Entry 1

This is me without sleep, shower, or a shave in 24 hours

I haven’t been to Israel since August 2000, a month before the second intifada broke out. I can’t yet say whether the aura is that different because, as usual, I’ve spent the first day of my trip napping at my cousin’s suburban home. Maybe I’ll get a better feel for the general mood after I visit a couple of brothels with my father.

My father is what you might call a “clap doctor”; he’s a physician specializing in the epidemiology of dirty little secrets like chlamydia and herpes. We’re in Israel to study HIV/STD rates among Tel Aviv’s estimated 3,000 prostitutes.

My father, Dr. Jonathan Zenilman, near our version of a yucca plant

The study, which will be conducted mostly by my dad’s Tel Aviv University friend and colleague, Dr. Michael Dan, is three-pronged: First, find exactly where the hookers are and how they operate; second, meet and survey the hookers; finally, gather the data. My dad and Dr. Dan’s working hypothesis is that the sex workers are acting as a “bridge population” between foreign workers from HIV-laden places like sub-Saharan Africa and the general Israeli population. Their hope is that by identifying the bridge early, they can help prevent a larger epidemic of HIV and STDs in Israel.

On this two-week trip, they hope to accomplish some of part one, mainly by wandering the seedier neighborhoods of Tel Aviv, interviewing vice cops and women’s rights advocates, maybe talking with some of the brothel owners. Unfortunately, I will miss this week’s vice-cop meeting because I’ll be spending some time with my school. We were supposed to meet the vice cops on Thursday, but apparently Israeli police officers have more serious concerns to deal with.

Oh, yes, my school. I will soon abandon my father for the last leg of my school’s pre-graduation romp through Israel. It should make for a nice, clichéd contrast: half of the trip spent exploring the literal and figurative warts on the underside of secular (and some hypocritical aspects of religious) Israeli culture, the other half spent traveling with my Orthodox-administered community Jewish day school, culminating with a Sabbath spent in the old city of Jerusalem. Not exactly Heidi Fleiss meets the Lubavitcher Rebbe, but the same idea.

Since God doesn’t enter my itinerary for another few days, I’ve been able to sleep peacefully, without being ordered to groggily endure morning prayers. This has been, well, a godsend. Immediately after yesterday’s 9 a.m. arrival at my cousin’s house, my father left to do some paperwork. I took a four-hour nap.

However, when I woke up to write this “Diary,” I was dismayed to find out that the computer would type only in Hebrew. Despite nearly 13 years of Jewish education, I found myself at a complete loss. (I was eventually notified that pressing Alt-Shift would have solved all my problems.) Later in the afternoon, while my father was drinking a bottle of wine and splurging on fresh Moroccan fish in Old Jaffa, I was standing on the side of a Tel Aviv offramp with my grandfather, waiting for our cabbie to fix a flat tire. I can feel my mother’s worry in Baltimore from here.

Today, I’m going to tour Tel Aviv’s Wolfson Hospital and some of the city’s sleazier quarters for “social-mapping” purposes. Tomorrow, to my mother’s neurotic-Jewish-mother dismay, we’ll be visiting Tel Aviv’s new central bus station, where the prostitute clinic is located. God bless the Holy Land.