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January 20, 2000

Single in Sinai

http://www.jewishjournal.com/old_stories/article/single_in_sinai_20000121

I was having a really bad week, a likely occurrence for a recent olah. As a newly-arrived immigrant to Israel, it took me about three weeks to figure out where and how to start a bank account and get a call back from the Ministry of Interior telling me that I had to come back tomorrow. Despite my post-Zionist love for the Jewish state, I felt the need to get away for a while to a place close enough that wouldn't drain my bank account, yet far enough from the lines at government offices.

An Israeli girlfriend of mine suggested I take a trip to Sinai, the Egyptian peninsula that Israel possessed between 1967 and 1982. Sinai, she said, is Israel's equivalent of Jamaica -- a place where you go to get your groove back. Translated: a sparkling beach with plenty of eligible Israeli men. Any single young woman who travels to Sinai's beaches during a busy weekend, she said, is likely to leave looking tan and sedate.

I hopped on the first bus.

The idea of some robust Israeli men, who were not bank tellers or government office officials, and a luscious desert beach, seemed like the perfect cure for my tired mind and body.

At the Eilat border, I tagged along with a group of American tourists who were on their way to Rosh HaSatan. Little did the English speakers know that the name of the beach translates into "The Devil's Head."

"Sounds like the place to be," I thought to myself.

Despite its provocative name, Rosh HaSatan was desirable for its reputation as a quiet, peaceful beach, unlike the more popular, noisier tourist magnets, Terebin and Dahab.

Most Sinai beaches have one thing in common: you eat and sleep in huts. Restaurants are mere clusters of huts with cushions as chairs, portable trays as tables, and palm tree trunks as tent posts.

As I nursed my glass of pulpy freshly-squeezed mango juice, I took a look around. In one corner of the huge, circular hut, a teenage boy and girl were staring at each other dreamily over a game of shesh-besh (backgammon). In the other, a young man and his female companion snuggled up with a half-read book. I was a little jealous of some of the women around me who looked like they walked out of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.

Still, I was more than content to sit by the beach alone, and listen to the waves. It had been a while since I enjoyed the sounds of nature. But when it got a little too quiet, I made friends by challenging a neighbor to a game of shesh-besh. No romantic glares, just nice company.

One night, some young Israelis invited me to join their game of confession. The twentysomethings sat in a circle asking each other intimate questions. The most popular question: "Why did you come to Sinai?"

"Everyone comes to Sinai to either clear their head or leave problems behind," said an Israeli woman wearing the classic Sinai white baggy pants and bikini top.

Many answered that they wanted to leave behind a sour relationship, some said they needed to figure out what they were doing with their lives, others to write or find a muse for their art. Me, all I really wanted was a little break from the Holy Land, even though the group had me revealing much more than I wanted.

"What do you think of Israeli men?"

Could it be that the questioner was interested? Before I knew it I was confiding in them my dangerous attraction to Israeli men.

Yes, I find them sexy. Yes, their machismo is a welcome virtue compared to the nearly-effeminate qualities I encountered in many American men. And yes, my relationships with those Israeli men never had a happy storybook ending. I looked up and saw a dozen pairs of eyes staring at me, entranced at my stories of Moti, Guy and Kobi. Soon my confession turned into a discussion about the stereotypical, mythical and all too true differences between Israeli and American men and women. Soon people freely told me about their experiences with each kind.

I was a little embarrassed, but glad -- I had broken the ice. I reveled in this celebration of honesty, human emotion and human experience.

On the way back to Israel in the old, yet somehow operating Egyptian cab, passing by some half-built hotels that may never actually see completion, I realized that even though I'm leaving Egypt, I can take a piece of Sinai back with me.

Sinai is a place where you can learn about the "self" and take pleasure in its company, where no lines, men, or surroundings can break down your defenses. It occurred to me that even when I'm not in a relationship I can enjoy this self, and that ultimately appreciation, awareness and love of this self will attract a meaningful and enjoyable relationship with another self whether he be American, Israeli, Portuguese or Tunisian.

As we made our exodus, I felt that Egyptian air refresh me one last time, feeling revived and ready to enter the Promised Land with all of its joys and hardships with a renewed strength and energy. Besides, dealing with Egyptian border officials (who seemed to have spent a little too much time in Sinai) made me realize that maybe the Ministry of Interior is not so bad after all.


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