From Bethesda to Jerusalem (part 1)

I know that y'all are expecting thoroughly insightful long-form writing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I'll try to get there, I promise! For now, some lighthearted writing about the seemingly endless (both physically and culturally) trip from my childhood home to my home for the next 5+ months.

I have a love-hate relationship with long-haul air travel. On one hand, I find the concept of being whisked between any two points on the globe in a day or less to be awe-inspiring, and the ability to do this in nearly complete safety while sitting in a padded chair and consuming junk food, cheap booze, and bad movies is quite possibly the most impressive accomplishment of humanity. On the other hand, I have a crippling, all-consuming fear of turbulence. Those of you who know me well know that I can’t board a flight without first spending hours researching the relevant weather conditions related to the flight, and I’ve gleaned enough information from this research that I feel I can credibly call myself an amateur meteorologist and aerospace engineer. On September 27th, the national weather services of the US, Canada, and UK predicted severe turbulence over the Atlantic, so it was with some trepidation (to put it mildly) that I set off for Dulles that evening.

After saying goodbye to my parents and to Rosie (and several calls to same, in which I had to be talked out of tearing up my boarding pass and walking out of the airport), I boarded the first leg of my journey, to Istanbul. Thankfully, the combination of a midnight departure, a frequent-flyer upgrade to business class, and a kindly anesthesiologist seatmate who instructed me on the doses of alcohol and Xanax that would safely suppress even the worst turbulence phobia meant that I slept between takeoff from Dulles and breakfast over the Balkans. After a quick stop in the Istanbul airport and a short but terrifying (it’s never fun to see lighting outside of your plane’s window, but it’s especially not fun to see lightning flash inside your plane’s cabin) flight to Tel Aviv, I could release my sweaty palms from the armrests and let the real fun begin.

While I had some concerns that the lefty orientation of my planned activities in Israel would cause me some problems at immigration, it was a breeze. Yes, I’m here to participate in a Masa Israel program, I said, hoping that there would be no questions asked about the nature of the program. This is my third time in Israel, after a Birthright trip and a family visit during my childhood. I suppose that these answers were about the most unthreatening possible, because the surly immigration officer then stamped me in, throwing me to the wolves of the Tel Aviv taxi system. While waiting for my luggage, I had carefully studied the Hebrew name and address of my Tel Aviv hostel, so I was ready to wow the driver. Unfortunately, I was disappointed when the driver greeted me and requested my destination in perfect English. First attempt to speak Hebrew, foiled. This would soon become a theme.

A short time later, I was at my hostel. I lugged my overstuffed suitcases past the crowd of American Jewish bros drinking Goldstar in the common room, checked in, and continued lugging until I reached a somewhat Spartan and cramped bedroom. However, it was private, cool, quiet, and most importantly, not subject to the vicissitudes of the jet stream. I collapsed into bed immediately.

Up next: your fearless narrator tries to buy a cell phone and take an intercity bus. Stay tuned...