Thu May 14, 2015, 21:26EST
It was wonderful.
It was terrifying.
It was beautiful.
A stern woman had me captive for what seemed like an embarrassing hour as the barrage of questions fired, men in kippot smirking at me in line; was it familiarity? Was it the look on my face?
“How long have you been converting?”
“Two or three years.”
“Do you plan to go to other countries? Jordan? Egypt?”
“Did you meet others at the airport? Did they give you anything for the flight?”
I felt a wince of fear, of course I wouldn’t support terrorism, but I had to remain stout and straight-faced.
“How long have you been converting? …Do you have any bombs?”
It was such a beautiful procedure, yet intimidating, despite the expectations I had of travelling to Israel…
They’re everywhere, men in coats and women with headscarves… some bald, some with ravenous curls; peyot (side-locks of hair) wild and pampered. Tall hats, small yarmulkes… tan, white, black, kindred beauty at the foot of Sinai.
It’s quiet here. Not unlike the sounds of footsteps… the bold step I’ve waited so long for, one that will fashion me further into the man I feel I am inside and yearn to be…
I met a man with a knitted kippah on his head, as we tried to find a working outlet to charge our electronics. I fashioned my black satin kippah to my head, and we now sit… him focused toward the screen, I, typing… and I realize I haven’t asked his name.
I am not surrounded, but implanted… living together, one heart, international people all wanting to experience what lies hours away, all thinking, eating airport food, preparing one last check of ticket and passport… the winged ark waits outside of the gate.
Sun May 17, 2015 13:59IST
I have fallen behind in my reports, but really, who could blame me?
A brief recap of my journey here; I originally was supposed to arrive at Ben-Gurion International (TLV) on the morning of Friday, May 14th, but ended up arriving later that evening due to a nightmarish flight cancellation for my original departure out of Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Luckily, I was in good hands as the El Al representative on the phone rerouted me for a later departure out of New York City (JFK) instead of Newark (EWR) where I was originally going to connect to from Chicago (ORD), the cancelled flight; from there I also redirected my cancelled flight from EWR to JFK. An eighteen hour journey became over a thirty hour one, but I am glad to be here.
I write now in the Arrivals Hall of Ben-Gurion after spending two stunning days in Tel Aviv, in a hotel I booked two blocks from the Mediterranean waterfront. In those days, recovering from jetlag, I spent evenings and nights walking the streets, learning the life, listening to conversations everywhere (all in Hebrew!), tasting new food, and pausing many times to acquaint my mind and tell myself over and over where I am. The place I’ve worked forever, with strong doubts, to get to.
I remember taking a cab for the first time outside of the airport. A very kind driver, asking me “AC or window?” as I feel the Israeli breeze rippling through the leather interior, the taxi driving past scenes of tropical foliage, foreign pavement and street signs, all in English, Hebrew and Arabic, and distant white apartment high rises supported by cranes, I respond “windows down”. At that moment, a day and a half spent almost all awake and sweaty and grimy and jet-lagged in my Sar-El volunteers’ shirt, there was nothing I wanted more than to feel the precious hot wind run through my dirty hair.
And I arrive at the hotel, the duffel bag I carry rigged with a light strap chaffing my right shoulder to hell, my legs shaking (was it anxiousness? Or fatigue?) as I ascend seven flights of stairs past two elevators I had no patience for (one manual, the other constantly active for Shabbat so observant Jews need not press any buttons), and I arrive at my door affixed with a silver mezuzah, open, and drop everything.
The view from the room’s window was when it truly set in: was it the clear, cloud-free, amber sunset? The rusty Bauhaus buildings planted along shimmering coastline? The copious Israeli flags hanging from balconies, tucked in windows, hanging by the dozens on clothesline?
I stood there for probably a half-hour, watching life pass by as I tried to keep up. I didn’t cry, but I maintained that feeling deep down. I was too happy, I couldn’t stop smiling. And this was just a view from a small seaside road in Tel Aviv.
I will revisit more from my first hours in Israel in a bit, but in about a half hour from now I will be beginning my stay on an IDF base. I arrived back here at Ben-Gurion about three hours ago and have been pretty content about it; waiting is a life I’ve gotten used to now.
I purchased my Israeli phone, an old Nokia using T9 with both Hebrew and English characters (how real it is all becoming), met with my Sar-El representative Pamela, and befriended a Norwegian man named Lars. Lars and I sat for a long while and talked about all there is to talk about, and he inspired me to do Ulpan, an intensive Hebrew language-learning program taught on kibbutzim throughout Israel, where he was coming from.
He is a truly wonderful person, non-Jewish, but in his own words: one with a Jewish heart. I guess that makes us kindred.
Unfortunately he will be with another group heading out to a different base, as Pam wants to assign me to a group of younger volunteers, which ultimately I would feel more comfortable serving in.
Turns out I feel much more fit in this group of youngsters. All my new friends are from different countries: a Japanese-Australian named Daniel, a Hungarian named Yiyar, a French girl named Jessica, and a Dutch man whose name slips my mind. I am not allowed to talk about where I am headed to, but satisfaction is an understatement. I feel at home.