To start, Jesse Aizenstat may be a young writer (and according to his own statements a dyslexic one at that), but he is a journalist in the finest sense of the word - and unfortunately journalism of this sort is sadly becoming extinct. When a journalist has the courage to step into the middle of a situation in order to feel it, see it, smell it, interact with it, even take the chance of dying for it all with the goal of reporting to the world from an eyewitness stance, that is the kind of information for which we are hungry. It is one thing to be a snazzy commentator on the television screen, a person with distance and a staff of writers and photographers to create a view of a situation: it is another to have the information from the living in the moment source.
Less the reader gets the idea from the above that this is another serious examination of the ongoing eternal crisis in the Middle East, then that is only part of this delicious memoir. Jesse Aizenstat is a young stud surfer from Santa Barbara, CA who after completing college in 2009 with a major in political science finds it impossible to find work. He had been to Israel and surrounding countries before, but his intense interest in Middle Eastern politics and shenanigans gave him the idea of combining his passion for surfing with his desire to return to the Middle East: his gimmick was to surf from Israel to Lebanon and the only magazine to whom he pitched his idea that would take him on was the Surfers Journal (!), and off he went via Birthright transport (his `in' by being Jewish) to Israel to begin his self-designed assignment. `Second to the American job economy, the other reason I embarked on this adventure was the cold hard fact that for most of my schooling life I'd been dismissed as a hopeless dumbass. From a very young age I was fond of learning about the world but grew restless in the classroom and wanted to go out to experience the world for myself. Dyslexia and my struggles in school were a mixture of jangled thoughts and emotional whippings....I learned to become responsible for myself and fight twice as hard as the people around me to pass the same green light.' So now we love this guy, but that is only the beginning of this journalistic travelogue and we have yet to appreciate the humor and jollity Aizenstat injects into his travails of successfully surfing from Israel to Lebanon.
Along the immensely entertaining story we meet the fellow surfers and the young men of journalism - Lee (a fellow surfer in Haifa), As-Salibi (a WASPy Texan reporter), Jared (an American Jew who got to Israel from the same Birthright trip but ended up working for a Palestinian news agency), and others who accompanied Jesse and Che (the name he assigns to his ever-present surfboard) - as they encounter unusual circumstances in the Middle East. `Traditionally, empires ruled the Middle East. They would rise like a wave from the depths, building to a crest so powerful its explosion would take everything that lay in its path. But like all waves, these empires eventually rolled back, leaving only a wet shore as proof of their past existence. And that is Jerusalem - a withered maze of ancient empires, built literally atop on another.'
Jesse et al face the paradox of the Israeli Palestinian conflict in a memorable Friday Protest Day along the Wall in West Bank and from these encounters we are allowed to see both sides of the struggle: Aizenstat conveys the sentiments and the realties of the ongoing struggle about land and heritage that the Israelis and Palestinians continue to fight over who owns or belongs in the disputed land. There are some very tender moments as Jesse meets a wise old wheelchair-bound protestor and observes directly the faces and attitudes of both sides of the implacable territorial argument. From this entertaining book, complete with photographs of the encounters and more important the people Jesse shares, we learn more about why the conflict in the Middle East is likely unsolvable and why.
But keep in mind that Jesse Aizenstat is not only a fine observer and reporter and has been through some rather terrifying and life changing moments during his `surfing venture', but he is also one hell of a writer and comedian. This book reads easily and well on so many levels that it should shoot up to the best seller list soon. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, August 12