Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Israel, Part One, Last Day, Airport and Airplane

Seating and Eating and More Eating

Disclaimer:  This is an irreverent, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, take on people’s fervent beliefs.  In no way do I mean any disrespect to those who act on their beliefs.  As long as they don’t hurt others … or interfere with their seat assignments.  In subsequent posts I will write glowing reports of the wonderful religious LGBT people we met. 

“Technical” reasons delay El Al flight, Tel Aviv to New York, from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.  Boarding is stopped at 12:05 a.m. shortly after it began and the plane emptied.  I’ll skip reporting on the grumbling and the scene and at the counter to rebook connections. 

Scene 1:  Eating

About 2 a.m., we are told that El Al is providing us breakfast in the food court, at the other end of the concourse.  I get there near the front of the line.  (I have my ways.)   The place has big signs saying Kasher Lemahadrin (glatt kosher).  There is much scrutiny by the haredim of the kashrut certificate on the wall.  Some discuss; some stay; some leave.  I help an old lady in line in front of me get a tray and silverware.  She is dressed modestly, but in a relatively modern way.  Though I think she has a wig on.  Is it tznius or old-age fashion?  Hard for me to tell.  As she passes each person working behind the counter, she repeats that she needs lemahadrin.  Each one nods reassuringly, though in that bored manner of teenagers working the graveyard shift.  I start to wonder whether her repeated questioning stems for frumkeit or short-term memory loss.  She asks one of the employees where the kashrut certificate is.  He points to the column on which it is posted, though it’s on the other side.  She seems confused, so I show her where it is.  She goes around to look, but doesn’t spend as much time reading as the men had earlier.  I think she gets back in line.  I don’t remember if she takes the food and eats.  My attention is shot.  It’s almost 3 a.m. and I’m eating another meal of scrambled eggs and salad and not a very good one. 

Scene 2: Seating

Finally on the plane, two rows in front of me, there is consternation with seat assignments.  Apparently, a woman has a seat between two haredi men.  The men are youngish.  The woman is probably in her 60s or so.  She is no Bar Rafaeli.  To the extent I am able to tune into the conversation, it seems that the man who has the window seat is offered a seat in, as they say in Hebrew, “biznez.”  I wanted to blurt out, “Lama lo notnim lagveret lashevet bebiznez?”  Why don’t you let the lady sit in business?  Seems like the easier way to solve the problem.  But I try not to yell on planes, even El Al, and don’t want to antagonize my neighbors.  Besides, maybe the man is a premium frequent traveler and is entitled to the seat.  Maybe he offered to pay the upgrade and I didn’t hear.  Mostly, I guess, it’s just not my problem.  The woman looks PEEVED AS HELL, but keeps quiet. 

The other haredi man, who has the aisle seat, asks the man sitting in the aisle seat in the row between him and me if he would change seats with him.  There are only men in that row.  The man says fine.  I’m glad I’m a row back and he didn’t ask me.  What would I have said?  The woman glares quietly at the haredi man as he packs up his stuff and moves.  He doesn’t notice, of course. 

I cant help but wonder when humiliating a random Jewish woman on an airplane became a Jewish value.  

Scene 3: Eating

More “Jewish food insecurity” when the meals are served. 

The meals are served backwards, for some reason.  We have another breakfast at 3 a.m. Israel time and dinner (pasta with meat sauce or chicken) at 7 a.m. Eastern time. 

The special meals are served first.  The young Israeli woman in my row gets a tzimchoni (vegetarian) and the haredi man in front of me gets a what appears to be a hermetically sealed extra-kosher meal.  He opens up the plastic, takes a look, jumps up, abandons the meal in the galley across the aisle, and retrieves from somewhere a plastic bag, presumably containing his emergency snacks. 

I eventually get my meal, assembled off the food cart by the flight attendant.  I pull out the kosher certificate from under the plate.  Hey, just to be sure, you know?  The inflight caterer “has righteous Kashrut observers under the supervision of Rabbi Moshe Nahshoni and the guidance of the National Kashrut Department of the Chief Rabbinate Israel.”  I guess some people answer to a higher authority than the Chief Rabbi.  G-d, I guess. 

A Scene from the Airport CD Store – The One Thing All Israelis Apparently Agree On

Ben Gurion Airport, late Sunday night even before the flight delay, I wander in and out of the stores to pass the hours until my flight.  The CD store is filled with the musical output of this tiny nation over 60 years.  I’m a slow browser, especially when all the labels are in Hebrew.  After a few minutes, the young store clerk, having the same hippy happy attitude of record store clerks all over the world, but looking like he belongs only here, walks toward me, “Efshar laazor otcha?” (“May I help you?”)  “Stam mistakel,” I say, “Just looking.”  He smiles. 

As I wonder how long I can linger without looking suspicious, or stupid, I hear a woman’s voice, in American English, asking the clerk for a recommendation for good Israeli pop music.  My interest is piqued.  I think back to the concert I attended recently at Strathmore.  The featured American singer told the story of how she met the Israeli singer/songwriter with whom she was appearing.  On vacation in Israel, she asked everyone she met to tell her who they thought was the most innovative musical artist in Israel.  Everyone gave her the same answer, so she arranged to meet him, and their collaboration began. 

I was intrigued.  Would the music store clerk give the same answer?  He picked out a CD from the new releases rack.  I heard him make a comparison to Coldplay.  I hesitated.  Who could that be?  I’ve heard Coldplay, but ….  I make my way slowly toward where they are standing in time to see him hand a 3-CD set to the woman.  YES!  I exclaimed in my head.  Of course.  Everyone in Israel agrees! On this one thing anyway.  I burst out in English, addressing the woman.  “Yes, you have to buy that.  You will love it.”  The clerk felt compelled to tell the woman I did not work there.  “I saw them in concert,” I continued.  It was the best concert I ever saw.”  The clerk offered to put the CD on for her to hear. 

The music starts: 
מה הזמן מסמן לי / זה הכל שאריות של החיים / ולחיות את הרגע / להתחיל לאסוף את השברים

“What is time telling me? / It’s all scraps of life / And to live the moment / To begin collecting the shards / Maybe I will go out more / Start to speed up a bit / Start to get along / And make some noise / Maybe a different place / A more exciting place / Start to shake things up / And make them right again.” 

The Idan Raichel Project.  Betach!  Of course.  The same answer India.Arie told us at the concert that she got from everyone when she was in Israel. 

The American woman buys the CD.  I tell her good choice and assure her once again that I don’t work there.  Not sure why I said that.  I don’t think I look like I work in a record store.

Check out this video of another Idan Raichel Project song, Milim Yafot Mei Eleh (Nicer Words Than These):  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95anpoEb4fM  FYI:  Idan is the Ashkenazi in dreadlocks.  The other singers are Ravid Kahalani, who is Yemenite; Cabra Casay, an Ethiopian born in the refugee camps in Sudan; and Maya Avraham, who is of Indian origin.  The musicians are from all over the world. 

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