We have settled in at Windows of Jerusalem as part of our winter vacation family reunion bonanza. I will try to update this blog enough so that the world knows what we are up to. This will all be on the test.
It began auspiciously enough as we left the house pretty much on time, set to catch a 3:55 flight. We anticipated the kinds of lines we have seen in the past so we were worried that arriving at the airport 3 hours early was cutting it close but we had faith. We braved the 16 degree weather for the promise of the 43 degrees reported in Jerusalem and made it to the airport. At Newark we discovered that there is a large scale attempt to put people out of a job. We took our own bags to a kiosk and printed up tags and passes. We only had to drop our luggage off at the counter and we were ready for security.
Security -- everyone told me that United was like El Al. Fact is, it wasn't. The first part was simply the TSA line along with every other flight leaving the airport. We assumed we had to empty our pockets and take off our shoes but there were no signs to that effect. As we got closer, we heard the occasional TSA agent bark at people that (even in the absence of signs) they had loaded their various baskets incorrectly. They seemed not to understand that if they announce it at 2:15, by the time 2:20 rolls around, they are surrounded by totally different people who didn't hear the earlier instructions. So they shouldn't act so snippy. We don't automatically know that our lap tops must have their own bins. We moved through there in good time, collected our pertinents and moved through to gate 138 just in time to be told that we had to move temporarily to gate 128. That's not weird or anything. Eventually another makeshift security gate was set up and we were screened again by another private firm. Neither process was especially rigorous or thorough. Neither did what El Al does -- I was not asked who packed my bags, no one seemed worried at all the unaccompanied bags lying around and I felt that I wasted all that time I spent last week helping Talia learn what this week's parsha is. We sat, watching the clock as the 3:05 boarding time approached.
Even though this was a United flight it seems that the Israel-bound traveler ethos was present as many passengers camped out well before loading so that they could lay claim to more overhead bin space in which to check their hats, strollers and small children. By 3:25 most of the passengers had established something not unlike a series of lines and the jockeying for position began. By 3:35 the crowd started to get restless so the woman well beyond the barricade announced that the flight had been delayed because they were still waiting for the arrival of a crew to deal with a "maintenance problem." This was disquieting. I'm about to sit in the flying bus for 11 hours at 40,000 feet with the temperature of -77 degrees outside. I don't want to think that there are maintenance problems with my plane. If there is something that has to be reviewed, don't bring in a crew to put a band aid on it. i want a new plane, please. Anyway, the flight board moved us to 4:20 and soon, to 4:50 and eventually 5:15. Meanwhile, in anticipation of the flight and my need to sleep, I had taken a Benadryl at 3:15, expecting to board and fall asleep. Having to stand around with the medicine clouding my already suspect faculties wasn't the optimal situation.
Eventually, the issue was resolved (a problem with a smoke detector) and we boarded the 777-200 to find ample overhead space, but very little space between seats. To reword the old joke, I had to step out into the aisle to adjust my attitude. I watched as the sun set and other planes queued up and jetted down the runway and off into the yonder (I cannot attest to its color or approach to life). I even turned on the in-seat screen to watch the flight status and map. That was diverting, and I also planned out which songs I would put on to help me sleep. I got settled in just as the safety video parade and the announcements began. When they all finished, my wife and daughter turned on their movies and my screen refused to work.I knew that a meal was going to be served relatively soon so I had to stay away long enough to insult my kosher meal. I sat, angrily doing nothing. Anger almost turned into a solid bit of sleep but then an announcement was made that maariv would be prayed so I forced myself to get up and wander towards the back of the plane.
The minyan took place in the rear galley so the crew had to clear out. They seemed less than excited at the prospect of being displaced. Remember, this was not an El Al flight on which the entire crew knows enough of Judaism to reject it properly. This crew had just come in from Italy and some had never flown to Israel so they had no idea what we were doing. And they didn't like it. Incidentally, the passenger clientele was also somewhat strange to me. The operative language was Yiddish and the men who wore plain black hats were under represented and under dressed. In my khakis and non-white shirt I felt like even less that Jewish and they wouldn't count me for the minyan. After davening, men with substantial beards conferred and decided that we would meet for Shacharit at 12 midnight (7AM Jerusalem time) -- 3.5 hours away. I am no math guy so I didn't question their calculations but I knew that this was not enough time to get a full night's sleep in. I tried unsuccessfully to nap as the sugar from the 2 desserts I scarfed down decided that I was in an up cycle and eventually I just watched a movie as my screen had finally been fixed. At midnight, I moved back to the gallery and found myself alone there. It was explained to me that the powers that be had decided that 7AM was the wrong time and we had to wait til 7:30. And ultimately, 7:45. Maybe the bearded sages worked for United.
In the meantime, I watched the lights from Europe flow by under the plane. It was night so I could not discern the cities (not that I would have had a chance in hell were it day, but whatever) so I made up fanciful guesses. I looked at the curve of a river and the size of the city and decided that We were over London. Another patch of lights was Paris and a long straight highway must be the Autobahn. From the sky and through the lenses of my formidable ignorance, Zagreb looks like Pame and both are similar to Berne. I marveled at the snow covered Ruhr Valley without caring that I don't know where the Ruhr valley is or what it looks like, even on a map. I declared that these lights are these cities so it became law in my head.
Prayers began and I gazed at the wonderful diversity of the Jews there. Believers from different sects, families and traditions, with different appearances, liturgies and practices all came together with one goal in mind, to tell me that whatever I was doing was wrong. I did have the chance to explain to the steward (who told his fellow workers as we were deplaning that he intends not to have this assignment again) all about prayer, the tallit and tefillin. He seemed interested but that didn't fully overwhelm his annoyance that we were once again, and for even longer, kicking him out of his workspace.Returning to my seat for another meal I gave up on sleep and decided to tough it out and run to the refuge of an espresso as soon as I could.
Descent was relatively smooth but it shook me up nonetheless. Nausea kicked in, exacerbated by the heat in the plane and, later, by the mad crush to exit. We found all of our stuff (I lost my sleep mask 3 times in 10 hours, all while sitting in my seat) and wandered through the airport so that we could be inspected, selected, rejected and dejected. We got our bags and decided to take a sherut (a shared van) to our apartment rental. I fell asleep in the hot, humid van and woke up sweaty and feeling gross. Yay. There is an equivalent to "sea legs" in which someone lands and still feels like he is moving up and down. Sort of like vertigo but without the cool name.
We were dropped off on the right block and eventually found the entrance-way to the apartment building. MADDIE WAS THERE! Many hugs later, and a tear or three, we got into our apartment and started to settle. It took a while to get acclimated to the room (the Israeli system of hot water heaters, space heaters and separate showers and wash rooms is frustrating but after a few years, you learn to hate it apparently). We walked over to my sister's house to spend some time with her and her family. I fell asleep repeatedly. No offense, I was just really tired. Apparently some conversations were had but I don't recall details because I was just holding it together so I wouldn't crawl onto the floor and have a snore fest. We argued over dinner options, and decided to walk back to the apartment and see what place appeared. The winner? "Chatzot", a middle eastern place (not shockingly). I am proud to say that I, for the first time, had Jerusalem mixed grill IN JERUSALEM! It tasted much the same. I'm just glad I stayed awake.
I stumbled back to the apartment and now, at some time in the early evening on some day which I can't identify, I think I am going to go to sleep for a while. With my luck, I'll be up and wandering around the shuk at 5AM...