2:40 pm – Israel Time – Sunday 3/22/15
The map screen on the seat back in front of me.
It’s two hours and seventeen minutes left until we land. I am sitting in an aisle seat in the middle of the plane while we fly over Italy. The plane noise rumbles serenely through my seat and Karen, who sits next to me doses in and out. I myself just woke up from the best nights sleep I have ever had on a plane! Some of that definitely has to do with having spent most of last night on a train.
Sitting next to me is a woman about my age named Karen and on the other side of her is Meghan. The three of us had a great conversation last night, eight hours ago when we were getting ready for takeoff. Meghan happens to be going on the same pilgrimage as me. She is Canadian, full of smiles and very direct.
When I walked up to the Buffalo Wild Wings in the airport terminal, where I was meeting other people in my group, she looked at me and said, “Your last name is Ripp, right?” I was shocked that she knew that, until she said she recognized me from our pilgrimage to the Holy Land Facebook group. At first, there was some awkward and stilted conversations standing there in the airport restaurant, but by the time we were ready to get on the plane I had several good conversations and started to get to know people. Joining me in the trip are people from all over the country.. There is Tabitha from Boston, who left three little ones at home with her husband. There is Brett and Adrienne, a young married couple from Indiana and Jamie and Jodi, a mother and daughter pair…..and about 30 more I haven’t met yet!
We started boarding the plane almost an hour before takeoff. Once I gave the gate attendant my ticket and walked a few feet down the ramp, I learned why. There was a second security line that we had to go through after swiping our tickets at the gate. I guess, because it’s Israel, they are extra cautious.
I got on the plane and got situated. Meghan, the Canadian I had met earlier sat across from me and we were excited for a few minutes because we thought that the middle seat between us would be free. It was not to be, though. Karen joined us in the middle seat after only a few minutes of extra-space joy for Meghan and I.
Karen is from Israel and returning home. She has a lovely accent that adds song to her voice. The rasp of Hebrew accent beneath her English makes just listening to her feel like a taste of the Holy Land. Her hair is dark and slightly curly; she is lithe and wears a sweater with a tribal print. In Israel, she is a wedding planner. In the US, she spent two months vacationing and visiting her brother who lives in San Francisco along with Mexico and several Caribbean islands.
Even though Meghan and I didn’t get the middle seat for ourselves, sitting next to Karen felt like a little blessing. I got a preview of what Israel will be like and I had a fascinating conversation with a veritable stranger. Meghan, Karen, and I are all about the same age; when the pilot got on the intercom prepping us for takeoff, we debated on how old they were. Karen thought that the one speaking Hebrew sounded very young and we both thought that the ones with the American/Texan accent sounded older. I told her that I had seen all four pilots getting on the plane and that they all had gray hair. Karen said that, for an Israeli, that did not necessarily mean that they were old. In Israel, most pilots for airlines learn how to fly first in the military. That work is so stressful that they often leave with gray hair no matter their age.
In our conversation, i wanted to get a taste from a real Israeli (rather than our tour guide) what Israel is like. I asked Karen what people most misunderstand about her country. The question seemed to overwhelm her. She told me: “Everything!” After a few moments of contemplation, she went on to say that almost everything that foreigners (like me) know about Israel comes from the news media. And that the news media doesn’t get much right about Israel.
In her life, growing up on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, she talked about the people, how they are warm and kind and will help out someone in trouble no matter what. Interestingly, she said that people will help each other out regardless of whether they want to or not, that wanting to help had little to do with it. Karen stated emphatically that, “People in Israel help one another because that is just what you do. It’s not about being nice” she went on to say that Israelis are closely connected with family and friends, that it can almost get annoying just how close everyone you know watches out for each other. But she wouldn’t change it for anywhere else.
Now it is almost 4 pm.. They are coming around with “breakfast” for us and, in a little over an hour, we will land!
I am looking forward to fresh air, fresh Israeli air. By tonight, I will be sleeping in a hotel that overlooks the Sea of Galilee. You may have heard of the Sea of Galilee, a guy I know named Jesus, spent a little time there?
I can’t believe this is real. It’s real and it’s really happening. I am so blessed.
Meghan, Karen, and I on the plane.