Our Journey to the Land and Milk and Honey

As they would say in Hebrew, ברוכים הבאים (welcome)! Doug and I (and whatever lovely readers may be living vicariously through us) are finally in Israel.  What an adventure it was to get here—a long, arduous, and frankly unenjoyable adventure.

It all started at John F. Kennedy Airport.  We arrived about seven hours before our flight (for a number of unimportant reasons) and had to wait until ElAl strung together enough stanchions to create a labyrinth-like maze leading to the check-in counter.  The lines were set up in such a manner that a wall of ElAl representatives stood in front of the check-in line, waiting to question each traveler before they passed along their luggage.

After waiting for about two hours, Doug and I got into the check-in line. When our turn arrived, we approached an ElAl representative we now call “Miri the Inquisitor.”  I expected the normal gambit of questions, which usually includes such inquiries as: “who packed your luggage,” “did anyone give you anything to pack,” and “have you left your luggage unattended anywhere but your home.”  The answers to these questions are obvious; I’ve always wondered if anyone ever responds, “I paid a random sketchy stranger to pack my bag. He asked me to place some ticking item into my suitcase at the last moment—said something about delivering it to a distant relative who would pass it along to a friend in Libya. I put it in my suitcase, but maybe someone took it when I left my luggage open and unattended at that rundown café at the rest-stop at Exit 20X on the turnpike…”

In any case, Doug and I were asked those questions, but only after we received a different sort of interrogation first.  Miri the Inquisitor seemed skeptical about our relationship. She kept asking when we met, where we met, how long we had been together, why we were traveling to Israel (telling her about Career Israel wasn’t sufficient since she had never heard of the program—or, for that matter, the Jewish Agency and/or Masa, it seemed).  She was so skeptical that she brought over a fellow inquisitor, whose name I didn’t catch during my mini-panic/confusion attack, to question us further.  He asked similar questions about our relationship and, after a few minutes, determined that Miri the Inquisitor raised an unnecessary red flag over a cute and innocuous couple traveling to Israel to participate in a long-term program.

The experience left both Doug and me quite paranoid, though.  When an Israeli wearing a Ben Gurion University jacket began talking to Doug and me at the gate about Israel, America, and (here’s the significant part) Doug and my relationship, we couldn’t help but feel he was sent to check up on us.  Nevertheless, by 7pm we made it onto our plane at long last.

To start the long, generally unenjoyable flight off was an hour delay.  My exhaustion had me dozing in and out while we waited for take off… but it also had me getting increasingly frustrated as, each time I woke up hoping I had slept a couple of hours, I found we were still on the ground waiting for take off.  Eventually, the moment of glory arrived and we were finally in the air with the fasten seatbelt signs off.

Phew, I thought.  I reclined my chair back and began to settle in more comfortably.  I got my headphones out, shifted some bags by my feet around, sat back up and reclined my chair back to settle in.  But… wait a second… hadn’t I just reclined my chair back a moment ago? Hm, I thought, I must be really tired and forgetful.  Alas, exhaustion was not to blame.  What was to blame was my broken chair, which insisted on remaining in the upright position.  It occasionally reclined a little when no one in my row moved much, only gradually moving forward on its own.  Unfortunately, the continuous movement of the person sitting next to me in the window seat only helped my chair along in its forward-moving progression throughout the flight.  I swear, the kid did not sit still for more than 5 minutes… and if he leaned forward, he was apparently obliged to slam himself back against his seat, moving the entire row in the process.

Needless to say, it was not a pleasant flight.  This was further augmented by the fact that the ElAl staff almost forgot to feed us dinner.  Only about 15 minutes after serving everyone else food did a flight attendant notice that we didn’t have any.  This realization prompted her to say “Oh, did you guys want to eat too?”  Well, I thought, I will be stuck on this plane for 12 hours and… I did pay a small fortune for this flight so… I think I will take one of those dinky trays of airplane food, thank you.  So she gave us trays of chicken, the default meal.  When we asked for the vegetarian meals we had ordered when we purchased our plane tickets, she informed us that we had not ordered them in advance and consequently could only have the default meal.

For all the praise ElAl has received for stellar service, I cannot help but be incredibly dissatisfied with our recent flight.

Complaints aside, Doug and I arrived in Israel safe and sound.  We got through passport control and proceeded to get our suitcases without incident.  Per the instructions we received from our program, we followed signs to get to the taxi-pick-up area and search for the Sherut (shuttle) to Jerusalem.  It wasn’t too hard to find—we just had to run into the mass of unorganized people waiting in a cluster that defied all notions of potentially orderly lines.  Israel, eh? So we joined the mass and waited for the next shuttle to arrive.

A few minutes into our wait, we were suddenly cleared from the area by airport security.  Everyone in the taxi and shuttle lines was herded away without explanation as security personnel quickly surrounded the area.  Eventually, as we learned from a Northwestern-hailing woman who saw my Powell’s Bookstore T-shirt and began speaking with me, someone on a train from Jerusalem had thrown a suitcase onto the platform at the airport station.  Talk about suspicious.

A few little explosions later (the good, disarming-bomb kind of explosions), we were allowed to re-mass up for the taxi and shuttle services.  Only now the masses were much, much larger as the people needing such services accumulated during the bomb-disarmament process.  After much chaos and frustration, yelling and pushing, Doug and I managed to get on a Sherut to Jerusalem.  The ride from Tel Aviv to our hostel in Jerusalem, which should usually take about 45 minutes, took far, far longer.  We arrived at our hostel about 3 hours after getting onto our Sherut.  Unfortunately, our Sherut driver determined it would be best to drop us off last.

All of these circumstances contributed to our late arrival on Thursday, causing Doug and me to miss the program’s tour of the Old City of Jerusalem.

C’est la vie.

Thankfully, none of these things has influenced our trip negatively.  We met the group on Thursday evening, after being served a mini-feast at the hostel’s dining hall by the fantastically friendly kitchen staff chief.  After filling out some paperwork and socializing as much as our exhaustion allowed us, we passed out, knowing that we would wake up the next morning for our first Friday together in Israel.

As an Israeli would say: sababa (meaning “cool” or “great”).

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