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The Ups and Downs of Getting to Israel

My flight to Israel had its ups and downs and twists and turns. My path from Newark, NJ (Marian and I spent Shabbat with Akiva, Lauren and Emuna) to Toronto to Tel Aviv hit a snafu: The plane coming in from Toronto to Newark was delayed due to weather, so I would not make it to Toronto in time to catch my flight from Toronto to Tel Aviv. The agent found me another flight to Toronto leaving shortly with one open seat, but as she was keying in my info, that seat was taken. She then found me a direct flight from Newark to Israel with another airline. The good news was that it would be direct from Newark and it was scheduled to arrive in Israel an hour earlier than my original flight.

When I tried to check in for the new flight, the new airline told me that I could only take one bag because there was an “embargo” which meant the luggage bays were full. After some time, it turned out that the agent hadn't keyed in the correct code and she had to go back and forth to get it right. In the meantime, I learned that my chosen window seat would now be a middle seat, and I lost my kosher meal. It took awhile to sort this out, so from arrival at the airport until getting to the gate was about two hours.

The flight was smooth and uneventful. In fact, the pilot announced that the flight would take only nine hours and we would arrive an hour earlier than scheduled--and so it was. Previous flights to IsraeI from the New York area had taken about ten and a half hours; my fastest was a little under ten hours. So this was another thumbs up.

After the first kosher meals were served, I asked whether there was an extra kosher meal available, and there was. In fact, when I tried again at breakfast, I was asked, “Do you want one or two?” And, the seat next to me on the aisle was unoccupied. So both negatives worked out.

What was striking was the different people on the flight. Most notable were the Chasidim. On the other end of the spectrum are Christians (let’s just say they don’t look like Chasidim). Christians are a major source of world-wide support for Israel and for Israeli tourism. Signs in Ben Gurion airport celebrate that fact. The woman sitting next to me, about 70, was a retired nurse from Cleveland, part of a local Catholic tour. This was her third trip since the mid-90’s, the last just seven years earlier.

After landing, I davened Shacharit in the chapel at the airport. There were just a few others present. Towards the middle of my davening a group of young Chasidim entered, and soon there was enough for a minyan. I, dressed very casually, was asked to lead kaddish d-Rabbanan.

I arrived in Israel to mid-60’s spring-like weather, and spent the day with Ezra and Shiri in their apartment in Elkanah. We did some food shopping and Shiri cooked a delicious, crispy schnitzel lunch; I went to sleep for about four hours, and then enjoyed her homemade pizza-and-salads dinner. Ezra helped me set up my Israeli phone number and my computer.

I spent much of the next day with Micah in Efrat, about a two-hour drive south (with morning commuter traffic and road construction), past Yerushalayim. We went to my "new" apartment, basic but with modern appliances -- oven, stove, refrigerator, microwave -- unpacked, and went shopping to set up the kitchen -- pots, pans, utensils, paper goods, and food.

At night I watched a little Israeli news on my laptop. Although I am fluent in Hebrew -- I can converse and follow TV broadcasts -- certain words, phrases, idioms, and syntax still escape me. So to improve my Hebrew, I watch the news on my laptop.

The first program I watched was a 60 Minutes-like investigative show seeking an honest water heater repairman. They found swindlers galore! One guy was caught not only recommending unnecessary work and parts, but after he was hired, increasing his charges and adding a tip -- more than 3,000 NIS (about $1,000) -- and, the coup de grace: he did not properly install the equipment! In the end they found an honest man and gave him an award.

And that's where I’ll end this first report--on a note of honesty.

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