The thing about flying El Al is that, once you board, you feel like you’re in Israel already. The staff has that paradoxical surly-but-kind manner, everything’s in Hebrew with often unintentionally hilarious English translations, and you’re surrounded by an eclectic mix of fellow Jews. Our plane had the typical assortment: chassidim and other “black hat” Orthodox men and families, classically underdressed secular Israelis, American 20-somethings on a group trip, and some Israeli kids who looked way too young to be traveling alone. Not to be found: the notion of any public comportment. When it’s just us, we climb on the seats, argue with the flight attendants (and everyone else), talk loudly across the plane, complain about where we’re seated, share food, and generally act like the plane is our collective living room. Welcome home.
The flight from Heathrow to Ben Gurion kind of tracked the first leg, except we had less space (no bulkhead, no bassinet, and only 4 seats across in the middle section). The boys quickly fell asleep, but then Shalom soon woke up with his same punitive crying routine. A movie on Debbie’s iPad made it bearable, but we arrived at Tel Aviv exhausted and with frayed nerves. On the other hand, we were really excited to be there.
As an aside, I initially forgot my duty-free bag on the plane — I nearly lost my scotch! Fortunately, I remembered and high-tailed it back in time. They let me get back on the plane to retrieve it. The notable thing was that I got to see the cleaning crew in action. I might have guessed how massive it was had I taken the time to think about it, but it was truly impressive how many people come on to clean up and prep the plane for its next flight.
One last leg remained for our voyage in: to get ourselves and our massive baggage load into the Old City and into our apartment. We’d arranged a driver in advance (if you need one, let me know — he’s a really good guy) to pick us up. But we had taken two SUVs to get to the airport in Chicago with all of us and our stuff and — though I’d emailed the driver several times to warn him about the large baggage load — I was getting worried that we wouldn’t be able to fit everything. There was also the fact that you can only get so far into the Old City by car, and that I only sort of knew where our place was.
After getting all of our bags loaded onto two groaning carts, we headed for the exit area where the driver was to meet us. Before we got there, he spotted us and went to go get the car. He pulled up in a minivan-ish thing, and I was sure it would never happen. Sure enough, our bags quickly ate up all of the trunk space with lots more to be packed. But somehow, with stuff at our feet, in our sides, and on our laps, it all went in. I have to tell you this was nothing short of an open miracle. Welcome to the Holy Land.
We got some more much-needed Divine assistance when we got to the Old City. First, the parking lot attendant let us pull in to unload the car. Okay, that didn’t really qualify as miraculous, but convincing a grumpy Israeli security guard of anything in the middle of the night seemed unlikely. The next step was more crucial. I went ahead to scout, and pretty quickly found the address, about where I believed it would be. The problem was that the landlord had told me there was no separate apartment number, making me think our place was the only one at the address. But when I got to Ma’amadot Yisrael 7, there was an entranceway leading to 3 apartments. Worse, all had nameplates, none of which matched my landlord’s name. It was well after midnight, and I had no working cell phone.
I did know that our place was accessed via a “Shabbos lock” (a built-in combination lock), which only one of the apartments had. But I was apprehensive about trying the code on that lock, to say the least. If it was the wrong place, the resident was going to think someone was trying to break in to his home in the middle of the night. It also bears mentioning that many Israelis are well armed.
Anyway, I decided to quickly and quietly try the code. It worked perfectly, and I stepped into the apartment, looking exactly as it had in the video our friend Isser shot for us. Having seen that video so many times (as we showed it to friends and family), it was dizzying to walk into it, actually. I turned on some lights and headed back to help ferry baggage. What I would only realize later was how unlikely it was for the code to have worked perfectly the first time. As it turns out, the lock sticks, and you almost always have to punch the last number a bunch of times, or start over, in order to get it to work. But, had the code not worked perfectly that first time, I would have assumed it was not the right place, and wouldn’t have known what to do.
In fact, when I came back with the first load of bags, I tried to enter the code and it didn’t work. I tried re-entering it a few times, with no avail. Now, I assumed that I’d somehow accidentally locked the bottom lock when I’d closed the door, and believed we were stranded outside — again, late at night and with no cell phone. Just then, the neighbor from the apartment next door came by. He’s handy, thoroughly familiar with our place, and knew the code. Oh, and he’s from the States, so there’s no language issue. I told him our predicament and he said no, the lock just sticks, and promptly opened it. Once again, had this neighbor not happened to have been around, at nearly 1:00 a.m., I don’t know what I would’ve done.
We finally got all of our stuff inside, tipped our driver heavily, and went to bed. But first I thanked G-d for the “small” favors, which made such a huge difference. Again, welcome to the Holy Land.