The phone rang at 5:55 AM, Israel time. It was Raynald of the Stirling Faux show, in Vancouver, where it was 8:00 PM. I chatted off-air with Stirling, the show’s host, and told him about the types of anti-Semitic calls I had received while on-air in Edmonton. To my surprise, he wasn’t surprised. And suggested that we could probably expect the same on his show. Not that racists and Jew haters in particular tuned into his show. But more or less, because this type of topic, generally coaxes them out from under their rocks.
CKNW is Corus Radio’s Western Canadian flagship station out of Vancouver. And on the weekend, Stirling Faux’s show is broadcast from Manitoba to British Columbia. While it was 6:00 AM in Israel, people in British Columbia were listening to the show at 8:00 PM, while people in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba heard it at 9:00 PM.
As with Leslie Primeau, of radio station CHED Edmonton; Stirling and I chatted on-air for a while, describing my trip and observations. And then Stirling opened the airwaves to callers. It was like déja vu. All the callers seemed to compete to see who could be more anti-Semitic. Even, and especially, the ones who tried to sound as if they were part of the intelligentsia; except for one guy, who said:
“I am neither a Jew nor a Palestinian. And I really didn’t have an opinion either way. But; Mr Galganov, how can you sit there and take this kind of crap? I have never heard anything like it. And if I didn’t know anything about anti-Semitism before. I sure do now”.
This one exchange, with this particular listener/caller made me feel that the radio shows were well worth the insults and anguish. As depressing as it was for me to listen to these racists attack Israel and Jews, it was more than refreshing to know that there are people out there who can be shocked by what they hear. And if it means, that I have to take insults from racist neanderthals, no matter how sophisticated some of the try to sound, just to sensitize the uninformed about racism and anti-Semitism, it is indeed a very small price for me to pay, and well worth the pain.
After the show, I got out of bed and headed for the shower. I had already packed everything the night before, except for what I was going to be wearing. So, my only thoughts while standing under the refreshing warm running water, was of the Jew hating callers I listened to on both shows. And I remembered some statistics I recently came across on the Internet.
The global population of Moslems number about 1.2 Billion, which translates into almost 20% of the entire world population. Yet; since the inception of the assorted Nobel Prize Awards, only 8 Moslems seem to have won a Nobel Prize. Including Yasser Arafat; for of all things “peace”.
During that same time span, Jews have won the Nobel Prize 136 times. Yet; Jews represent less than 0.2% of the world population, with as few as 13 Million people.
So, I asked myself, while standing in the shower, trying to wash off the racist filth that permeated my mind: Don’t these anti-Semites have any appreciation whatsoever for the enormous contributions made to mankind by so few people? Everyday that passes, is a day where someone in the world benefits because a Jew happened to have been born to discover this or that. Or to produce this or that. Or to contribute to the arts, sciences, motion pictures and humanities, in one significant way or another.
Can the Jew haters be so ignorant, not to know; or so stupid, as not to care that the lives of billions have been made better by the presence of Jews? I can’t even begin to imagine what might have been discovered or produced if 6 Million Jews didn’t die in the Holocaust? Or the millions of Jews who died or were precluded of participating fully within their respective societies as a result of the Crusades, the Inquisitions and the Eastern European Pogroms over the millennia. This I thought is the reality of being a Jew. For contributing so much, we are so hated.
I met Tommy after breakfast for our last tour. And this excursion was going to be the only real touristy thing I was going to be doing with him. Our schedule included a drive through Tel Aviv, a walk around Haifa with a tour of the magnificent B’hai Gardens, and then a stroll through Jaffa’s famous gift shops and Mediterranean market. After-which, Tommy would drop me off at the airport, where I would hang around for 7 hours until my El Al flight would taxi off to bring me home.
Tel Aviv is an ultra modern gorgeous big Western style city that could easily be mistaken for New York, Chicago or Toronto. But; even when traveling throughout North America, which I do often, I tend to stay away from big cities as much as I can. So, as with all big cities, I gave Tel Aviv a cursory look as we drove through.
Like everywhere else in Israel, Tel Aviv also has a common Israeli denominator, as Tommy pointed out the Dolphinarium, a real “with-it” spot on the beach of the Mediterranean, that was blown to pieces by Palestinian terrorists.
We drove towards Haifa, which really wasn’t that far from Tel Aviv, and once there, we set out to visit the B’hai Gardens, which are pretty much internationally accepted to be one of the 8 modern wonders of the world. It really is quite spectacular. Haifa is also a very much mixed city, where Arabs and Jews live in close proximity, sharing in each other’s businesses and daily lives. It was here, where the terrorists, not that long before I took this trip, where they blew up a restaurant owned by Israeli Arabs.
The B’hai faith, is a religion based upon the convergence of the three great prophets: Moses, Christ and Mohammad. And it is here in Haifa, where they’ve located their international and spiritual headquarters. Their religion is interesting, in as much as they accept the “moderate” teachings of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They also have enormous respect for family, education, modernity and equal rights for all. Especially women. So much so, that the B’hais are very much persecuted in all Islamic fundamentalist countries. But none more so, than in Iran, where they have historically been arrested, tortured and murdered for their beliefs.
I knew these things long before visiting the Gardens. Anne I had B’hai neighbors who told us a great deal about their faith. The B’hais also believe that they can not participate in politics, in any manner, and at any level. And that’s where they lose me.
The Gardens are built upon a steep slope which climb to an extremely impressive height. From the bottom of the ascending gardens, the near vertical view up was spectacular. And the way the tours worked; the driver takes the tour bus to the top, and the tourists walk down to where the driver takes the bus to meet them. But; Tommy and I didn’t have a tour bus. Which meant we would walk down, and then have to walk all the way back up to get to our car.
I already did the walking-thing up and down Masada. One tortuous climb per trip, even on stairs, was more than enough for me. The quota was full.
So, instead of walking up, we drove up and looked down. And from the top, we were able to see just about everything we saw when we were on the bottom looking at where we were currently standing. Different perspective, great view, and off we went.
From the Gardens, we headed in search of a shopping center, where I figured we could grab a bite and do a little more buying. I was getting shopping mall withdrawal symptoms. And just like North America, on the outskirts of Haifa, we found a huge North American style indoor mall, with many American branded stores.
This was Israel, but it could just have easily been “Anytown” USA. As much as I wanted to buy some gifty things for friends and family, there was nothing I could find that wasn’t made in China. Just like back home. We wandered around for an hour or so, and opted to eat along the way to Jaffa.
The only real difference between this mall and any other big North American mall I had ever visited, were the guys outside the entrance doors with the machine guns slung across their shoulders. When they say shop-lifters will be prosecuted, I guess they really mean it.
After a refreshing, filling and delicious meal at a roadside restaurant, just like the ones we have along our highways, adjacent to gas stations; with the exception, that this one gave real value and great food; we made our way to Jaffa, the world’s oldest port.
Jaffa, like everywhere else I visited was nearly deserted, maybe even more so than the other places I had seen. There was virtually no one. Hardly a soul. The restaurants were totally empty, as were the shops. It was actually eerie. We found ourselves in a market place that could have been used as a setting for some Middle Eastern adventure movie, where the good guy is running like hell between closely packed stalls filled with every kind of useless and smelly crap you can image. Actually, without being there, you couldn’t imagine.
I stopped in front of one of the stalls, where even the sunlight couldn’t penetrate, and looked at some of the junk, mostly made to look like antique swords, daggers and sabers. And just as I was about to start walking away, the vendor deftly tried to put a sword that I had glanced at in my hand. I wouldn’t take the bait. But; Tommy did. And the moment he touched it, the vendor went into his act.
“150 Shekels. Very good price. Beautiful sword”.
“No thank you”.
“80 Shekels. Very good price. Take”.
“No thank you”. Tommy tried to hand it back to the vendor. But to the vendor, it seemed as though, if he even touched the sword now held by Tommy, he would get a terrible disease. So instead of taking back the sword.
“50 Shekels”. Take – take”.
Tommy helplessly looked at the vendor, the sword, and all about him not knowing what to do next.
“Tommy, you’re a Putz. Why’d you touch the sword? You’re the guy who lives here. Not me”. With that, I took the sword, stood it on its sharp point, looked at the vendor, and asked him if he could catch it before it hit the ground. I released my grip on the sword. The vendor grabbed it. And Tommy and I made good our getaway.
We wandered along the pier that reeked of the Mediterranean, dead fish, and God only knows what else, when we happened upon a boat that was not small, but was also not very big. It was later described to us by her captain as a search and rescue boat. I would more aptly describe it as a boat one should not board.
The “search and rescue” boat was not quite 40 feet long, and about 8 to 10 feet across. There was a small captain’s cabin about 8 feet from the bow, and a horseshoe of torn seats that went from the stern, around to each side of the gunnels. There was nowhere to sit at the bow. And at the most, given the horseshoe seating at the stern, you could possibly accommodate as many as 12 people comfortably. That is, if by comfortable, you didn’t mind the shredded upholstery, the smell, the grungy deck and the lack of life jackets, and such things. But what the hell? A cruise is a cruise. I sent Tommy over to negotiate the price.
“180 Shekels”. Tommy reported back.
“Tell him 150”. Why I was bargaining, I had no idea. Did I know what the price should have been. For all I knew, 180 Shekels was already a great deal. But; when in the Middle East; you bargain.
“OK” Tommy said. “But they’ll only take us out for 15 minutes”.
So the dance began. We boarded the boat, and I immediately started negotiating with the captain, who was as old as the sea, at least he looked it. His first mate, or whatever the other guy was, didn’t look much younger.
“30 minutes out” I said with authority.
“15 minutes out. 15 minutes in”. The captain spoke English. Not all that well, but well enough to take me on.
“No! 30 minutes in. 30 minutes out”.
In the meantime, as I was negotiating with “Captain Ahab”, the first mate was throwing off the lines and the captain was already heading away from the dock.
“OK” I said. “We’ll settle this when we get back. In the meantime I’ll hold onto my Shekels”. He looked pretty pissed.
As we got out into the Mediterranean, the wind and the water were really kicking up, and there were swells some four feet or more. Under normal circumstances, this would be enough to have me hanging over the side of the boat tossing my cookies. But not all that far ahead of us was an Israeli gun-boat.
I ran to the Captain from where I was sitting on the side of the boat beside Tommy, and told him to gun it. “Catch up to the gun-ship”. With that, the captain floored the throttle and the old battered boat leapt forward. The chase was on.
“Come to the front Tommy. Let’s have a real good look”! I hollered into the din of the engine and wind, as w rapidly closed the distance between us and the gun-boat. Tommy, holding onto the side railing with all he had, edged cautiously forward to the bow where I was standing, as our boat crashed and skipped across the choppy waters of the Mediterranean, when all of a sudden, “Ahab” decided to hang an abrupt left, which drove the bow of the boat into the swells, opposed to skipping over them. And when the big wave came over the front, I knew I was going to get soaked.
Seeing the next wave coming, I yelled: “Run Tommy”! But Tommy was fixed in place. So, when the second crash of water flooded over the front of the boat, we were soaked again. Finally, Tommy was able to let go, and we managed to make our way back to the side of the boat, dripping wet from head to toe. And when I looked into the cabin, the two old guys were laughing so hard I thought they’d croak.
“Give me a towel”! I yelled at them. Which they did, as they continued to laugh. I was so pissed, that when I dried my dripping hair and face, I didn’t pay attention and broke my glasses, which just sent me over the top. I had another pair packed in my suitcase in Tommy’s car. So not having glasses for a while was not much of an issue. Just the idea of how I broke them upset me to no end.
I went into the captain’s cabin, and told him “let me drive”. And with a sly smile, he handed me the wheel. And when Tommy, who was only a foot or so behind me, asked what I was doing? I told him: “I’m going to sink this fucking boat. I hope you can swim”. With that, I turned the boat into the oncoming sea, and just made myself sick. On the other hand, Tommy went to the back of the boat, sat down, and just dripped in despair.
After a few minutes, the hilarity of the moment caught up to all of us, and together we shared in the laugh. I don’t know how long we were out to sea, perhaps a half hour, perhaps fifteen minutes, certainly too long. But my first Mediterranean cruise was one I will never forget.
We never got that close to the gun-boat, and I steered our boat at half speed all the way back to the dock. I paid the captain 150 Shekels, and thanked him and his buddy for a great ride.
Now I had a problem. From here, I was going to the airport, and the sun was starting to set. And it was getting chilly. I told Tommy to open the trunk of his car where my suitcases were, and then and there, I stripped down to my underwear, just about in the middle of the street, and changed from saturated clothing into fresh and dry duds. But my underwear, skin and hair were still wet and clammy from the sea water that showered me only a half hour or so before.
Tommy dropped me off at Tel Aviv Airport, where I thanked him for showing me so much, wished him well, promised to send him information on Canada, as well as photos of Anne, our animals and property. I will also send him an original copy of this manuscript.
Once at the airport, it was round two with El Al security. This time, I was the first passenger in the entire concourse, considering I was about 7 hours early for my flight. This gave the security agent ample time to ask me every question under the sun. And after she finished giving me the third degree, I looked at her and said: “The least you can do is say thank you for coming to Israel”. She smiled, and walked away.
The return flight was a 12 hour nonstop on a 767, which seems considerably smaller than the 777 which brought me. And unlike the 777, this plane was pretty full. Especially with young women, their children, and older people. It appeared they might have been leaving, more or less to escape the war, and travel to North America seeking a little safety and sanity. The flight was a stopover to Toronto; ending at Los Angeles.
When we finally boarded the plane, after 1:00 AM Israel time, on the morning of April 30th in Israel, I realized just how much I stank from the water of the Mediterranean. Even I couldn’t stand to be near me. So, on this very crowded flight back home, I started off sitting next to this stuck-up lady on a row of only two seats. I occupied the window seat.
I was so tired, that after the plane took off, and we were served a hot meal, I leaned my head on the window and fell asleep. I have to mention two other things. When I sleep, I snore like a Mac Truck without a muffler. So much so, that even my beautiful wife won’t sleep with me, and has her own bedroom. I also ate an enormous amount of cooked and raw beans which is pretty much a staple in Israel, much of it in the form of humous. So, between the beans, the snoring and the stink of the Mediterranean, when I woke up, I was all alone in relative comfort.
It appeared that no one could stand to be near me. Being the passenger from hell certainly had its advantages. Before falling back to sleep, I determined that the very first thing I would do upon arrival in Canada was to take a shower. And never eat beans again.
When I arrived in Toronto, and collected my one checked-in bag, I immediately went to customs, where the immigration/customs’ women asked me the usual: ID, name, citizenship, how long I had been away, what was the purpose of the trip, what did I buy, did I visit any farms, do I have liquor or cigarettes, and where did I go? When I told her Israel. Her reply was: “Now”?
“Funny, that’s the same thing my wife said when I first told her where I was going”. I told the woman at customs. And then she stamped my papers and said the two sweetest words I had heard in over a week. “Welcome home”.