Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Three Days in Nissan (Day Two At the Airport)

One of the many things I have to be grateful for is that over the course of my life, I – and now we – have made some amazing friends. Included in this ever-increasing list are Jeff and June Glazer. They made aliyah in grand style: they sold their house in Teaneck and took to the road, driving around the U.S., all the while regaling us with pictures and tales of their adventures, before boarding the Nefesh B’Nefesh winter flight last December. So when the next of the never ending stream of Teaneck olim, the Reubens, were set to arrive, of course, Jeff was the one to organize the trip to the airport to greet them. The plan was for the five of us (Jeff, June, Barbara, me, and Oriyah, the daughter of another of our Teaneck families) to meet at the very tall Sheraton hotel on King George St. near Agron St. and take the munit (taxi) which Jeff had hired to the airport. Barbara and I arrived a few minutes before nine; Jeff and June had already arrived, and – surprise, surprise – Jeff was engaged in a conversation with……..one of John Hagee’s entourage, the same group we had seen the day before. (It seems that the Hageeites were among the many, many tour groups staying at the Sheraton.) Soon the four of us were talking to several couples who were waiting to board their buses for yet another day of morning to night travel throughout the length and breadth of our admittedly tiny Land.
I am personally weary of the endless prattle about the motivation of these Christian individuals and groups that profess love for our people and our nation. That’s because I am a professional pragmatist. If the boat I’m on is leaking and I’m up to my skivvies in water, I would never question the motives of someone heaving a life raft in my direction. Perhaps it’s part of Hashem’s plan for me; leave it at that. However, when you engage in conversation with Christians who have taken their time and money to come here, you generally come away with a sense that, for whatever their reasons, they truly love our Land. They are truly interested in why one person authentically from The Heart of Texas or another who has spent his life leaving The Bronx would finally come to live near the Old City in Jerusalem. When you tell them that you have simply Come Home, they look at you with admiration, not with a blank look. I think that, somehow, they do understand.
Oriyah was slightly delayed, but she did show up, and the five of us got into our munit and off we went. Barbara had actually been back to the Ben-Gurion airport in order to meet her Sar-El group, but Jeff, June, and I had not been back since we arrived in Israel, they in December, me in July. And it is a strange sensation, going to an airport when you are not in fact going anwhere. It was only later that we all realized that we were having the same emotion: Thank G-d we don’t have to leave!!! We were not experiencing that feeling of loss that most or many Jews feel when their brief trip to Israel is coming to an end, and they are preparing to “go home.” We could stay! We could get back in a sherut, a cab, a bus and really go back home – to Jerusalem, or a Little Bit East thereof! What a glorious feeling! You will never know just how glorious until you can experience it yourself. For Barbara and me, we know full well that we will be back in The States sooner or later: to visit Barbara’s mother, to see family, friends and places, to go shopping. But not just yet. Right now, we are too busy living in the Land and experiencing the sensation of Being Home to get on a plane.
Planes! We were heading to Ben-Gurion to greet Hedda and Michael Reuben and Zaide, who is Hedda’s father. Now most Jewish men, if they live long and they have resisted the temptation along the way to murder their children, will arrive at that moment in time when they are grandfathers, sabaim, or zaides to their grandchildren. But this man had been, by general consent and acclimation, everyone in Teaneck’s zaide (you can’t “run” for this position, just as in American politics you can’t “run” to be nominated for Vice President. It takes a special person to be the Zaide for an entire community). But Zaide was not getting any younger, and he had been ill, and the Reuben’s aliyah had been postponed several times, until now, when they were at last on their way, they had become known as the “sof sof” (finally!) Reubens.
Because of the timing, the Reubens were not arriving on a Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight, meaning a full plane of olim, NBN staff, and various and sundry dignitaries, with a small farewell ceremony and a HUGE welcoming ceremony upon landing. (I never got to write about our arrival because it was almost a month after we got here that we were successfully hooked up with a computer and internet access, and by then I was on to other matters.) In between these full flights, NBN has “group flights” on which they purchase fifty or so seats on a regular El Al flight. So while there are NBN personnel to assist the olim, most of the newbies don’t get the huge welcome which they richly deserve. But not the sof sof Reubens! What a reception they were going to get! In addition to the five of us, there were the Wimpfheimers, a Teaneck family who had made aliyah about three and a half years ago, and several other friends and old school mates of Hedda. Then there were the kids. Both of the Reuben’s children, Tehila and Yair, had previous made aliyah and they and Yair’s wife and baby were there……and all of Tehilla and Yaer’s friends, with banners and posters and smiles. The Reuben’s rooting section was probably larger than the contingent of olim getting off the plane!
We had at least an hour before the olim would complete their paper work and clear customs, time aplenty to have some coffee, chat with old friends, and make new ones. (Barbara discovered that one of Hedda’s friends had been in her youth group at Beth Shalom in Rochester forty five years ago.) Time aplenty for a flood of memories about what it was like to make aliyah the previous year: the packing, the moving, the trip to the airport, the flight, the reception, but mainly the emotion. We had done it. In fact, everyone in our group, young and old had done it: join the ever-growing but still small number of American Jews who had escaped the blandishments of Exile. So we all understood, and we all knew we understood what this moment was about.
Sof sof, the olim were starting to come through the exit. Sof sof, we could see the Reubens. They had so much luggage with them; had they left anything behind? They were remarkably cheerful, considering that they had not slept in several days, what with orchestrating an Open House on Sunday for their still unsold home and then getting ready for the flight. I am certain that having a welcoming committee waiting for you makes any such journey more rewarding. Zaide seemed to be OK; NBN had purchased an additional seat so he could have an oxygen tank on the plane with him. Many hugs, many digital pictures, many warm words of welcome, perhaps a few tears. And then, sof sof, it was time for Hedda, Michael, and Zaide to get into the munit (paid for by NBN) and head off to their new home in Beersheva. Thanks to their children, it was all set up, even having a phone and internet connection. I guess the secret is to have your kids make aliyah before you!
Thanks to my gregarious wife, we got a ride back to Jerusalem with a couple (the woman had gone to school with Hedda at Bar-Ilan) who needed to go to a specific supermarket in the Givat Shaul section which caters to an Ashkenazik crowd (Pesach!) On the way we got a fascinating tour of side streets that wend their way through the Jerusalem forests and somehow lead to Givat Shaul. We had left the airport as soon as the Reubens had departed, yet before we got dropped off, I could see Oriyah standing on Kanfei Nesharim St., using her cell phone. Maybe someday I will find out how she beat us back to Jerusalem.

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