Leaving Israel amid a war raging at home is a decision I never thought I would have to make, but there’s a commitment I made well before the war broke out that I have to uphold. Cardplayer Lifestyle’s Mixed Game Festival VI is more than just another live poker event for me; I’m literally the event’s host. The eruption of conflict obviously caught me completely off guard, yet having the trip and event pre-arranged feels almost like a stroke of fate. Without that foresight, leaving the country amidst such turmoil would seem unfathomable right now.
The overwhelming generosity of individuals offering to step in as hosts if I couldn’t make it is deeply touching. However, my wife, Miriam, insisted that I should not alter my plans. Her conviction is simple but resonates deeply: changing or canceling plans would be akin to surrendering to terror, conceding our way of life to fear.
The opportunity to momentarily step away from the intense atmosphere in Israel is a blessing. It’s a chance to at least partially shed the weight of constant worry, even if only for a fleeting moment, and immerse myself in what I endearingly call “my happy place.” Hosting Mixed Game Festival VI, and then delivering live coverage of the World Poker Tour World Championship festival over the next two weeks, gives me the special opportunity to reconnect with so many friends in the poker world. Just engaging in the game of poker itself becomes a source of solace amidst the surrounding chaos.
Even so, I boarded that plane with a heavy heart, a good dose of guilt, and plenty of anxiety. Even the thought of not being tethered to the relentless news cycle is in itself a form of relief. Yet my thoughts will of course constantly drift back to my family and friends in Israel, many of whom are currently serving in IDF reserve duty, or whose children are in uniform, or who have otherwise been directly affected by the absence of their loved ones from the home.
Nonetheless, the vibrant energy of Las Vegas and the soothing sound of chips being shuffled in the poker room promises a temporary escape; to have my attention momentarily diverted to more palatable pursuits.
I’m fortunate that my Dad will be accompanying me on this trip. His constant presence over the next two weeks will help keep me grounded.
In a way, this trip holds deeper significance beyond the poker tables and festive atmosphere. It’s about seeking a different type of “normal” grounding amidst the turbulence at home. Both Dad and I naturally share concerns about our wives, and my worries extend to my children, creating an emotional turmoil that’s difficult to shake off. But we’ll do our best to embrace and cherish the joy that this poker trip will undoubtedly have in store for us.
Yet, guilt lingers. There’s a palpable sense of almost unwarranted escape to the entertainment capital of the world while loved ones are embroiled in the conflict back home. The weight of responsibility is immense, knowing that family members and friends are facing the front lines in Gaza, while others endure hardship on the Home Front.
This trip feels markedly different from all previous ones. Could this potentially be my final trip for a while? The ongoing uncertainty of the war makes planning for 2024 almost impossible. The limited flight operations in and out of Israel to the United States, with only El Al as an available option, definitely add to a growing sense of isolation — a feeling of being on a separate planet altogether.
However, amidst this uncertainty, the values of resilience and perseverance shine through. Even in the face of adversity, the significance of not merely surviving but truly embracing life resonates profoundly. Embracing life’s joys, providing for family, and spreading joy to others become paramount, and the resonance of these values within the United States is a comforting reminder. That’s certainly something to give thanks for on this blessed American holiday which I still hold so dear over 25 years after having left my hometown of Los Angeles for my Homeland of Israel.
And once all is said and done, I’ll be flying back home for Hannuka, arriving on the first night of candle lighting. That adds yet another a layer of symbolism, reminiscent of the Maccabees’ resilience in the face of adversity. It serves as a poignant reminder of the enduring human spirit and the triumph of hope over despair.
In conclusion, my “Poker Thanksgiving” today stands as a testament to resilience, gratitude, and the pursuit of normalcy amidst turbulent times. It’s a celebration of life, a testament to the unwavering human spirit that perseveres even in the darkest of moments. And I’ll be damned if that’s not worth fighting for.