Location: Apartment on Balfour Street, Tel Aviv
Time: 9 P.M.
In the neighborhood: Rows of high-end residential buildings, running from well-preserved eclectic architecture to ultra-modern industrial facades, illuminated by decorative lighting fixtures and a full moon fuzzed out by low-hanging clouds. Haredi men, clad in furry shtreimels and jet-black fraks, meander up and down the street, their beards swinging in the light breeze, as a group of young girls in tank tops and shorts feverishly gossips around a hot-pink iPhone.
Venue: Dozens of lights embedded into the a cream-colored ceiling bounce off highly-polished wooden chairs surrounding an equally-polished dining table, laden with several plates of neatly sliced veggies along with some dip. Green couches mark a more formal seating area, with the space completed by an open kitchen, the counter of which is packed with alcohol, ice, and mixers. Perched on the highest shelf, the bowl of a gleaming silver KitchenAid mixer reflects the mingling crowd below.
Simcha: Brian Bolton's going away party
Number of guests: ~30
Home: Brian, 38, the now former director of Tel Aviv International B.A. for Liberal Arts program, was born and raised in a church-going home ("Church of the Brethren") in the small village of Daleville, Virginia, along with his older brother Stephen. Growing up in his family's farm, ("an actual, real farm"), he spent his summers packing peaches and apples in what was, at the time, a predominantly agricultural community. Since then, the orchards have been replaced by strip malls and housing developments, with the Bolton's home now a part of a bedroom community for those working in nearby Roanoke. Brian: "It used to be surrounded by peach trees. Now it's surrounded by subdivisions."
Brian Bolton's going away
Setting out: Brian's unlikely journey to the Holy Land was propelled by his thirst for all things foreign (especially languages), along with a home-grown knack for hard work. After a stint working for an English-teaching program for Virginia's mostly Mexican fruit pickers, he moved to Mexico City, where he coordinated centers for those interested in studying in the U.S. But the horizon seemed to ever beckon in the distance, prompting the young Mr. Bolton to sign up for the Foreign Service. He would be one of the last of the wide-eyed world travelers, however, taking the exam just one week after the 9/11 attacks. Brian: "I was still in the previous mindset of people who wanted to do it because they were interested in living overseas. And obviously because they wanted to serve their country."
Heading in: After a spell at the U.S. embassy in London, where he got to meet Queen Elizabeth ("She's nice, but her husband is kind of flip"), Brian decided to push the envelope further, and after acing the State Department's Hebrew exam in record time ("Hebrew would always surprise me. Every time I thought I had something figured out, the teachers would dangle in front of me the next level of complexity"), he finally landed in the Holy Land.
About two years into his stay, he met the man who would become his significant other for years to come, a relationship that became his primary motivation for staying in somewhat hostile surroundings. The constant wars and geo-political threats, apparently, weren't his biggest problem: "It was difficult for me to always be confronted by the alarmist nature that a lot of folks had. It's not about 'is Syria going to kill us?' it's about 'why isn't this line moving?!'"
Where Brian found peace and quiet was Israel's north, where he felt "a little bit at home. The rolling hills, the mountains and the presence of agriculture always made me feel more comfortable."
Heading out: However, with his relationship breaking down, Brian decided, for the first time in quite a while, to head back home. Without the relationship, he could no longer legally stay ("Hats off to the Interior Ministry for granting residency permits to the foreign same-sex partners of Israeli citizens, I wish it were so open minded in other countries, including my own"), and despite his attachment to his current job ("I love it"), he felt he needed to turn over a new leaf. This time, it will be closer to home, with a job waiting in Virginia's Longwood University: "I never considered working in that part of the world, since it's a very isolated town, but it just seems the job description was tailored for me."
Rites: Friendly small talk in several small groups throughout the apartment makes a pleasant hum, as the party's mostly male guests sip on cocktails orchestrated by the man of the hour himself. Over at one corner, holding a glass of white wine, is Zvi, an Israeli who got to know Brian just as the American first arrived to work at the Embassy, particularly eager to know the language and get acquainted with his surroundings. He was unlike other incoming diplomats ("they don't even bother learning Hebrew").
Like a flash of lightning, the man himself effortlessly zips between his guests, either offering a drink and laughing at an unheard joke, while most of the time producing yarns of his own ("people, please don't touch the straight men!"). One second he's in the middle of young group of men in colorful polo shirts, the other he's behind the makeshift bar making sure there's enough fuel for the party.
And while the host puts on his best "never-looking-back" face, in a party taking place just hours before his flight, Niv, a friend who recently made aliyah from the U.S., doesn't buy it: "I think this party is not only about him being happy about leaving, I think it's a celebration of what has been. Of the people he met."
Juan, who like many of the guests works for the U.S. Embassy, talks about coming to Israel with the Foreign Service: "It’s a nice place to live. Nice weather, a nice beach. All the amenities of the Western world." And how about the stressed out locals? "Well, that's kind of like New York." Brian: "It's not really about 'I'm done with this place.' The opportunity to restart, refresh is just very exciting for me." After years of rambling, to restart means coming back home.
Music: 80s pop, techno-dance.
Food: Veggies and dip, nachos.
Drink: Vodka (both plain and peach), gin, beer, and juices.
Word in the ear: Brian on living in Israel: "Visiting here is great. Living here full-time takes a level of commitment that I probably don't have within myself."
In my spiritual doggy bag: The ability to stay curious at all times, while never losing sight of who you are among all the shiny things the world has to offer.
Random quote: Brian, on the abundance of alcohol and vegetables: "It's a gay crowd, what can I say. We don't do carbs."
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