November 10, 2005

To Israel, part 1

When I imagine things, events, the future, it is always different than what my expectations were. There is no way to interpret what an experience will be like if you’ve never gone that way before…it doesn’t stop me though, I can’t help but wonder. For months now, since last spring, we have known we were going to Israel this fall. It was like a far off, exotic thing that was going to happen. Neither my husband or me has ever been overseas, so we had no idea what to expect….it was just a big wonder in our minds. My mind went to fear of the unknown and of preconceived ideas about the Middle East that I had developed.

Well, we are here now….the airplane didn’t drop us, we were not accosted by thugs in New York City, and I feel very safe walking around a Middle Eastern county…I didn’t get shoved into a car and kidnapped by terrorists once! Surprise, surprise! None of the things I let my mind wander off to worry about happened, and I am thankful for that. I’m so glad to finally be here and having this adventure instead of trying to imagine it. The real thing is always better than the imaginary…at least in my experience, since I tend to be anxious about the unknown and have a very vivid imagination.

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing though….we have already had adventures, even before leaving America. We arrived in JFK airport around 5pm Monday night. There was the occasional witch or vampire in the airports….since we flew out on October 31. Having a 7 hour layover in NYC, the airline provided us a complimentary hotel room to use until later that evening. We showered, had dinner and rode the shuttle back to JFK just in time to get in line with about 80 other people who were in our tour group.

We got in line at the Israeli airline counter, each person being interviewed by young Israeli employees. They were efficient and businesslike, but it made us nervous to be treated in a suspicious way.

When it was our time to be interviewed, the beautiful young woman interrogating us turned to her official voice and began spouting off questions….What is your business in Israel? How old are you? Has anyone given you something to bring into Israel that is not yours? Have you been in control of your luggage every moment since leaving home? Hmmm She stepped back to talk to a supervisor….”You come with me, ok.” (it was not a question, it was a command) “This woman will check your bags. Do not leave, we will show you where to go.”

We were led to a side area, dragging our over packed luggage to where some other people from the flight to Israel were also sitting. We sat….waited….the Israeli airline employees hustled around, talked to each other, gestured at us, talked some more, and talked about us to each other. Then she came back to us. “We have to search your bags. Please stay here.” More talking among other employees and gesturing. They took my carry on twice to check it with a wand. They took several of the others waiting with us behind a curtain to check them with a wand. (What made us nervous was not the wands, it was the plastic gloves they wore….help!) Everyone made it through alright and it turned out the gloves were only to protect them from germs or something. *whew!* “You leave everything here. It must be searched. Come back after 12:30.”

Well, there’s not a lot to do for 4 hours in JFK’s terminal 4 in the late evening hours, so we walked, sat, talked, drank coffee, watched people, sighed, then did it all again. When 12:30 came, we went back thinking we would pick up or carry on items and go to our gate. Wrong…..we were told we had to be escorted to the gate, so we had to wait with our little group of 6 other mighty suspicious looking baby boomers. ;) We were assigned a guard, walked with the guard through security, our stuff was checked again and we had to sit in a group with our guard until the plane started boarding. We were walked out in front of everyone waiting in line to board and put on first. We all felt pretty silly and strange, but when our guard let us go, he waved and smiled like we were old friends and told us to have a very nice visit. I think all of us thanked him for making everything so secure for us….but I think we all had the same feeling of “Why us???” The only thing we could think that we all had in common was our ages….all of us in our 30’s and 40’s. They say it is random, but we all saw a lot more suspicious-looking characters than us there on our flight. (some of them we have been riding around on tour busses with for a week now!) lol

The flight over was 10 hours loooooooooong. There was a large group of Hasidic Jews riding over to Israel from New York that night, all with their families. So all night there were babies crying and Jewish men stalking up and down the isles of the plane…up and down, up and down, stopping in the bulkhead to rock back and forth, saying prayers, all wearing a white button down shirt, a yamika under a jaunty looking black hat, black trousers and long black jacket. Several had the traditional long locks of hair growing where sideburns are, some with long bristly beards. The women sat with the poor fussy babies, the men and boys pacing and stomping and bumping my elbow, sometimes carrying their fussy baby as they paced. Oiy vey with the pacing already!

It was also our first taste of Middle Eastern food during the two meals that were served on the flight. It was hilarious to hear some of the Americans (especially the Texans) after they had taken a huge bite of humus, thinking it was mashed potatoes. People were holding it up, examining it, asking what it was….lol. We did finally arrive in Tel Aviv, loaded onto our busses, drove to Tiberius and collapsed into our hotel beds.

Our tour guide, Madelyn, told us she will tell us what the pacing and rocking is about on one of our touring days…..all information comes at a certain point, not when you want to know, but when they think you should know. She is a great tour guide and I am not complaining, it actually cracks me up. She is a Jewish immigrant from Sweden, so she has a very distinctive accent that you find yourself imitating in your head as you think about what she’s said…it’s very contagious. So when you ask her a question, sometimes she just looks at you and says, “Well that is a very good question, but we will talk about it later, ok.” Again, ‘ok’ over here is not a question like Americans use it to infer, “Is that ok with you?” It is just a way of telling you what you will do. She has a wealth of seemingly endless information about this land, the people, her Jewish faith and history. We listen to her with eager ears….part of her charm is the strong Swedish accent sprinkled with Yiddish expressions and hand movements while speaking English….and she tells jokes that are unexpected and make us chuckle.

Today is Thursday. We have already seen and done so much, but we arrive back at the hotel at 10pm or later and have been falling into bed, not moving til morning! Today is the first day that my head hasn’t hurt and I have been able to ride the tour bus without falling asleep instantly whenever Madelyn was not talking.

It is a weird thing to do all that traveling and time changing and step right into a busy schedule. Jet lag feels more like a mental disorder than mere sleepiness. Besides falling asleep suddenly, you get confused easily, say funny words, tip your water too far away from your mouth so that is goes pouring onto your shirt, drop things, and it’s made a few of us a little tipsy….not from alcohol, but from a dizzy, off kilter feeling in your head. Tomorrow we move to a hotel in Jerusalem and stay there the rest of the time, so I think I will write more later.

Until then, shalom….

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