Israel Is Life
by Sharon R. Kahn, Ph.D
The only tragedy of my visit to Israel is that all my friends who thought I traveled there to commit suicide will be disappointed. Well, I went there and came back again, with no more ill-effects than having to endure a tighter fit to my clothing. And hopefully that effect is only temporary. From June 15 until June 22, I went along as a participant in a Union of Hebrew American Congregations (UAHC) Study Solidarity Tour, led by Rabbis Ammiel Hirsch and Uri Regev. Although the mission of this tour is not the most appropriate for a first-time visitor such as myself, it possesses one virtue of most solemn importance to me they guarantee they will go, no matter what.
Of the mission portion, I can tell you little, except that my body was there at all times. I am little interested in sectarian controversies among the various branches of Judaism. UAHC was a vessel which brought me to Israel and helped me see some of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and points in-between. For that, I am grateful. And while I can't pretend to offer a sophisticated or even a lyrical analysis of the current politics of the Middle East, I can be guaranteed to offer a literately humorous account of my time there, from the perspective of a home-bound earth hugger whose prior idea of an epic peregrination was attending a cousin's wedding in Aventura, Florida.
To begin at the beginning would mean including the saga of how I actually got on the El Al plane at Kennedy, despite travails worthy of Odysseus. I fear I almost set off an international incident at the airport: I didn't know what to do at Kennedy: all was a teeming tangled mass mess of the jam created when human confusion is married to large suitcases. An El Al desk agent pointed out the line I should enter: I saw one of those bank labyrinths, demarcated by a long stretch of rope. Since so few people were in that line, I naturally figured I need not walk through the labyrinth like a laboratory rodent, but could show some creativity and create a shortcut. In short, I ducked under the rope. I congratulated myself on speeding myself through the system, up to the point where I was interrogated by the security guard, who wanted to know why I didn't have tags on my luggage-the sort of tags which had been applied by the checkpoint at the very beginning of the rope. I was escorted to the very beginning of the rope. Picture yourself sliding down that long chute at the end of Chutes and Ladders that hurls you redux to the beginning and you will have a picture of the agonies I endured as I approached that security checkpoint. I was questioned quite intensely by a young female security guard aping the macho accusatory style perfected by Schwarzenegger. Questions came at me right and left in a harsh soprano staccato burst: "Did I know any one in Israel. Did I have any relations there? Had I ever been? Why was I going now? Had anyone given me any packages to take there? Did I have any sharp objects in my bag. Did I have anything that could be regarded as a weapon." By the time she finished with me, I felt guilty of something, but that fact eluded her, as she placed the prized stickers on my bag and sent me back up the ladder to the place I had just been chuted out from. I felt like Harry Potter being handed the goblet of fire after proving his valor through ordeal. Even better, a handsome young Sabra male was just ahead of me. Ofir, which according to him means "Bambi" in Hebrew, helped me learn the remaining steps necessary in navigating the airport system.
When the guard asked if we were together, he said, "Not yet." Ah, what a flirt. There were still many lines we had to endure, and in the end, we could not sit together. Finally, the boarding. At midnight. The interior of the plane was an enormous double-decker Boeing 747! I couldn't fathom how they would fly this behemoth. I was seated in steerage, in the section where there were three rows of seats, each row containing four seats. There were television monitors offering videos in front of each seat. After the initial takeoff, I found myself mostly bored. I cant sleep in a l' x l' space allotted to me. I watched Shanghai Knights and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and some of Mulan, before the tedium of the flight and the cramps in my legs became unbearable. I did the Sunday New York Times crossword. I walked back and forth, checking out the bathrooms and deciding which were my favorites. I had some of the dinner and some water, but even still, the length of the flight tested my endurance. Fortunately, the attendants are very tolerant of humans not being stowed in their seats, as in the rear of the plane, several Hasids davened throughout most of the flight.
There had been no reception for the 23 UAHC participants at the airport, no meet and greet on the airline. I heard someone two seats over from me talking about Arza to Hasid and at the end I followed him and his wife off the plane, figuring they knew what to do. And even if they didn't, at least I wouldn't be alone. Once you deplaned, you weren't at the main terminal. You went down a long flight of stairs onto the tarmac and into a bus to the main terminal, where you checked in. Somehow on the bus, I found the tour guide, what with the large English printed sign he held up like a literal Magen David, and he shepherded us through the process of checking in and getting luggage back and (almost an hour later) onto the bus to the hotel.
The plane left JFK at midnight Sunday and arrived at 6pm Israeli time. It was weird sensation to lose a whole day just flying and setting your watch back, not sleeping or showering or doing anything special to demarcate the day.
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