Wonderin’ What to Choose

Last week, when school let out for Passover vacation, my classmates and I all voiced the same quip: “What vacation? With the mountain of papers I have to hand in? Yeah, right.”

This holiday is semi-ironic. The lead-up to the Seder, this Friday night, is labor intensive, and it begs the question: Is all our scrubbing and scouring and mopping and cooking (or, in my case, studying) meant as a reenactment of the slavery from which we were redeemed? I contemplate the meaning, or rather, the existence, of freedom.

I recall this idea that I have heard, I’m not sure where or when, really. The circumstances of our existence — where and when we are born, to what family, with what abilities and ailments — are essentially beyond our control.

I have no idea whether I’ll wake up breathing in the morning, whether I’ll trip over a brick on the sidewalk, whether the bus I ride will be bombed and burst into flames down my block.

And yet…

Around seven thirty, after the sirens finally stopped their deafening wails, after I replied to all the worried texts, reassuring them that I was home, I was ok, I needed to clear my head. I zipped up my sweatshirt and headed down Derech Beit Lechem, my flip flops acting as pendulums with every step. Bouncing off the sidewalk, bouncing back from the soles of my feet.

The night was still and harmless. No mosquitoes, just a cool breeze and streetlights. I kept a calm, quiet pace. I made a left onto the train tracks. Pat pat pat, people jogging. As if nothing had happened at all.

Had any of us been, a mere hour and a half prior, a few hundred meters south, we wouldn’t be out here moving. It would’ve been wholly beyond our control.

And yet… here we were.

A ways down the track, a little boy in a red shirt approached me. “Do you want to buy some lemonade or orange juice? Freshly squeezed.”

I smiled and fished two shekels out of my pocket. He ran over to two girls, sitting with glass jugs. Their mothers sat a few feet away on the grass.

“Thanks,” I said, as they handed me the plastic cup, excitedly counting their earnings.

It was sweet, but I winced. Almost all of it was pulp. I could’ve said no thank you. I could’ve thrown it away. Instead, I sipped.

And I ran into Dooby, who was jogging with headphones. “Where’s the juice from?” he asked.

I pointed to the kids, “Come, I’ll treat you,” I said.

Around a year ago, Khen Rotem, this guy I know from Facebook, a fellow Dead Head and rap artist known as Sagol 59, came out with an album. He called it The Promised Land. Nine Grateful Dead songs, translated into Hebrew. He was playing Wednesday night in Nachlaot.

Mom and Dad and I parked at the bottom of Agripas, and walked single file between the buildings and cars, to arrive at a red lit café. “This is the place,” I said.

It was tiny. Maybe the size of two bathrooms put together. We sucked ourselves in to pass the other listeners and stand by the bar, careful not to knock over the instruments.

It was wonderful. We sang along to the Hebrew, Israel-ified songs. Delila Jones became Dalya Cohen. Tennessee was Kfar HaNassi. We laughed and enjoyed the company of fellow Dead Heads of the Nachlaot breed, payot swinging, beer and pot heavy and aromatic in the dense air.

Sometimes Khen would sing a verse in the original English, and everyone would join in.

At the end of “I know You Rider,” he started in on Jerry’s iconic line.

“I wish I was a headlight…”

And we were all there with him. “On a northbound train.”

And on the repeat, our voices raised to the heavens, ascending, ascending, lifting us all, threatening to burst through the crowded room, to crack through the dark plaster walls.

“I wish I was a headli-ee-ight! On a northbow-oo-ound trai-ee-ay-ee-ayn!

I’d shine my light through the cool Colorado rain…”

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