To Israel!

October 26, 2009 - 6:15 pm 3 Comments

The busiest travel year of my life continues… I’m on my way to Israel! And this time, my travel partners are my Dad and Marion, my stepmother.

Israel is on my shrinking list of places I need to see in my lifetime. Italy, Greece, Spain, Czech Republic, and Iceland remain on the list. Sure, there are other places in the world I’d like to go, but those are just gravy.

I’ve been wanting to go to Israel for a while, but it’s not the kind of place that my friends are interested in. They generally prefer resort-ish, party-ish kinds of places to spiritual hotbeds prone to missile attacks. After telling them I was going to Israel, I got lots of awkward pauses and lots of “be careful” comments. So I kept putting it off, jumping at the chance to go when my Dad said he was considering a trip to Israel a few months ago.

I’ve never really traveled with my Dad and Marion before, so it should be interesting. I don’t think this trip is going to be the kind of breakneck, squeeze-as-much-as-I-can-into-every-day kind of trip that I’m used to. They’re a bit older and chilled out, so I’m thinking our pace might be a bit more leisurely. Which is fine with me. I just got back from a week-long trip to Chicago, and I’m pretty worn out myself.

As is always the case with big trips of mine, I spent the last couple of days cramming in as much as I could. Tying up loose ends, running to the bank and post office, catching up on my freelance work and e-mail, cleaning my room, doing laundry. Packing is always done at the very last minute. Not very smart, but that’s just how it works out. I did pretty well this time, only forgetting to pack only shorts and a swimsuit. I’ll have to pick up a sweet pair of shorts in Israel.

So what do I expect Israel to be like? I like doing this little exercise before I go to a foreign country so that I can look back on it later and see how much of an uncultured idiot I was. It also makes me aware of cultural biases or stereotypes I have come to accept by living in the US for most of my life. Yes, I blame the US for some of my international ignorance.

I expect Israel to be filled with lots of older religious people and a rebellious younger generation who fully supports their national identity but are slowly breaking away from tradition. Based on my own experiences with Israelis, I expect people to be mostly friendly but loud and a little pushy. Their “no bullshit” attitude borders on the aggressive. By all accounts, the women over there are beautiful. I will verify this.

I expect the cities to be moderately sized, with lots of old school 70’s-style architecture surrounding old city ruins, and I expect the religious attractions to be exploited by tourism, perhaps a bit more tastefully than non-religious attractions might be exploited. I imagine that, like most other countries open to tourism, English will be everywhere. I think security will be tight enough everywhere that safety shouldn’t be much of a concern.

Dad has helped with some of the research, booking our first few nights at a hotel in Jerusalem and some of the local tours. We have a provisional itinerary that includes Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Masada, Petra, Wadi Rum, and even a few days in Tel Aviv by myself. We’ll fill out all the details once we get settled.

I will be keeping a blog, which will be an interesting process this time because my Dad is one of my most loyal readers.

I met up with my Dad and Marion at the gate in Newark airport. Waiting at the gate were, predictably, lots of Jews, including lots of Hasidim and a group davening at nearby gate C127.

There was extra security at the Continental gate, with makeshift walls and barriers put up on either side. Before letting people into the boarding area, they double-checked boarding passes, gave you a quick frisk, and rifled through your bag. According to my Dad, the security procedures at the gate were “a complete joke.”

At the Gate in Newark

After some announcements in English and Hebrew, they began to board the plane. A medium-scale clusterfuck. The lady on the PA asks First Class passengers to board, requesting that everyone else remain seated until their row numbers are called. Most comply. But then she asks for those seated in rows 40-45 to board, and half of the people seated at the gate stand up and crowd around the boarding queue. Of course, this means that the people who really are seated in rows 40-45 have to push through to get in line. And it’s not really a line, either. It’s a bottleneck, with people weaseling their way in just so that they can get on board before you do.

Which is another thing I don’t understand. Why is everyone always in such a hurry to board? I mean, the plane will take off at the same time whether they get on first or last. And if it’s an overseas flight and they’re gonna be sitting on their asses for hours on end, why rush to get into that cramped seat? Personally, I’d rather hop around the gate for as long as possible before I have to board just so that I can MINIMIZE the amount of time I’ll be constrained in my airplane seat.

My Dad and Marion are sitting up in First Class, while I am sitting towards the back in Last Class. Boarding the plane and walking through coach, I found myself walking by all the others who boarded early and against the rules, each with smug-ass expressions on their faces. “Look at me, I’m already in my seat and comfortable. Shoes off, magazine halfway done, neck pillow inflated. You are a loser.” Flight attendants stand around and do nothing in particular. I hear one whisper to another, “This plane scares me.” Disconcerting.

More idiocy after sitting in my seat. Over the PA, the attendant asks “Will Raquel Cohen, sitting in 20A, please hit your flight attendant button?” Why would she need to hit her button if they know exactly where she is sitting?

9:56 flying time, but we left 30 minutes late due to boarding idiocy. After taking off, the orangy lights of industrial New Jersey, Manhattan, and Brooklyn floated by. Then the pearly, white glow of an illuminated Yankee Stadium. Then the blackness of the Atlantic. Then the flight attendant ran up and down the aisle, making everyone pull their window shades down. Why?

The flight’s pretty packed, but I’m lucky enough to have the middle seat next to me open. It’s midnight now, and they’re serving dinner pretty soon. After that’s done, I think I’ll try to get some sleep.

    3 Responses to “To Israel!”

  1. Bruce Small Says:

    Thank you for the blog and the photos. You are a handsomer version of Don, one of my best friends from many decades ago in St. Lambert. Many a cold winter day we spent reading Dick Tracy comic books over at his place. My favorite memory of Don: He used to share his matzo crackers with me. I, of course, put butter and salt on them.

  2. Jeff Says:

    Thanks for the note and compliments, Bruce!

  3. Vicki Small Says:

    Bruce shares your email to him with me. Love your writing and your humor! Would love to read more of this trip, especially because we went to Israel last year.

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