Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My Aliyah Flight

It is now August 16th at 5:20 PM, my first day in Israel as an Olah Chadashah. My flight was actually pretty amazing. But let me start at the beginning:

I arrived at JFK airport in Queens, NY VERY early, at 8:45 AM!  The earliest we were expected was 9:30 AM and we had been told "ABSOLUTELY NO EARLY CHECK IN!".  Well, I was NOT the first to arrive -- there were MANY MANY young men and women already there -- most of whom were part of the contingent of over 100 young adults going into the IDF upon arrival to Israel (are you impressed?  You should be!).  Garin Tzohar was on my flight and I feel very honored to have flown with these amazing young people.  

At JFK, everyone was sort of milling around aimlessly but I got checked in at the NBN table and then went right ahead with checking in my luggage with EL AL.  I was kind of worried that my luggage would be overweight (we were allowed to check in two pieces, up to 70 lbs each).  B"H, each piece weighed in at about 69.2 lbs.  I did good without really having a good scale to help me!!  (I used my "guesstimation" sense by lifting each piece and deciding if it was over or underweight.)  

After I was checked and divested of the two large and heavy pieces of luggage, we (my parents, myself and my best friend, Jocelyn) just sort of hung out a bit before heading over to the area where the NBN ceremony would take place. Again, we were nice and early which was a mechaya considering that there were like about 4 dozen chairs available -- for a flight with 360 individuals making aliyah - and all their families and friends who were there to see them off and of course all the NBN personnel and EL AL staff, and VIPs who were there as well.  WE secured four chairs initially but as more elderly people showed up both Jocelyn and I gave up our chairs.  

The ceremony was, surprisingly, quite well done and actually felt good to me.  I thought it might be TOO "gushy" but it hit just the right note.  Of course my mom kept tearing up and I had to look away so that I would not tear up -- I was afraid of having a headache from crying on the plane! 

Then, after the ceremony we all made our goodbyes and went to go through security and to our gates.  I happened to be sandwiched between a group of the NBN vips and various Israeli ministry personnel.  They were all so nice to me, helping with all my "stuff" and engaging me in conversation in Hebrew.  Yay, I am speaking Hebrew and doing pretty good!!  I thanked them all for all their hard work on our behalf.  

I then headed to the gate, and was able to board the plane immediately  Upon entering the plane I was directed to my seat:  upstairs in the business class cabin.  I was SHOCKED!  I stood there, next to my seat, motionless for a moment and then did a slow turn around and said in a whisper, "What have I done to merit this?".  I made myself comfortable (remarkably easy in the spacious and QUIET cabin with the flying barcaloungers -- or rather, flying Lazy Boy's to the younger set who do not remember barcaloungers).  I then pulled out my cell phone to call my parents and tell them where I was seated.  I told my mom, "G-d is being very good to me", whereupon I finally proceeded to have a much delayed bawl.  Of course this made my mom cry too.  She gave me a bracha and then I got off the phone and settled in.  

Most of the other passengers in the upper cabin were "alte kockes" like myself.  The lower business class cabin was reserved for all the NBN staff and Israeli ministry personnel.  The coach class was FILLED TO THE GILLS with mostly YOUNG people -- who were all very active and very noisy and packed in like sardines in a can.  I am SO GLAD I was upstairs in the quiet cabin.  Nonetheless, despite the extreme comfort of my seat and space, I was unable to sleep.  This simply endemic to me and plane travel -- I am unable to sleep while flying.  

Finally, many hours later: I arrived at the airport, met each and every one of the chayalim who were there to greet us (each one had the same name: "guest"!), I gave each one a token "Todah Lach/L'cha" for their service (literally a token, with an invitation to us for a Shabbat in Hashmonaim!  I was then greeted by my sister, Phyllis and my niece Efrat and nephew Noam, and brother-in-law, Robert. I was also greeted by my daughter, Chloe and son-in-law, Jonathan, and my amazingly cute grandson, Gavriel.  As we entered the terminal, I was then greeted by Avi and Robin Schreiber, good friends of mine from Teaneck who made aliyah to Hashmonaim.  They came to greet me! 

My family and I decided to sit toward the back of the seating, which is very unusual for me since I always ask to sit in the front due to my disability -- but all the people and noise and music and general hullaballoo was just too much for Gavriel so we wanted to move a bit away from it. It was just as well, I got more "quality" time with my family.  My sister gave me a gift of three things:  the book, "Israel for Beginners" by Angelo Colorni, the book "The Book of New Israeli Food", by Janna Gur and an Israeli Hebrew calendar with beautiful photos of Israel. 

Then, while sitting there I look up and see in the distance, Jeremy Staiman.  I ran very quickly over to greet him and he told me Chana was there somewhere. They could not believe they missed me coming off the  shuttle bus.  They came JUST TO GREET ME!! I was so amazed and am SO touched. I met the Staimans when I moved to Baltimore and they are an amazing couple.  But I only really knew them for less than a year before THEY made aliyah.  So, the fact that they came to welcome me to Israel means SO MUCH to me!! 

On this flight and at the arrivals hall I met other people with whom I had only been in touch via Facebook.  I met Laura Ben David. I met Rabbi Yehoshua Fass who is really truly a special person.  I met Jacob Richman whose prolific presence on the web has shadowed mine since I got online for the first time in 1997.  It was really truly an amazing experience.  

When the ceremony was over, we bade all our family and friends goodbye -- or rather "l'hitraot" for were all staying. We just had to deal with some "klita" matters before we could leave the airport.  

I went upstairs to the area where the klita processing was to occur. The room was FILLED with olim chadashim. There were small offices to the left side of the room, each one assigned a different group of olim to process, according to last name alphabetically.  I went right to the one for my group. The klita processor was still getting himself situated. I realized how it would work. He would bellow out the name of the (next) person he would process.  I saw right away that I would NEVER hear that.  So I just barged into his room and said, in Hebrew, "I am hard of hearing, I wear hearing aids and I read lips. I will never hear you when you call my name."  He said, fine, sit down, I will process you now, first!  LOL! It was great! I was in and out in record time. I conducted the entire process in Hebrew. I am really proud of myself.  

Then I took the receipt he gave me for the monit and went down to secure a taxi.  NBN did not leave even this to be disorganized.  They took charge of this and organized this.  It was at this point, though, that  things finally went slight awry.  I was assigned to a sherut with four other individuals and all our attendant luggage. We were forced to SQUEEZE into seats that were highly inadequate for the combined girths and weights of us --it was really uncomfortable.  More so considering that we were going up North.  It was really weird though -- I was the one going the furthest North and the driver chose to take me to my place first.  But he took a cockamamie route there, ignoring my instructions for a more direct and easy route, and then he got lost and kept ignoring the instructions from his GPS!  He easily cost us an additional hour and he finally stopped and got directions from another taxi driver!  

But I did arrive at long last to my daughter's place in Haifa.  I ate, showered, and napped, in that order.  And now, I am penning (albeit virtually) this blog entry.  My daughter is making a peanut butter/banana smoothie and I am looking forward to it. 

With that I will sign off.  More to come...

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