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600 Rockets Arrived Three Weeks Ago; We Arrive Tomorrow

Israel; just slightly older than I

sunny 101 °F
View Israel and Jordan on paulej4's travel map.

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We leave the shores of the United States 71 years and two weeks after the State of Israel was established for what is, inexplicably, my first visit. B4 has been to Israel only once before. Yesterday was the first anniversary of the relocation of the United States Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It is also the anniversary of what the New York Times called, “a bloody mass protest along the Gaza boundary fence, when scores of Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire. Israel said it was defending its border.” On Tuesday, March 26, two months ago, a day after a rocket fired from southern Gaza landed on a house, injuring seven persons, including a toddler. An Israeli police spokesman, Ami Ben-David, called on residents of Mishmeret, Israel, to continue their daily routines—stressing that businesses would open and schools would hold classes. “It is over and it is back to the routine,” he said.

But for B4 and me, our “routine” does not include visiting areas that are targeted by rocket fire. But that we now do. Back in March, I pondered that in eight weeks’ time the two of us would be leaving to visit Tel Aviv, just a bit over twenty miles from Mishmeret—twenty miles closer to the place from which the rocket in question was launched.

It will be long over, I thought, by the time we get there. They will be, as the policeman said, “back to the routine.”

But then, on May 3, nineteen days ago, more rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel—this time an estimated 600 of them. Israel responded with airstrikes against Hamas, the governing body of Gaza. Four Israelis and 23 Palestinians were killed.

The most intense fighting since a 50-day war in 2014—when thousands of rockets were launched—this is occurring just prior to our journey to celebrate not war but love. We are off to a wedding 45 miles north of the launch sites of these weapons of random death.

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As I ponder this, I am reminded of the bumper sticker formerly affixed to the car owned by “T,” our ej4 studio manager, which states simply: “Coexist.” A difficult goal for many in Kansas City and for those all around the Gaza Strip, a seemingly impossible one.

The reports I read say that residents of the Gaza Strip gather every Friday along the Israeli border to protest. Often turning violent as people try to surge across the border into Israel, some are often killed in the mayhem that ensues. In 2007, Israel imposed a blockade upon the Hamas-controlled residents of this area. The economy inside the Strip has been devastated; unemployment is over 50%. Hamas wants the blockade eased. Israel wants things to be peaceful. Neither goal, it is made clear from these recent attacks, is being achieved.

It is in the shadow of this that B4 and I embark—for the first time in our lives, together or apart—for what seems to me to be a war zone. While we are here, we will attempt to better learn why things here make T’s “Coexist” goal seem both naïve and unachievable.

Security on El Al is very different from what to which we are accustomed. Interestingly there is no TSA Precheck--they don't participate. I assume it isn't stringent enough for what many call the world's most security conscious airline. The internet is full of posts that insist there is at least one armed undercover agent aboard every flight. There are armed guards at ticket counters but then, in this day and age, there are armed (heavily armed) guards everywhere you look in New York--particularly at the airports. Every El Al passenger, prior to check-in, is questioned at a separate podium--in person by a security agent--and El Al (reportedly and unapologetically) uses 'profiling' to determine the extent of their 'interrogation.' We are asked about the nature of our 'relationship,' (she said 'partners'; I said 'engaged'), whether or not we have ever traveled together before (Yes), to where that was (India), for what purpose (another wedding), how we got to the airport (hotel shuttle), what hotel we stayed in (Courtyard by Marriott), who packed the bags, whether or not anyone gave us any wedding gifts to take with us, and for how long we would be gone.

After that, we speed through check-in. Then, in another first for me, we pass a Chabad table. Chabad is one of the world's best-known Hasidic movements, particularly for its outreach activities. They offer tefillin, a set of small black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah, worn by observant adult Jews (only by males in Orthodox communities) during weekday morning prayers. Offered here is the arm-tefillah, or shel yad, which is placed on the upper arm, with the strap wrapped around the hand and fingers. The Torah has been interpreted to say that tefillin should be worn to serve as a "sign" and "remembrance" that God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt.

Next is secular security. (B4 is no longer accustomed to removing her shoes due to her TSA status but that doesn't matter with El Al)

We make our way to the King David Business Class Lounge where the vibe, for me as a non-Jew, is a stereotypical modern-day "Fiddler on the Roof" from clothing, to speech patterns, to accents, to Hebrew spoken alongside English. There is a mix in the lounge; Orthodox to secular, but all 'fit in' better than do I.

That whole operation took remarkably little time; less than 45 minutes from hotel check out to lounging in the lounge. We have 1.5 hours to do email and phone calls which B4 easily fills. I mostly listen.

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Our El Al flight #4 left JFK at 1:00pm (8:00pm destination time) to deliver us to Tel Aviv Yafo's Ben Gurion International Airport at 6:25 the next morning, an overnight flight of ten-and-a-half hours across seven time zones on a Boeing 747-400. We're in a 27-seat section of business class flat bed seats. Ours are 12H & 12K, and we're thankful that we're not in 12D or F or G because this aircraft is set up in an ancient 2-3-3 configuration. If you're in 12F, you're trapped between D and G--in business class. Unusual. In front of us are eight first class seats and behind us are 34 economy plus seats and an amazing 314 coach seats in a 3-4-3 arrangement. There are 20 more business seats "upstairs."

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To minimize jet lag for a destination that is seven hours ahead, it is my practice to adjust myself to "destination time" as quickly as possible. That means, upon departure, make the mind and body think that it isn't afternoon; it's nighttime. So, somehow hit the Fast Forward button on the body clock and go to sleep after only a couple of hours aboard the aircraft. In that way to get six or seven hours of sleep and awake an hour before landing which is scheduled for 6:25am, local time. (To facilitate that, when I awoke at 6:00am at the JFK hotel, I got up rather than rolling over for more sleep which is what I wanted to do). This is even more difficult for B4 because her body is on Mountain Time. Waking up next to me at 6:00am in New York feels to her like 4:00am Salt Lake City time--when it is actually 1:00pm in Tel Aviv. As I will say many times during the compilation of this blog: It's Complicated.

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Boarding the aging El Al 747 is like going back in time. Old style business class seats and cabin arrangements, dirt, food particles stuck in crevices, no offer of a pre-fight beverage, no wi-fi, tiny TV screens which don’t work, (“We will activate them after the meal service,” said the In-Flight Service Manager) and an unappetizing menu offering unappetizing-sounding food (chicken cubes?); B4 said, “I think I’d rather fly Southwest.” For the record, B4 doesn’t very much like Southwest. We say to each other, almost in unison, “I need an attitude adjustment.” To assist with that, I have a vodka. There are no limes.

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Would expressing much dismay bring the ire of the “Medical & Protective Services” fellow who is talking up passengers across the cabin? I deem it wise to not find out. Our captain indicates a flying time an hour shorter than scheduled; we must be expecting a nice tail wind.

When the food is served, it is better than it sounded. However, I embarrassed myself when I asked if there was any butter for the bread. Keeping kosher (no dairy on board) is not a part of my Irish-American life and my ignorance was duly noted by Katia, our flight attendant. I need to be more careful about such things this week. It has long been my intended practice to not present as the “Ugly American;” this week I shall work hard to not be the “Ignorant Gentile.”

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During the boarding process, by watching the small TV screen on the bulkhead, we saw that there is an El Al “app” called DreamStream. It allows for streaming entertainment onto your own personal device. However, the TV notified us that it must be downloaded prior to door closing. I suspect many on board missed that important information. I was just able to get the app downloaded onto my iPhone before we were told to switch all devices off.

Later, in flight, I opened the app and was greeted with this: “We are sorry. The Wireless In-Flight Entertainment system is currently not available.” OK. Reading further it says, “1. Ensure that DreamStream is available on your flight. 2. Ensure your device is in Flight mode and that Wi-Fi is activated. 3. Try to re-establish a connection with DreamStream. Try Again.” I did. IT WORKED! Wi-fi exists; it just is limited in reach to the inside of this aircraft.

In a “first” for me, I find that there is a Chat Room page. However, “0 users are chatting right now.” “Chat allows you to have an instant messaging conversation, this is a general chat room connecting between all passengers on this flight.” A dialog with someone onboard seems somehow creepy. I ponder a monologue but decide against it.

There is a Map page. “Flight information is currently unavailable. We apologize for the inconvenience.” There is a Read page. You are invited to read the El Al Daily Newspaper. It is available only in Hebrew. And, there is a movie page. Under “NEW” movies, on my phone I can watch Aquaman, Deadpool 2, Love Simon, Ready Player One, The Mule and The Other Story. I note that compared to the aircraft itself, those films are relatively NEW.

I tried and tried to get a movie to play on my phone but the internal wi-fi would drop again and again. I finally asked—after six hours in the air—for help. Katia said, “OK. Well, let me bring you an iPad.” THERE WAS AN IPAD AVAILABLE? GOOD GRIEF!

I see an indication that there is another way to fly to Tel Aviv non-stop. It appears that El Al offers a Boeing 787 Dreamliner flying from EWR (Newark) to Tel Aviv. I don’t know why I didn’t find that when I initially researched this trip. The 787 is a much newer aircraft and El Al has of eight of them, the first delivered less than two years ago.

A short two hours after our 1:00pm departure it is bedtime—10:00pm destination time. I decide my best bet is to attempt sleep. After having gotten three good deep hours, I awake. The men in the center row are standing in prayer. I estimate 4.5 hours to go but I am awake; B4 sleeps beside me. All is well over the Atlantic (even without the map). And then, of course, we arrive.

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Posted by paulej4 22:12 Archived in Israel

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Comments

Paul-
Thank's for sharing! Sounds like quite an adventure so far, and you're just getting started. You two stay safe and enjoy your trip.
-Amanda

by Amanda

You guys love to live dangerously! I’m looking forward to hearing about the rest of your adventure!

by Becky

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