My ‘Holy Land’ neurosis


In Israel you always have to be vigilant about security issues, which is why my wife, Ora, brought from Miami four carry-on bags full of rocks. If Arabs didn’t start a new intifada, there was always the chance that Orthodox Jews would throw rocks at you for driving during the Sabbath. It’s good to be ready for any kind of multicultural aggression, especially if you carry within you millennia of Jewish persecutory paranoia fueled by multilingual crusaders and dictators, which is what led me to be a little apprehensive when my brother-in-law took me to the Muslim quarter in the old city of Jerusalem.

We were roaming around the Muslim quarter, trying to find the Nablus Gate to meet our family. As we approached the gate we discovered there were 23,556 people in 10-square feet trying to exit the Old City through the Nablus Gate: 23,554 Arabs and two Jews. Feeling a little claustrophobic and a little paranoid, I had an irrepressible urge to shout, “Let’s be friends. I am in favor of returning all the territories, including Brooklyn . . . and Miami!”

Blame it on 5,774 years of persecution, 3,370 pogroms, 4,898 forced migrations, seven wars, two intifadas, Hitler and Bernie Madoff.

Israel has changed a lot since Ora and I lived there in the early ’80s. Something that never changes, however, is the heat in July. I found myself missing Miami’s humidity. We had a well-planned itinerary to avoid sitting around and talking on the cell phone, which, as everybody knows, causes all sorts of maladies, including testicular evaporation.

The only problem was that our itinerary included being outside, which was many degrees hotter than Miami. We had to stop every five minutes for water or pomegranate juice, which turned out to be much better than Metamucil. I discovered that three gallons of pomegranate juice is the equivalent of a teaspoon of Metamucil, which meant that I had to find bathrooms among the many ruins we visited. It turns out that the Romans and Greek did not build many bathrooms for the colonized Jews, which explains why my people have so many digestive regularity problems.

Looking forward to restful nights after exhausting days outside, we would wake up early every morning to the sound of Arab laborers picking up construction materials right outside our door. Ora, who is no less paranoid than I am, would wake me up in a panic.

Turns out that the unit we rented belonged to a contractor who kept his tools in a shed next to our unit. Despite knowing this, every morning Ora thought that we were going to be the victims of a terrorist attack. “Isaac, there is a terrorist attack, bring your Metamucil!”

It was so hot outside that I could not go for a run, so I returned to the gym I visited last year. The only problem was that the rules had changed and now they required a doctor’s note. I tried to explain to the Russian fitness instructor that I was visiting and could not get a certificate, to which he replied, in Hebrew, with a heavy Russian accent, that since I was wearing such nice clothes I must not be homeless and I must have access to a physician.

Although my Hebrew is excellent, I could not understand whether he was serious, joking or using Russian sarcasm, which we all know where it led the Soviets. I went for the jovial side and told him in Hebrew that it would be “a pain in the a@!” for me to get a health certificate from my doctor in Miami, to which he said, “They must have a fax machine in Miami,” to which I repeated, in Hebrew, that it would be “a pain in the a@!,” at which point I discovered that he was not joking because he lectured me about civics and the proper use of the Hebrew language.

Not only could I not exercise, but I got chewed out by a humorless, smoking, KGB sympathizer turned fitness instructor who told me to wake up my physician at 2 a.m. in Miami and ask her to fax a health certificate — at which point I went out for pomegranate juice.

Isaac Prilleltensky is dean of the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Miami. Look for his humor blog at

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