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FEATURE All Jokes Will Be Taken Seriously BY DAVID ROMO Rules for crossing border checkpoints for those of us who fit profiles: 1.Keep your answers short, simple, and unambiguous. 2.Make eye contact but not too much. It might be interpreted as defiance or contempt. 3.All jokes will be taken seriously. ISRAEL When I turned 20 I lived in Israel for two-and-a-half years. Whenever I share this fact with Jewish friends from NewYork they inevitably want to know why a non-Jew, a Chicano from the Texas-Mexico border, would end up living in Israel for a couple of years. “To learn Hebrew,” I tell them. “What for?” they insist. “I’m not sure,” I tell them. Some insist some more. I learned Hebrew so that I could read the Bible in its original tongue and so that I could pick up Israeli women. My Jewish friends are never sure if I’m joking or not. The Israeli woman who checked my bags at the Ben Gurion airport security checkpoint wasn’t sure what a darkskinned, Palestinian-looking guy like me who carried an American passport had been doing in Israel either. Her skin was like sabbath challa bread, light and sweet, the Jewish version of Mexican pan dulce, the kind you dip in milk. It was 5:30 in the morning, I had gotten to the airport three hours before my El-Al plane took off back to Rome, and I was in a half-daze, not fully awake and especially susceptible to female beauty. “What was the purpose of your visit to Israel?” she asked me. I answered her in Hebrew. “I came to visit a girlfriend of mine. I mean she used to be my girlfriend.” She leafed through my American passport and stopped at my East German entrance visa stamp. “Did you meet or talk to any Palestinians during your visit?” “Sure.” “Name them.” “Well, there’s Lucia Sarsar, her mother, her father, her brother.” “What was your relationship to her?” “We used to be very close,” I said with a smile. I noticed her silver-plated chai earrings, the Hebrew word for life. I imagined she was real tough, a sabra, an Israeli prickly pear. She probably knew how to handle an Uzi machine gun, but her earrings made her look soft and delicate. “Is this the girlfriend you came to visit?” she asked me. “No, that was Michal… Cohen. She lives in the Jewish side. Lucia lives in the Arab side.” “You were involved with both of them?” “Yeah.” I cleared my throat. “At the same time?” “Yeah.” I nodded slowly various times. My face was flushed. I blush easily during interrogations. I get flustered. “But that was 10 years ago,” I added, hoping that would somehow justify me. “Are you Jewish?” “No, I’m Chicano.” I was still clearing my throat. “You’re from Chicago?” “No. Chicano. I was born on the U.S. side, but my parents are from the Mexican side.” “So what were you doing in Israel?” My interrogator seemed genuinely confused. She switched from Hebrew to English. I was going to feed her the line about women, the Bible, and the original tongue but I held back. I did not want to push my luck. “I… well… I’m not really… I guess I just …” Finally I muttered something about being enrolled at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem while I worked as an interpreter and courier for a fundamentalist Christian television crew. I was already in trouble. My story wasn’t making any sense to her. “Will you please come with me?” she ordered me politely. “Bring your suitcases.” She took me to a different section of the airport, a makeshift room, separated from the rest of the airport with black curtains. It looked almost like the backstage of a theater. She asked me to please open my suitcase. In Hebrew “please” is bevakasha. I was infatuated with the way she said it. Bevakasha. I decided then and there that she would be the inspiration for the rest of my life, at least for the rest of the day.When King Solomon praised his beloved in the Song of Songs he compared her neck to the Tower of David and her breasts to twin gazelles. Duke Ellington had an even 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 4/26/02