On the left, you will see the entirely of my luggage for the next year abroad. The backpack weighed in at 62 lbs, the small suitcase at around 18 lbs, and the daypack was filled to capacity. It certainly was no fun packing it up or lugging it on my back through the airport, but for such a long time away, I think I did alright.
All my flights were on-time, smooth, and largely uneventful. For the first time, I took U.S. Airways to Tel Aviv via Philadelphia. This is a new route for them, and they clearly have a bit to learn about dealing with passengers en route to Israel. I can think of no other route in the world like this one: crammed full with a mix of aging grandmothers, screaming babies, competing blocs of teenagers representing multiple youth groups, exuberant evangelical tour groups, haredim decked out in teffilin shuckling in the aisles, and loud, pushy parents.
Still, the flight attendants handled the crowd well enough. A wide array of movies, television shows, games, and music on personal screens in the backs of every chair were a big help. I got through four movies myself, but little sleep. More problematic was the lack of sufficient kosher meals on board. Apparently the record of my order (and seemingly half the plane’s) was lost somewhere in transit. I think in the end they had enough for everyone, but really… If there is one flight to cut down on the cheese-wrapped sausages and bring on the tasteless, lukewarm, rubbery glatt kosher chicken, this is it. Kudos to U.S. Airways for the effort regardless.
After landing in Ben Gurion International and clearing customs, I grabbed my bags and hopped a sherut (basically an airport shuttle) to Ramat Eshkol in Jerusalem where I spent Shabbat with some old friends. From the airport, we primarily took Route 443 through Modi’in, skipping much of the traffic that you usually find in the early afternoon on the main route, Highway 1, “direct” between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
I could not help but be entertained by the two British passengers, clearly getting their first glimpse of the West Bank Security Barrier. Ten minutes outside of Jerusalem, they noticed the concrete slabs and one said something like: “Oh that must be Wall. So we must be on the Jewish side separated from the Arab side.” My quick response was that it really isn’t that distinct and that we had been passing the “wall” for the last 20 minutes. They just didn’t notice it because it was either a chain link fence or a well-lit side road. An Israeli chimed in and pointed out both why the barrier exists and that the route had recently been reopened to Palestinian traffic. He was much more eloquent.
Once arriving in Ramat Eskol, I trudged up the four flights of stairs to my friends’ apartment with bags on back, front, and in arm. Shabbat was spent catching up on the past few years, davening in the nearby synagogue, eating fantastic spreads, playing Settlers of Katan (I’ve finally done it) and drinking great whiskey. This guy has such a quantity and variety of quality scotches, bourbons, and other whiskeys that it would make even a long-time collector and connoisseur blush. Damn fine scotch, seriously.
Besides all the good socializing, I also slept, a lot. I am an early riser and almost without fail am up by 7:00 or 7:30 even on days when I am supposed to be sleeping in. On Saturday, I was out until 11:30 even after having gone to bed at midnight. No big deal for most college kids, but a real feat for me. After Shabbat, we met up with other friends and tried in vain to find an open outdoor venue to play floor hockey but every court and field from the German Colony to outside the Supreme Court was taken. While this was hardly odd, it did seem strange to be doing something as mundane as commuting around one of the world’s most hotly contested and religiously sacred cities searching for a free playing surface. This is something to which I must adjust.
Today, my friend was nice enough to drop me off at the Hebrew University campus where I finished up my registration process for my ulpan (intensive Hebrew language classes) beginning on Tuesday. I also have gotten mostly settled in my dormitory apartment, to be shared with four other students none of whom have yet arrived. This is probably a good thing as the apartment is still missing its fridge. The facilities folks tell me they’ll get right on it. Never mind that this was 3 hours ago. Remaining goals for the day: buy a cell phone plan, find a fridge, start contacting friends, and call the folks. After all it is Father’s Day.
I have the world’s greatest dad, but please feel free to lie to your own fathers and tell them that they’re the best too. They won’t notice your deceit, I promise. Thanks as always for reading.