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World Traveler: Israel

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Reality Bites Sometimes

I left for Israel on New Year’s Eve. Most people were planning what to wear, what to drink, and probably knew who they were going to be at with midnight. Me? I had a date with a plane.
I had been really excited about traveling to Israel, but when December 31st came, I had huge butterflies. More like dragonflies, they’re carnivores. At breakfast, I told my husband, this is the craziest thing I have ever done. I was starting to think I needed a Xanax. At the airport, we sat on a window ledge, next to the TSA agent who checks your boarding pass and I.D. for  thirty minutes. I was doing the whole, ready? No wait, a few more minutes. Just like kids do when you have to make them take nasty medicine. Except this was going to be fun, right?
After we said goodbye, I flew to New York. All was well. My lack of experience in traveling is in international travel. This would be my first stamp in my passport (they never stamped it on our cruise to Mexico). I was well-prepared for everything I could think of and my bags were carefully packed. I had all of my paperwork and a map of JFK to get from one terminal to another. And despite the next twenty-four hours, mostly everyone I encountered while traveling was very nice.
I took the air train at JFK to the international terminal. When I arrived I didn’t know exactly where to go to find El Al. I asked a man who worked at the airport, and in his heavy (Nigerian?) accent, he said: follow the Jews. Okay, he also pointed in the direction I should go, but it was a funny set of instructions. But he was pointing at a lot of orthodox Jews, dressed in black. Men with traditional hats covering their Yamakas and women with long skirts and black stockings. So I followed them.
I got to the El Al line, where a gentleman told me I had come to the right place. Then he began to question me. I was ready for it, so I showed him my letter from the Baha’i World Center, my Baha’i card, and my passport. He quizzed me on how long I had been a Bahai, did I know anyone in Israel, why was I going alone, how long was I staying, etc. And then he repeated those questions randomly. I got my boarding pass and was instructed to head to a screened off area. From there I was told to leave my carry on, but take my passport and wallet and “go shopping,” and come back in an hour. I don’t shop, so I went down stairs by the shops and talked to my husband, all the while hoping my stuff would be okay.
When I returned, I was starting to worry about making it to the gate. It was 10:30 and my flight left at 11:50. I had yet to go through TSA security. I was then escorted to a tiny little room without my stuff, where I spent the next hour being searched and question but mostly waiting with my shoes in my hand listening to people talk in Hebrew. My hair was searched, my bra was taken and searched, I was searched . . . I was starting to feel less and less optimistic about this travel situation.
At the end of it all, they handed me my travel pillow, a book, my phone, my passport and documents in plastic bag. No iPod, no carry on, no camera. They checked it into luggage for me and said I would get it back on arrival. I was escorted to the plane and, I sat in my seat. At midnight we were taxiing down the run way for takeoff and people around cheered happy new year. All around me were Jewish families and college kids going on birthright trips. People spoke in Hebrew all around me. Outside of the plane window, we could see fireworks over New York as we lifted off. When food was served they had no vegetarian meal for me. I felt lonely. I felt like crying. I felt like a foreigner.
When I landed, I got my stuff. And it was all there. I was there. I headed to a sherut to go to the hotel and hoped it would all be better from that point on.


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