Jewish Journal


July 18, 2013

Off to the Holy Land: “People of the Loose Strap”



I don’t have to tell you what it’s like to be on a packed, nonstop, 14-hour El Al flight to Tel Aviv, but I will anyway.

You know, the usual: Crying babies; a Zionist youth group with plenty of testosterone (all wearing red T-shirts); an Israeli dude who looks like a former commando cheating to the last second to talk on his cell phone before takeoff; flight attendants who spend as much time taking care of the crying babies as the parents; an old lady who tries to peek at my computer screen as I write; the smell of homemade food (stuffed cabbage?); a Charedi man with a look of permanent grouchiness on his face, maybe due to the presence of very short shorts worn by several women within spitting distance of his window seat; a constant flow of human bodies rising up to search overhead compartments, with the neat clacking sound providing a welcome counterpoint to the soundtrack of the crying bambinos; and, well, I could go on.

But what I want to focus your attention on is a loose luggage strap, color black.

As you know, there’s a certain period after takeoff when the fasten seatbelt sign is on and flight attendants are AWOL. That’s the law-- they have to sit. So, if you need anything during that time, you’re on your own.

The grandmother sitting next to me (the one pretending not to look at what I’m writing) needed something. Urgently.

What happened is that she saw a loose luggage strap, color black, doubled up, sticking out of an overhead compartment. Maybe she thought it was a safety hazard. Who knows, maybe she used to be a flight attendant with Pan American Airlines fifty years ago and in her training they talked about how a baby got killed once because a loose strap forced open an overhead compartment during a rough takeoff and the falling luggage missile knocked out the poor bambino. I don’t know.

The point is, that loose strap was giving her the shpilkes.

She whispered to her friend and pointed at it. When she wasn’t peeking at my computer screen, her eyes gravitated back to the stray strap. She made the motion of looking for a flight attendant. I knew she was trying to play it cool—not wanting to make too big a deal out of it.

But her repressed shpilkes act wasn’t fooling me. I have a sharp antenna for Jewish grandmothers with shpilkes. That loose strap was weighing heavily on her mind, that’s for sure. Well, it was weighing on her, that is, until twenty minutes later when a flight attendant noticed the runaway strap and, in a sharp double-clacking motion, put a quick end to the whole saga.

Now the grandmother is sleeping like a baby.

You see, this is one of the occupational hazards of being a columnist and a passionate observer of humanity—especially Jewish humanity—AND having 14 hours to kill on a noisy El Al flight. You end up looking for loose straps.

Even more hazardous, when you also have a weakness for meaningful insights and metaphors, and you haven’t much else to do, you end up staring at that loose strap and asking deep questions like, “Is there meaning in that thing?”

Well, of course there is!

(What did you think I’d say?)

I mean, seriously, are we not the people of the loose strap? The people with forever unfinished business? The people who love to catch the smallest mistakes?

Are we not the people with thin skins and stiff necks who’ve learned the hard way to always look over our shoulders—just as that worried grandmother sitting next to me did?

Are we not the people who’ve lived for 5,773 years knowing that we can never be satisfied?

Forget the people of the book-- we are the people of “there’s always something.”

No matter how much we accomplish, no matter how loved and accepted we are, no matter how “good” things look, there’s always something.

A looming threat. An unanswered question. A fear that things may be too good.

Even a threatening loose strap sticking out from an overhead compartment with bambinos sitting just below.

Like I said, when you’re bored, you can find meaning in anything.

But now I have to go. It’s too hard on my neck to type while trying to hide the computer screen from the grandmother sitting next to me who just woke up. I can’t take the chance that she understands English.

In twelve hours, I will touch ground to seek relief for my Israel addiction.

If I see anything else interesting, I’ll let you know.

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