I want to thank everyone for wishing me a happy 70th. I received lots of good wishes, blessings, and gifts, and am grateful for every single one.
This past year I couldn’t think of turning 70 without crying. Not because of 70, but because it reminded me of a conversation I had with Bernie some 4 months before he died. He had been exercising hard and said to me one evening over dinner: “I am exercising so that I could get strong and take you away for your 70th.”
I thanked him, deeply touched, knowing in my heart that it would be impossible but never guessing that he wouldn’t even be alive by then.
“How are you celebrating your birthday?” my brother asked me on the phone.
“Doing a retreat,” I told him.
“Listen,” he said, “come to Jerusalem and Ruth and I will take you to Sinai for the weekend to celebrate.”
It was anyway time to visit my mother there, whom I hadn’t seen in 7 months.
“Is Sinai safe?” I wondered.
“If we stay by the Red Sea we should be okay,” he assured me.
I flew into Jerusalem on Wednesday afternoon, spent time with my mom, and by 5 am the next morning, Thursday, the three siblings piled into a small red Mazda, talking all over each other. My sister was first to take the wheel.
“Where am I going? Where am I driving?”
“The car seat leans back if you want to fall asleep.”
“I’m not tired.”
“Try it anyway, you might fall asleep.”
“I only fall asleep when I’m driving.”
“Look at the full moon!”
Indeed, a big yellow moon hangs over the Old City, drenching the ancient hills with night light.
“Is it time to switch drivers?”
“We haven’t been on the road 5 minutes!”
Down to the Dead Sea, with temperatures climbing 20 degrees in 20 minutes, arrive at the lowest point on earth and turn right (Jericho is on our left). Proceed south along the Dead Sea all the way beyond Sodom, have breakfast, switch drivers. It’s my turn behind the wheel and I continue south for an hour, stop just short of Elat, when my brother takes over. We make a supermarket stop and proceed to the border with Egypt. We’ve driven close to 5 hours, but ahead of us is the border crossing.
First we go through Israeli passport and customs (border fees) with the small red Mazda, guided by two young women in uniform staring straight at their computer screens and punching numbers.
The barrier comes up, we drive some 20 feet into Egyptian space, and it’s a different planet. Not a woman in sight, just uniformed men hovering around us and the car, and we’re told to wait as men with big German shepherds examine the car for explosives and drugs (in the case of the former, looking for ISIS militants who operate in the northern side of Sinai, Americans and Europeans in the case of the latter). We must then empty the car of all our bags as they search some more on the inside, then go to different offices to do passport control and pay more border fees, review and inspection of car papers and even more border fees, change license plates to bright yellow Egyptian car plates, get an Egyptian drivers license, not to mention lots of requests for baksheesh. There isn’t a computer in sight. Receipts are given manually with multiple copies made through carbon paper, accompanied by the loud, officious sounds of stamps.
Crossing the border takes at least an hour and a half. Half an hour and half a dozen checkpoints later we’re at our hotel on the Red Sea, between the towns of Tabaa and Nuweiba.
I look out at the Red Sea that had once been split by Moses into two so that the Israelites could cross and escape their Egyptian slavemasters, and think that our journey has been the opposite. The split between my parents had caused splits among the three of us. We lived different lives, drew close to one but not the other, kept strong boundaries. This is the first time in all our lives that we are spending a weekend together, three strong-minded siblings, celebrating my birthday on the Egyptian side of the border, reasonably sure we’ll get to Sunday without killing one another. Instead, we’ll affirm certain things that haven’t been expressed in years.
After crossing the Red Sea the Israelites wandered in the desert for some 40 years on the other side, now lit up by city lights of Saudi Arabia. The three of us wandered in the desert for an even longer time, but we’re no longer lost. Not to ourselves and not to each other.