The Uri Geller Museum

On our recent trip to Israel, it took us more than a few days to shake off our jet lag and get through the first days of Passover. By the time we got out, it was to Jaffa, a place that all of us could remember fondly.  By some amazing miracle by Israeli-standards, we found street parking just a few blocks from the most interesting streets of town. As we got out of the car, I looked up and saw something that caught my eye: The Uri Geller museum? I had never heard of that.

I had, however, heard of Uri Geller. Some sort of mentalist guy, bent spoons, debunked somewhere or another. A museum of spoon-bending sounded intriguing, so we wandered up and found a sign and two other travelers as curious as we were. There was a phone number and I prodded Michael to call. 

Sure, they do private tours by arrangement. How was 1:15? Michael covered the receiver and shared the price. Should we do it? It wasn’t cheap, but it sounded weird and fun, and after a few tough days of jet lag, “weird and fun” sounded remarkably good. Had he been speaking to Uri Geller? Michael wasn’t sure, he hadn’t caught the name, but the sign on the door to the museum said that Uri himself conducts the tours, so we were pretty sure we would meet him later.

It was better than “weird and fun.” It ended up being the highlight of our trip to Israel.

After a couple of hours that included darting in and out of Jaffa’s little overcrowded antique shops, we navigated our way to the museum, finding ourselves in a building of pale limestone. It was cavernous on the inside and brightly lit, but it also felt cool compared to the street, almost the way that a cave stays at the average annual temperature of its place on the planet, always insulated from the weather outside. Almost the entirety of the museum was one very large room with a couple of beams in the middle, stuffed to the brim with framed photos and posters and other materials. In one corner was a car, covered in bent spoons. There were things to look at and read in every direction, and yet our attention was almost always riveted in exactly one place— on Uri Geller, who stood in front of us in his lanky frame, holding a little amplifier and speaking into a microphone to protect his voice from projecting in the big space.

Uri Geller is first and foremost an entertainer. He has been performing and entertaining people since 1968, and a lot happens in a lifetime of transporting people into worlds of the amusing or improbable. 

The museum is a collection of, well… of his adventures. It contains memorabilia from the way he conducted his life and the people whom he got to meet. Right above the reception desk, for instance, is a hanging cord with hundreds and hundreds of keys, which turned out to be room keys from all of the hotels he stayed in over the years. Why he saved them (and what he did with all the modern key-cards of the past decade), I can’t know, but he did explain that he so kindly asked the manager of the hotel each time if he might please keep the key. It makes a stunning visual display of just how many places he has been, and a delightful introduction to a museum of those travels and connections.

One of the first stops on our tour was a picture of Uri with John Lennon, next to which was framed a weird gold oblong object. On its own, it might not have been very interesting, but as it was, Uri was standing there, with his microphone, telling us about John Lennon. Telling us about that day in New York in the Dakotas, the day that Mark David Chapman asked for Lennon’s autograph and chatted amiably with him, then returned later that night as an assassin. And the gold object might not have been that compelling if not for the fact that John Lennon apparently called Geller to explain that an alien— a real alien— had come and woken him out of his sleep and handed him this golden egg, which Uri Geller now has framed next to the photo of the two of them, and a newspaper story about Lennon’s death. It wouldn’t have been quite as meaningful if Uri didn’t head off the exact questions anyone would ask by explaining that John Lennon was definitely sober at the time, and that he (Uri) didn’t want to have the object tested because he’d rather believe than find out it was mass produced in China.

And that maybe was the entire essence of the museum for me. Skeptical-me knows that of course Lennon wasn’t sober at the time that an “alien” visited him, and definitely that object comes from earth. But happy-me, in Uri-Geller land, found it so fun to just romp through history, vicariously hob-nob with politicians and pop stars and artists and all of the other cool people who came into his life, gave him gifts or stories, and see how Uri passes them on.

For nearly two spell-binding hours, we heard how Uri passed up the chance to buy a couple of Andy Warhol paintings (and his probably net worth if he hadn’t), how he was investigated by the CIA and found to have special powers, and how he came to renovate a former soap-factory in Jaffa to use as his museum. Corners of the museum are devoted to his connections to Michael Jackson, Salvador Dali, and Elton John. His stories varied from funny to unbelievable to tragic, as he even narrated and explained the model airplane he has hanging from the ceiling, a passive-aggressive gift by Muammar Gadhafi to remind Uri Geller of the Israeli attack on Libyan flight 114. Geller told us the whole story, sharing the responsibility of the civilian catastrophe alongside the Israeli fears that led to the tragedy. And then he went ahead to explain about Gadhafi pitching a tent in Donald Trump’s property in Bedford, New York.

All of this part is actually true, or at least wikipedia backs him up on this, and I suppose that most of what he told us was verifiable in some way, including the report card he has from his first grade teacher which claims that he has “strange abilities.” Still, it’s a bending of the mind to sort out reality from entertainment, and so— we just didn’t. Instead, we just looked at pictures of Uri Geller with his arms around Mick Jagger, and saw the jerseys for the soccer team he owns in his own private country, and promised that we would becomes citizens of  Lamb Island for $1 by going to his website. We saw his art, and met his brother-in-law, and enjoyed being entertained.

And you know what my takeaway from all of this was? That it’s fun to lead a life where your passions and talents take you. We got to witness a person having fun doing that his entire life, and doing it still. It’s worth noting that before Uri Geller, there was no special job title that was called “spoon bending mentalist.” He says he bent his first spoon by accident when he was five. A funny parlor trick, useless in the world of careers. Except that it has led to a life rich in experiences, humor, and satisfaction. He makes art, he invests in an archaeological project, he dotes on his grandkids, and he entertains visitors from around the world, donating the proceeds to charity.

The upshot for my kids? It was their favorite part of the entire trip to Israel. At the end, he bent a spoon for us and signed it. He then handed it to Emma, who insists that because of that, it is hers, and she’s not letting it go.

“It’s funny,” my friend David said, “when the most memorable part of a trip is something that has nothing to do with the place that you were.” It’s true that all of this memorabilia is portable, so we could have been anywhere and gone to this museum, but there we were. Uri Geller is now an inalienable part of our Old Jaffa landscape. In a building that used to make soap— one that turned olive oil into balm for the skin, we saw our own little magic, a balm for the imagination and soul. If you’re ever in Jaffa, I suggest you give him a call. 

Ariella Radwin is a mother and writer who has lived both in Israel and the United States. She has rarely succeeded at planning family trips more than a couple of hours in advance, and greatly enjoys how Israeli culture remains open to last-minute adventures. She now proudly hangs in her own home a picture of the famed Uri Geller alongside her own family, as well as a spoon bent and handed to her daughter.

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