Departures/Arrivals: Lior and Shlomit Fly to Barcelona, With Empty Suitcases

Jersey boy Mark lands in Israel looking for some Goldstar and a place in the IDF.

Lior Vaknin, 29, window display designer for Zara Israel, and Shlomit Heli, 28, marketer for DK Jewelry, flying to Barcelona.

May I bother you for a minute?

Vaknin: Sure, but why in English?

I thought you weren't from here. You are dressed very smartly for a flight. Israelis usually wear sweatshirts.

Vaknin: Thank you. Did you notice my Louis Vuitton?


Heli: It was a birthday present from his boyfriend.

Where are you going?

Vaknin: Barcelona. It's my fifth time.

Heli: My second.

Vaknin: This time we're going purely to shop.

Heli: We came with empty suitcases.

Vaknin: The truth is that there is nothing left for us to see. We were in the Dali Museum, we picnicked in Park Guell, we visited Gaudi's church. The truth is, maybe we will also go to the ocean, to Costa Brava. Last time I was in the nude on the gays' beach. It was terrific.

Heli: I think I'll go in a bathing suit.

Is Barcelona good for shopping?

Heli: It's Fashion Week now in Barcelona, and besides that there is a wild sale there.

Vaknin: It's not like here, where they reduce in stages, gradually. There they slash and that's it.

What will you do when you arrive?

Vaknin: We arrive at 9:45 A.M. and go to our hotel in Eixample. If we see things happening in the street we will go out somewhere, and if not we will go to the port, where they have excellent clubs. This evening we are going to celebrate.

Heli: And we're starting now, with a bottle of champagne from the duty-free.

After so many visits, do you have a regular place?

Vaknin: In El Raval, on the Rambla; there is a bar-restaurant called Madame Jasmine. They're all gays, the prices are reasonable, the food is tasty and there's a good atmosphere. It's a sociable, friendly bar. The locals come with their dogs, and they like people from Tel Aviv. A lot of times, if you say you're from Israel people raise eyebrows, but if you say you're from Tel Aviv they smile. I guess Tel Aviv and Israel aren't the same thing.

Do you know exactly what you'll buy?

Vaknin: There are three types of Zara shoes that didn't get to Israel, and I want to buy them. One type is yellow moccasins. I also want a Prada wallet in green. There is also a floral shirt by Givenchy that I have my eye on ...

Heli: You really don't have to buy that.

Why not?

Heli: Because he has one just like it.

Vaknin: And besides that there is Zara Home - all kinds of decorative items for the house. Too bad there is no Zara Home in Israel. But the crowning glory will be Uturque.

Heli: Ah, Uturque.

Vaknin: It's a Zara chain, but upscale. You know, they have Bershka, Pull & Bear, Zara and also a little bit above that, Massimo Dutti. Well, Uturque is the top of the top. It's still a small chain. It started with accessories, lots of leather and jewelry. Last time I completely flipped out there. I bought cuff links. A bag for 80 euros instead of 200.

What will you buy, Shlomit?

Heli: Mostly bags and shoes. I want to buy a brand-name bag, but not a Vuitton hologram, something classier. I'll probably find what I want in Marc Jacobs. I'm also dying to buy Louboutin high heels.

What about the clothes you're wearing now?

Vaknin: It's all Zara, except for the handkerchief in the jacket pocket, which is Massimo Dutti. I also chose what she's wearing.

Heli: What a liar, you didn't even know I had this dress.

Vaknin: But you showed it to me in pictures and I said: Stunning.

Can I ask where you know each other from?

Vaknin: I knew her niece, and then she became a customer at Zara and I helped her.

Heli: We've been friends for five or six years, but it feels like we've known each other our whole life. Last time we went to Barcelona it was also great fun. That was only two years ago, but a lot of things happened. I got married and divorced in the meantime. Whenever I go abroad it's the same thing; I look for the ultimate shoe and bag.

Vaknin: One time I said to her: Did you ever stop to think maybe it's like a man? Maybe the ultimate bag will not show up? For me, in the meantime my Louis is the ultimate bag. But talk to me tomorrow - who knows?

Do you think you will get married again?

Heli: Maybe for the gown.

Vaknin: If it's from Alber Elbaz.

Mark Evans, 23, arriving from New Jersey.

Why are you wearing a Goldstar T-shirt?

Goldstar is my favorite beer in the world. I tried to get it in the United States but couldnt find it, so whenever someone I know goes to Israel I ask him to bring me some Goldstar. One of my friends who went brought me a Goldstar mug and this T-shirt and he made my day. When I wear the T-shirt I feel like I belong.

So you came to Israel to drink beer?

No. I came to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces.

Are you an Israeli citizen?

No. I am a Jew from New Jersey. I got here through a special program of [the paramilitary brigade] Nahal which is intended for foreign citizens who want to volunteer for the IDF. The truth is that I dont even know definitely if I will be accepted. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

What does it depend on?

I have to go to the Ministry of Defense with all these forms and also be interviewed, and then I get the answers. The truth is that I am cutting it close, because it will soon be too late to serve via this program. Twenty-three is the oldest they take.

When did you decide you wanted to join the IDF?

When I was 17 I spent two months in Israel under a program of the Dr. Israel Goldstein Youth Village [in Jerusalem]. It was a very good experience. Even though I didnt click with the Americans there they were spoiled rich kids I hung out with the Israeli guys and felt great.

What do you do in the program?

Its high school-plus. There are teachers of math and all that, but there are also classes in Judaism. You learn Hebrew, Jewish history, go on outings to sites and also do volunteer community work. So I decided I would come back and do army service. Other visits only reinforced that decision.

How many times have you been to Israel?

In 2008 I was here through my college. I was doing undergraduate studies in Judaism, history and archaeology. I got credits for taking part in excavations at Tel Beit Saida, on Lake Kinneret, under Prof. Richard Freund, the world expert on John the Baptist. I also spent one summer at Aish HaTorah Yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem. I took their basic program. It was interesting.

Are you religious?

I am totally secular and so is my family, but I was happy to get a little closer to religion, to know more. What I really believe in is what I want to fight for: a state for the Jewish people. There is a lot of anti-Semitism in the world. I dont want anything to happen to the Jews and I think that serving in the IDF is something every Jew should at least consider.

Have you encountered anti-Semitism?

It hasnt been aimed directly at me, but I live close to Lakewood, New Jersey, where there is a large community of observant Jews and a huge yeshiva. Kids from my high school went there, hid in a truck and threw eggs at the Hasidim from the truck. They thought it would be funny. I saw them the next day in school and hit them in the face. I said, What were you thinking? What the hell is wrong with you?

What do your friends think about your enlisting?

My girlfriend is originally Israeli; her parents immigrated to the United States. It was hard for me to leave her behind to come here. She is my soul mate, my hearts choice, and she knows I have to do this for myself. My friends, who are all well-educated people who went to the best universities, respect what I am doing, because they understand that it is vital for the survival of the Jewish people.

And your mother?

My mother wasnt so okay with my plan to enlist. At first, when I had just mentioned the idea, she thought I wasnt mature enough to make an informed decision. But now I have finished college, I am mature and independent.

Where would you like to serve?

I would like to be in Nahal or be a combat medic. I did promise my family and my girlfriend that I would not enlist in a fighting unit, but that is work someone has to do. I dont think that just because I have a choice I have to exploit it. Why should I not fight while someone else, an Israeli, has to serve as a fighter?

Good luck.

Tell me, do you know if youre allowed to wear a chain in the army? Im afraid they will tell me to take it off the ring my girlfriend gave me is on it.

Lior Vaknin and Shlomit Heli
Tomer Appelbaum
Mark Evans. On his way to the IDF.
Tomer Appelbaum