August 1, 2006
[Amy]: Your underwear is showing. Welcome to Israel.
[ISRAEL, August 1]—Your underwear is showing,” a voice behind me says in Hebrew.
I’m crouching on the floor of the metal snake-like tube that connects the airport to the El Al plane. I’m about to board for Israel. In the rush to make the NY-Los Angeles connection, I’ve dropped my carry-on, and in typical Israeli fashion, people are walking around me, jostling me, while I gather my stuff.
“No, I mean, your underwear is really showing,” the woman behind me says, using the Hebrew word mamash, to emphasize the severity of the situation.
I want to say, “What, like no one’s ever shown an underwear line before in Israel, home of the displayed bra strap?” but I donât because it’s too early in the leg of my journey to start picking fights, i.e. to start acting Israeli.
What I mean to say is that despite there being a war on, at this early stage in my journey I can see that there are a lot of things that haven’t changed about Israel, and Israelis. Travelers are still carting boxes of Marlboros from Duty-Free. The airline has lost my luggage. People are still aggressive.
“Oh, they are going to be so sorry, they’ll wish they had my luggage,” says the doctor who traveled with me from Los Angeles who also lost his luggage. He was a man in his late forties who was in LA for a three-day medical conference, and he looked rather mild mannered, not like someone to be afraid of. “You’d better not leave without getting money from them, either,” he admonished me, as if I’d done something wrong. But I didn’t have it in me, not the way that he did.
“I don’t care what time you think my luggage might be at security, I want to know when it will be at my house,” he admonished the manager, after berating the lady at the desk. “Oy vavoy lachem,” he said, meaning something like, “woe onto you..” When she turned away, he winked at me, and made the international finger-rubbing sign for money. This was a new thing for me: I didn’t know Israelis used their complaining as a strategy, a tactic. I’d thought it was how they felt.
Who knows if it worked? My new friend walked away hoping to accrue EL Al Frequent Flier mileage and I got a toiletry kit from El Al. It wasn’t bad.
No, some things haven’t changed about Israel. But others seem to. For instance, the flight is not empty, but it’s far from full. The Hasidim can’t even manage a minyan, so they daven alone, singles blocking the bathroom. The flight attendants are overly helpful, since there’s about one for every two passengers. The customs desks are pretty empty, especially the ones for foreign passports—and there it seems to be a couple of religious people—less likely visitors than people who live in Israel but haven’t changed passports.
It’s too early to tell the effect the war is having on the country. First off, I’ve only just arrived, and secondly, so has the war. Right now everyone is waiting to see the effects. Waiting to travel here, waiting to see if this is a long-term crisis or a short-but-deadly conflict. It’s too early for Israelis to feel abandoned by their Diaspora brethren who don’t come, too early to know what the economic toll will be.
And still some things are the same: Upon landing, the passengers still break out in song, “Heveinu Shalom Aleichem.” The Bnei Akiva girls run up and down the aisles. The air in Tel Aviv is oppressively sticky and hot, but it smells different from Los Angeles.
—Amy Klein, Religion Editor