highly critical (here’s how he describes the purpose of his journey), mine are simply wanderings of an individual who didn′t know what to expect. Still, some of these stories reveal various ruptures, beauty and diversity that is not readily visible to locals′ eyes. After a brief discussion with Yuval, I decided to virtually follow his path with my own stories from these places. I will put together notes that I have from my blog entries, articles, Facebook posts and emails to family and friends.
Unsurprisingly, Yuval starts with his native Jerusalem, specifically, the Western Wall. Below is a collection of my visits to the well-known touristic object – obviously, very different from Yuval′s.