A year and a half after graduating from college, I was back in the Mile High City for the winter holidays. I had spent the previous year living in Los Angeles, rediscovering a latent love for the craft of acting. The hardest part about starting a life of acting is going home. I had nothing tangible to show for my year of work. That’s the thing about acting. At its purest form it is fleeting; only passed on in the hearts of those to witness the performance firsthand. In the end, isn’t that a lot like life? We are not the physical objects that reside in our attics, but the emotions emanating from our hearts.
At the time, of course, this beautiful struggle wasn’t enough for me. I wanted a TV show! I wanted my friends back home to be watching a basketball game and see me chugging beer in a commercial. I wanted to be able to hold in my hands the fruits of my labor.
I don’t remember if I was able to articulate this frustration to my family (who were the only reason I felt I could make it in Hollywood in the first place) or if I expressed myself through incoherent grunts and mumbling. They could, however, tell that I was getting frustrated. Frustrated with the business of acting, the politics of Hollywood and the fact that I wasn’t even sure if I was getting frustrated over something I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing.
It was one of the eight nights of Chanukah (which one, I’m not sure) and our house was packed with people; most of whom weren’t even Jewish. That’s the thing about a Markson Family holiday; it’s never been about the religious aspects, but being around the people we love.
As the snow dumped outside and the Manischevitz flowed inside, my dad pulled me aside. He took me into our kitchen to a wall that had accumulated a couple dozen photographs over the years. Most of them are of my brother, Jack, and myself on the series of adventures known as childhood. My dad pointed out a wrinkled old photo of a man sitting out in the sun on a tractor.
“Do you know who this is?” He asked me.
I shook my head.
“That’s Yehuda. He was my Kibbutz father.”
I had known that my dad had spent his time between college and medical school on a Kibbutz in Israel, but I couldn’t recall much else about the time he spent in the Cradle of Humanity.
I set my glass down and tuned out the rest of the party. I could tell this was going to be one of those special moments I’ve had so many times with my dad.
“Here’s a story about Yehuda,” my dad said. “My job on the kibbutz was picking oranges. Everybody had their job and mine was to climb up into the orange trees to fill bags and bags of that luscious fruit.
“One morning, I was up in the tree, a canvas bag slung over my shoulder and I was picking oranges like a madman. I was moving so fast that most of the oranges didn’t make it into my bag, but onto the dirt below me.
“‘Jay,’ I heard a voice call me from the ground. ‘Come down here.’ It was in Hebrew, which I didn’t understand, but there was no mistaking his gesturing.
“I climbed down from the tree to see Yehuda standing some yards away. He motioned for me to come to him. I walked to where he was standing, expecting to get chastised for my terrible orange picking.
“Instead, Yehuda took out a cigarette from his jacket pocket and placed it on the ground. He motioned for me to sit and he joined me on the ground. He took off his eyeglasses, placed them on the dirt next to the cigarette, just so, so that the sun was magnified through the glass onto the tip of the cigarette.
“Ten minutes pass.
“Twenty minutes later, Yehuda picked up the cigarette and took a long, slow drag. The tip lit up like the Israeli desert sun. As he let the smoke crawl out of his mouth, he looked to me and said, ‘Savlanout…’”
As my dad finished his story, he smiled at me and put his hand on my shoulder.