Sometimes just trying to get to Israel is like being there.
I didn’t know if I had the correct information when I arrived at JFK in NY. I didn’t have a copy of my E-ticket. I couldn’t reach the aliyah offices in Boston or NY. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do when I got to Israel. I didn’t know who I was supposed to talk to or what I was supposed to say.
What I knew was this was not a time to panic….
The man that questioned me at the El Al terminal had the usual questions: Did I pack all my belongings by myself, where were my bags earlier in the day, do I have any weapons, did I accept any packages from strangers because I might be carrying a bomb.
It was all very normal.
“The names of your father and mother?” he asked.
“Meir and Sylvia,” I answered.
“Ah, my name is Meir also,” he said.
Then he put a sticker on my bags and gently hailed, “Smile, you’re going to Israel.”
It was then that I realized I had to loosen up a little. I was going back to Israel –land of the ‘do what you want and it will come true.’
Several hours later when the door of the plane opened and the passengers made their way down the aisles, I found my seat next to a Presbyterian Minister from Missouri.
As Gary and I quickly got acquainted, the seat between us was still vacant and we hoped to keep that extra foot and a half to lounge out.
However, Ron, an Israeli kid from Petah Tikvah showed up just before take off and slept most of the way. When he was awake he had a silly look on his face as the Judaism 101 course went on around him.
Gary had lots of questions. One was why do the Jewish men with the black hats wear another head covering underneath their hat.
I explained to him it was no different than me taking out my Red Sox hat, which I did, and putting it over my head covering, which I did.
Later when we were about half way across the Atlantic and the sun had come out, he asked me what the little black boxes were that all the religious men were putting on their arms and heads.
I asked him if he ever heard of the Jewish prayer ‘Here O Israel, The Lord our God The Lord is one”
Just as I was about to pull out my prayer book to get the exact chapter and verse, he yelled out, “Dueteronomy Chapter Six!”
Go Gettem Gary!
We then went on to a little discussion about what the verse means when it says, “and you shall bind them as a sign on your arms and they will be as ‘totafot’ between your eyes…”
He got it! Even my explanation of the Written Law and the Oral Law, which I brought up to help him understand how the rabbis interpreted the Hebrew bible and that there is a tradition that exists. God forbid he should think the rabbis just made things up.
“Wow, thanks for letting me know all that,”Gary said adding that one of the men wearing the black boxes (teffilin) asked him if he wanted to wear them sparking his interest as to what they were.
As this went on Ron seemed perplexed and as I was returning my prayer book to my bag, Ron asked to see it as he had a sudden urge to read Pirkei Avot, Ethics Of The Fathers.
Go Gettem Ron!
After the flight I parted ways with Ron and wished Gary well as it was his first time in Israel.
For me, this was my 13th time back. This was my bar mitzvah flight.
It’s well known that the age thirteen symbolizes a new role for the Jewish male (as twelve does for the Jewish female). It ushers in a period of new responsibility in the young Jew’s life.
Now, on my 13th entry into the Land of Israel, I have shed any remnant of my tourist status and taken upon myself the difficult but good burden of being a citizan.
And what would it be like back on Israeli soil?
When we landed, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought the Absorbtion Ministry would give me figs and dates for the special occasion of my Aliyah.
Instead I got $250 dollars and a free taxi ride to Jerusalem. I kind of wanted the dates but I’ll take the cash (it was in shequels).
The cab ride to Jerusalem was a typical Israeli experience, one which I didn’t think I would have so soon. I almost refused it after the driver, David, didn’t want to ruin the seats of his brand new Mercedes taxi and decided he would strap my guitar amplifier to his roof.
However, as he was yelling at me at the top of his lungs, I got it to fit in the trunk.
Then he wanted to strap my suitcase to the roof acting as if it was a porcupine that was going to pin up his leather seats.
At that moment I had had enough of him. I refused and he started yelling and screaming at me as if I already marked up the womb of his car.
He was just about to sling the cord around my bag when -after ten hours on a plane and two in the airport explaining to the absorption office that I really did make Aliyah even though I had no papers to prove it- I jumped up and started undoing the knot as I told my escort Gadi from the absorption ministry who stood there helpless that I had enough of this driver.
“I UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU ARE TRYING TO SAY BUT IT’S THE WAY THAT YOU’RE SAYING IT THAT’S MAKING ME UPSET!!!” I said angrily yelling at David.
However, David didn’t get it as he yelled the same thing back about his car and that he’s tied many bags to the roof of his car without any problems.
Eventually, when Gadi said he couldn’t get me another ride, I gave in and let the maniac drive me off into the sunset to Jerusalem. I tried explaining to him again that he has a very nice car and it makes sense that he is very protective of it but the way he tried conveying that message was not nice.
Yet, he still didn’t get it.
However, we made peace and he let me put on a Bob Dylan CD -Blood On The Tracks.
Along the way, David told me his parents came to Israel from Iraq. There, they had a great life with plenty of everything and friendly relations with all their Muslim neighbors. When they had to flee their home for Israel in the 50’s, his family left behind everything they owned, millions of dollars worth of property and belongings.
I tried asking him other questions about his life in Tel Aviv, his family and had he been outside of Israel. However, he wasn’t too responsive. He was kind of like Ron on the plane in his passive mode but when he wanted to express himself, he had bursts of energy.
Finally, when we arrived in Jerusalem and I was two minutes from my apartment, he pointed out to the hills and the houses around us and yelled:
“Look at it! It’s Jerusalem the holy city! We don’t need NY here, we don’t need big buildings here, we don’t need any of those things, -look how beautiful, look at the stones on the homes, they are all made from Jerusalem stone! From years ago!”
He went on and on and for a moment I thought he was yelling at me again.
When I inquired, David said it wasn’t me. He was just admiring the feeling he had inside.
And so it was to be my first day back in the saddle of Jew in his land that another Jew who grew up here, went to school here and did the army was admiring his love and pride for his country -even though he was yelling at me for it.
However, I understood him and knew where his emotions were coming from and it was ok.
I felt the same way.
I am back and like him, I am admiring the feeling (though I am using a different way of expressing myself).
Smile everyone. I’m in Israel.