Coming and going from Israel can be just as much an experience as being in Israel and when I recently was about to land in New York after flying across the Atlantic from the Jewish State, my neighbor to my right and I decided to finally open a conversation.
I had slept most of the way and had missed one of my meals but the last hour before landing at Kennedy International Airport was quite intriguing.
Avraham (not his real name) told me he was a businessman who traveled the world selling toys and a number of other things.
Close to sixty, he was of Lebanese descent and moved to Israel when he was a teenager in the fifties. He remembered growing up as a religious Jew in Lebanon and how it was a culture shock when he immigrated to Israel with his family and saw Jews not ‘keeping’ the Jewish Sabbath.
Over the course of time, Avraham, fluent in Arabic, French, and English excelled in his studies in school and become a top student. His knowledge of several languages and the fact his birth place was a neighboring Arab state made him a candidate for Israel’s intelligence community.
He had wanted to enroll in the air force but because he was colorblind he didn’t pass the final entrance exam.
However, he qualified for being a spy in ‘enemy’ countries and apparently was involved in some extremely sensitive intelligence work.
I didn’t ask Avraham to divulge any details connected to his past but I inquired about his feelings towards his service to the state.
He simply replied, “They were some of the best years of my life.”
When Avraham decided to give up working in the field and settled down to start a family, he explained it was an opportunity for him to return to his traditional roots, as he had not been observant for a number of years.
It was in this part of his story that Avraham told me he comes from a long line of rabbis from Syria.
He explained how his great grandfather, who was from Damascus, traveled to Egypt in the 1800’s to serve the community there and compiled a book of questions and answers on topics relating Jewish religious practice.
Avraham said that when Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the current leader of the Shas political party, was the Sefardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, he visited Egypt and retrieved the manuscript of his great grandfather bringing it back to Israel to have it printed.
He then took out an extra copy he carried with him and gave it to me as we landed.
Whether it was a token of his appreciation for my listening to his story or his understanding that I was truly interested in the book’s contents, I was grateful for the gift.
It would be a special reminder of my trip to the US when I met a spy in airborne Israeli living room called EL AL.
It was there that he passed on the teachings of his fathers to me openly, without secrecy, and with the knowledge that it’s contents would be used to strengthen the Jewish People, not by might nor by power, but by spirit alone.