Man Proposes, God Disposes--Returning From Israel in 2022
After several postponements due to Covid-19, we finally made it to Israel to hug our children and grandchildren. It had been nearly three years -- Talia was three months old and Bentzion had just had his Brit Milah. In 2021, Gefen and Yoni were born. We are able to celebrate Talia’s 3rd birthday on Purim.
Leaving Israel was a story in itself, 24 hours of about 15 unexpected episodes and incidents, mostly frustrating but a few surprises. If they made a movie, a la the “Out of Towners,” most would dismiss it as contrived. But it is all true. We are familiar with the phrase “man proposes, God disposes” but the verse is found in Proverbs 19:21 -- “Man may have many thoughts, but it is God’s counsel that endures.”
Our flight from Ben Gurion Airport -- stopping in Newark, NJ with a connection to St Louis -- was scheduled for 10:30 AM, and due to Israel’s strict security checks, we were advised to be there 3 ½ hours prior. Halfway into the 30-minute drive to BG, we received a text that the flight was delayed an hour -- now our connection is threatened. Even after we board, we sit on the plane for a long time. Finally the Captain informed us that German military exercises in Europe have delayed us further, and as a consequence new routes need to be cleared over Europe and then new local clearance was needed. Now we are three hours late with no chance for our night flight from Newark to St Louis.
About 1 ½ hours before landing, Marian decided to switch our SIM cards from the Israeli provider back to our American one. With some effort, she manages to switch hers first. It is not easy as the “key” is weak and easily bends and breaks, and the tray is wedged in and hard to get out, and it is small. I am feeling good because now that she switched hers, mine will be easy. When she pops out my tray, the SIM card lands on her lap, but the tray is nowhere to be found. Marian begins an early “b’dikat chametz” using her iPphone’s flashlight to search under our seats, under my legs, and all around -- without success. This took about 45 minutes (despite my pleas to wait until we land). The person behind us asks what we are doing and then responds that he has an extra tray. I think, “Who carries an extra tray?” It turns out he has an extra key, not an extra tray. We never find the tray and I am now without a phone.
Aside from a few bumpy moments, the 11-hour flight had gone well. Our next stop is customs -- the line is very long. However, I see another section for passengers with Global Entry (which we have) and it is much shorter. We enter. The disorganized staff then starts shifting the lines and some travelers seemingly go wherever they want. The staff intervenes and sends us back to the original line which has now lengthened. As I am being directed, I start to say something to the staffer. After two or three words, he interrupts me saying, “If you will only listen …” So I back off. When he finishes I say, “But I have Global Entry and an American passport.” He says, “Why didn’t you say something?” I said, “I tried, but you told me not to talk and just listen.” Many dozens of people were likely wrongly rerouted, costing them more than an hour. I wonder, “This is their job that they do every day -- how can they mess this up?”
We get through the Global Entry immediately -- great! But to no avail. We watch and watch for our luggage, round and round, but ours is among the last to come out. Many, many dozens of passengers now pass us. That costs us another 45 minutes.
Marian had received a text -- remember, my phone is largely inoperative -- that we have been reassigned to a flight to Chicago the next morning. But we do not want to add an extra stop and airport time, so we need to inquire at the desk. Meanwhile, we are blessed that Akiva lives less than a half hour from Newark Airport, and we will have a place to sleep and get an unanticipated visit with our NJ grandchildren.
At the desk, the staffer, who seemed competent, booked us on a direct flight to St Louis the next afternoon. But several others with the same missed connections went through their lines as we continued to wait. I also requested vouchers. They offer food -- four $10 restaurant coupons which must be used within 24 hours, and of course there are no kosher restaurants there -- and a local hotel credit which we will not use. This takes another 15 minutes.
Finally, we meet Akiva for pick up. He suggests that we order Chinese food from the kosher take-out place less than a mile from his home, and so he calls to order. Although they do not close for another half-hour, they tell him that they are no longer taking orders. (I remember my parents staying late at their shoe store whenever they received a customer at closing.) He says there is another kosher Chinese take-out, a little further away. He calls -- they will be open for another hour, but they too are not taking any more orders. So these additional delays have cost us our dinner.
We arrive and Akiva seeks to get a tray for my phone, by asking in a local WhatsApp group. Someone has one, but it turns out not to be the right one. So he orders one from Amazon; it might be there the next day. Wow!
We see the children, and the next morning I get to have breakfast with Emunah and walk her to her school bus stop, and pitch baseballs to Kalev. Akiva was supposed to drive us to the airport but something came up so we take an Uber. Before we enter our gate, I ask Marian about those food vouchers for the drinks and snacks for the flight to St Louis. She can’t find them anywhere. We still don't know what became of them -- so those minutes were a complete waste -- and cost us a Chinese dinner.
We then use our TSA approval to move through the line. But in Newark now -- I do not recall this at any other airport, nor even at Newark from previous experiences -- the lines merge into a single one, so TSA approval means little. Moreover, although there are only about 10 people in front of us, the line has stopped. Perhaps it is a mechanical failure, but we stand still for 15 minutes. When we finally get there, the staffers, who seem oblivious, tell us to keep our boarding passes visible if they are TSA approved, as we do not have to take our shoes and belts off. I pass by and the staffer tells me to take off my shoes and belt. But I show her my TSA approval and then she passes me.
We board the plane for St Louis; in fact, we are ready 15 minutes early. But no, another delay -- we sit on the plane for another hour. Eventually we are told, the plane is too heavy and some luggage needs to be kept in Newark, but will be there an hour later. We figure it will be our luggage left behind.
On the plane, my sugar level drops and I need something to drink. Marian goes to the attendant and asks for apple juice (which I now drink to avoid the acidity of orange juice). She does not have any apple juice, only OJ. Marian brings it to me and as I drink some, the juice spills all over me -- because my mask is on. However, on a better note, as the cart approaches my row, two others ask for orange juice - but there is none left. I got the last can.
We land at good old Lambert and our luggage is there(!). No delays. After stopping at Trader Joe’s for essentials we come home. About half an hour later my phone tray arrives! Amazing. But Marian is spending additional time at the door with the delivery person. Why? She backed into our mailbox!!
If you have a similar story -- I’d love to hear it. If not, if only an occasional delay or mishap, then baruch ha-Shem, you are blessed. We arrived safely, saw our family, and spent three weeks in Israel; despite it all, baruch ha-Shem, we were blessed, too.
Rabbi Seth D Gordon