Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Reporting from Israel
Internet reception at some of the kibbutz's being what it was, we were unable to post the words of our journey as we wished. Jerusalem was better, but by the time we got there, I was too tired to post. But I kept regular notes so that once I was settled in at home again, I could share with you the magnificence that is The Land of the Bible.
It was the result of years of praying -- Miriam and me. Months of planning -- Miriam, Joe Diaz, and me. Now the time had come. The Florida team -- Larry Leech, Cheri Cowell, Robi Lipscomb and I -- boarded Delta's 12:17 flight for JFK. Robi and Larry were seated together and Cheri and I sat directly behind them. Cheri spoke to our other seatmate. While she got the scoop on the fact that he and his wife were on their honeymoon and that she was seated near the back and the others on that aisle would not change with them, I was zeroing in on his accent. "Where are you from?" I asked.
"Israel," he answered.
It was like a gift we were given. Already God was telling us this would be a special trip. Cheri agreed to change seats with the wife so that they would be together and for the rest of the trip I was treated to photos of their wedding and the first leg of their honeymoon.
We arrived at JFK on time. As the four of us left the jetway, I saw a man standing near the gate holding up a piece of paper with our names on it.
He gave his name -- Shim W. Lew -- and told us he was Chief of Protocol for Delta at JFK. By him we were escorted to the Sky Club near our departing gate for Tel Aviv. We settled in then left for some lunch at a nearby restaurant. As we nibbled on food and talked about our hopes for the trip, Sharon Decker from North Carolina joined us. After lunch, we returned to the Sky Club where each of us did our own thing until our flight was called.
At Gate 14, Ellie Kay met us, making our group nearly complete. Upon arriving in Tel Aviv, we would be met by Joe Diaz (Israel Ministry of Tourism, Atlanta office), my coauthor Miriam Feinberg Vamosh (who would serve as our guide) and Tzvika, our driver. I could hardly wait.
But wait we would. The flight from JFK to Tel Aviv is a long one. We were fed an okay dinner (for airline food) then catnapped the rest of the flight. At some point I stood up to walk around. From the shadows of sleeping figures I saw a hand wave at me. It was Larry, about six rows back. Next to him, Cheri slept. Across the aisle, Robi did too. I walked to Larry and received the news that we were landing a good deal ahead of time, thanks to a tail wind.
The Ben Gurion International Airport is absolutely spectacular to behold. Ellie and I seemed to walk faster than the others but still took in the sense of being "home." At the end of a long hallway called the connector I spotted a pretty woman holding a sign that read: Eva Marie Everson's Party.
That was us!
I greeted the woman with a smile and a handshake. We gathered everyone together. She escorted us through border patrol, then to get our luggage, then through customs. Because we were early, there was no one to meet us in the Arrivals Hall, a disappointment for sure. But it gave us a while to turn our dollars into shekels and grab a much-needed cup of coffee.
Of course all I could think was "Where is Joe" and "Where is Miriam?" A few minutes later, Joe arrived. We hugged, said, "We did it! We made it!" then waited a while longer.
Someone from IMOT reported that our driver and Miriam were waiting outside for us. My heart flipped. MIRIAM! I grabbed my luggage, slung my camera bag and purse over my shoulder, and headed for the outside doors.
I spotted Miriam across the way. She was on the phone. Next to her was the man I assumed was Tzvika. We made our way across. Miriam ended her call and looked up. Our eyes met -- having not seen each other for nearly three years -- and we both smiled. I ran the remainder of the gap between us. We hugged -- it had been TOO long -- and Miriam said, "It feels like just yesterday ..."
Crazy. She was right.
Tel Aviv greeted us with gray skies and rain. Miriam declared that this was supposed to be the last day of such weather -- although they were grateful for it -- and we all lifted a verbal prayer that the weather would be kind to us.
Our first night was spent in Ma'ale Hachamisha Hotel outside of Jerusalem. We were led to our rooms where a plate of fruit and a large bottle of water waited for us. I pulled back the heavy drapes and flung open the window.
The rain had stopped. The sun broke through the clouds. God was speaking. We were about to spend seven unprecedented days.
At dinner we were treated to a visit with Miriam's husband Arik. Arik and Miriam are Israel. Arik's father and mother were Holocaust survivors -- while other family members were not. Arik fought in the Yom Kippur War in which he was hit with shrapnel, which left him paralyzed from the waist down -- not that it has stopped him from living a full life. Miriam grew up in New Jersey but came to Israel at age 17 to see her brother, a Rabbi in Jerusalem. She fell in love with the country and decided to call it home. Shortly thereafter, she made aliyah.
This couple is like family to me. I love them, their family members, and their children as though I were born into their fold. I know they love me in this way, too.