It’s a family thing

After a plane ride across nine time zones, it was a relief to finally check in to our Jaffa hotel. The woman at the front desk checked our passports while I daydreamed about Aroma coffee and Tel Aviv’s Gordon beach. Then she asked to see our visas. My husband handed his over while I stared at them both stupidly. I had no memory of being given this tiny slip of paper. Without it, we’d be charged hundreds of dollars in VAT and face heaven-knows what other challenges for the rest of our trip.

As I began to hyperventilate, the Israeli concierge held up her hand and stopped me. In a gentle but authoritative voice, she said: “Here is what you will do.  You will go to your room now and take some time to relax. Then you will find it, and you will bring it to me. And everything will be fine.”

She was, of course, right. On more than one occasion throughout our trip to Israel, I heard her voice in my head saying: “Here is what you will do…and everything will be fine.” It was almost like I suddenly had an older sister.

That is what I love most about Israel: the sense of having a much larger family who’s looking out for you. 

On Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, we met a Moroccan shopkeeper who immediately engaged us in conversation about politics. Which candidates did we support in the U.S. presidential election? What did we think of the current Israeli administration? Had we heard the conspiracy theories about who was really behind the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin? We spent half an hour debating, cheerfully telling one another that we were crazy, when an Orthodox couple entered the store and joined the conversation. Before we knew it, the six of us were arguing about the teachings of the Torah as compared to the Koran and the reason for the soaring prices of municipal real estate. It felt like we were sitting around a Thanksgiving table. 

When we left that shop, my husband, daughter and I each hugged the owner goodbye.

Another Israeli who won a place in our hearts was the store manager at The Photo House in Tel Aviv, owned by the family of Israeli photographer Rudi Weissenstein. Looking through Weissenstein’s photos was a virtual trip through the history of the modern State of Israel. The store manager shared the stories behind every shot, from the breathless crowd waiting for the declaration of independence in 1948 to head shots of an impossibly young Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. 

Then she took us to the front of the shop and showed us the faded upholstered bench upon which the first leaders of the modern Jewish State sat while their portraits were being taken. She insisted that we sit on the bench ourselves. No, she promised, we were not too heavy; and yes, it was appropriate. It was part of our shared history and belonged to us, too.

Like a Jewish grandma sending her family home with leftovers, she added a handful of buttons and postcards to the parcel of photographs we purchased. 

While in Israel, we also went to visit some actual relatives in Kiryat Gat. We had been on the commuter train for perhaps 20 minutes when it became clear that we had gotten on the wrong line. We asked a fellow passenger for help. This young Israeli businesswoman immediately got on the phone to check the schedule and enlisted another passenger to call a separate source. While on hold, she asked us about our trip. Was this our first time here? What had we seen so far?  What did we like best about Israel? Finally, she hung up the phone and said: “Come. Get off with me at Ashkelon. We can get you to a bus station or find a cab.”

Like a mom picking up her teen stranded after curfew, this woman walked us to the front of the station, spoke with a cab driver and negotiated a most reasonable price to drive us straight to our niece’s house.  She hugged us and wished us a good trip. My husband looked at her and said: “You asked us what is the best thing about Israel? It’s you. You are the best thing. The people here are wonderful.” 

When we are in Israel, I feel like we are part of a crazy, loud and loving extended family, a feeling of kinship and belonging like nowhere else in the world. That’s why I was delighted when Jenna decided to spend 10 months here on MASA, and excited to come visit her halfway through her program. But it also is one of the reasons it was hard to return to Chicago when our trip was over.   

On the flight home, Joel’s and my seats were not together, but the ticket agent said perhaps they could change our seat assignments at the gate. If not, I knew this might be the price we paid for traveling on a budget. The agent weighed our bags and asked about our trip. He checked our passports and asked how our daughter was enjoying her time in Tel Aviv. The agent was very pleasant, but did seem to be taking an awfully long time to check us in, and I was relieved when he finished. We thanked him, and got ready to dash to the gate to see what could be done about our seats.  I glanced at the boarding passes and stopped in my tracks. He’d put us together—in an exit row, no less. 

It was like another generous relative had slipped us a virtual $100 bill for the trip home.

Linda 2014
Empty nester Linda Haase considers lessons learned and progress made in her lifetime, through a Jewish woman’s lens.... Read More

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