The Road Taken

The Road Taken

I was lost.


If you want to know the truth, I’ve spent most of my life lost, and I’m not being profound.

Which explains why I got completely turned around somewhere in Afula.

Of course, I blamed the map. Where was that sneaky little Route 71 that the map had so magnanimously promised? And why, instead, was I stuck at a fork in the road with two other choices that eluded me?

Naturally, I turned to the gentleman in the car next to me for help.

And just as naturally, this being Israel and all, once he realized I was in the wrong turning lane, he got out of his car — on a major road! With his engine running! — and after instructing me to back up — towards an approaching truck! — put his hand out the way they taught us on “Sesame Street” and stopped traffic until I was safely in the other lane.

The only problem was I was still lost.

“Don’t worry,” my uncle later told me, “everyone gets lost in Afula.”

But I get lost everywhere. Let’s just say, I’ve spent 99.999 percent of my life not quite sure where I am.

The only problem was my new job required me to rent a car and meet up with a visiting tour group at various points throughout its trip. For many people this would be an exciting prospect. A chance to see the glories of Israel from the Dead Sea to the Galilee. A real Song of the Open Road, à la Whitman. You know: “The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.”

But for me it was terrifying. I was definitely going to end up dead in Ramallah. Or confused somewhere in Jordan.

“Feel free to get the GPS,” my boss said to me. Only a few months on the job and already he was onto me.

I did what I was told and before heading out, took that little contraption into the office to try to make sense of it.

“I think I’ve got this GPA down,” I announced with pride.

“It’s GPS,” my boss replied. “And you might not want to tell anyone that you just said that.”

My lips are sealed.

“You know who you remind me of?” he continued. “My dad when he gets a new gadget or tries to enter the 21st century. You know, like ‘The Facebook.’”

I did know. I’m totally someone’s dad trying to make sense of these newfangled technologies. The only difference is I wear cute sundresses and will ask for directions.

“How do I get to the Dead Sea?” I asked a cab driver in a panic.

In his explanation, he used a word in Hebrew that I didn’t know, but from his award-winning pantomime I took it to mean a tunnel. I was to go through a tunnel and end up in the Dead Sea. Or was I to avoid the tunnel?

All I know is that he drove alongside me for a while, yelling instructions at me through the car window.

I took the tunnel.

And I got there. Eventually.

But not before calling a few friends in another panic.

So here is what you need to know if you ever find yourself in Jerusalem and need to get to Ein Gedi, where that cute little red-headed David once hid from the wrath of a very handsome (but melancholy) King Saul.

You go through the tunnel. Do not exit at Jericho. Do not get on the Allenby Bridge. Do not drive into a ditch. (Judgment-free zone if you do. That’s why the good Lord created the three-point turn.) Look out for the camels along an old dirt road.

If the blue of the Dead Sea is on your left, you’re gold.

And be careful of the sinkholes.

You can forget about the GPA, though, because it’s useless. Believe me. Like I need help getting even more lost than I already am.

But what I really want to talk about is the beauty of this country.

Because once I was finally on the right path and my anxiety levels had dropped from dangerously high to their normal low-grade hum, I happened to open my eyes and look around. And what I saw took my breath away. The azure sea. The majesty of the desert. The lushness of the Galilee. And don’t even get me started on the Golan Heights. It’s so beautiful, it made my heart ache.

“I’m moving to a kibbutz on the Golan,” I informed my girlfriend once I finally made it home. “Either that, or I’m thinking of getting a little flat in Afula.”

Abigail Pickus’ column appears the first week of the month.

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