Recognizing the Recanati winery name on the bottles in the El Al business lounge and the Barkan label on the bottle of crappy complimentary wine served in-flight just made me realize two things: I have worsened my wine addiction in Israel, and I weirdly feel more like an Israeli on this flight than I do an American. I have flown on several El Al flights throughout my life, and each time in the past I have been surprised by the amount of action. Usually domestic flights in America are pretty uneventful — people politely fall asleep in their seats or entertain themselves on their iPads and whenever someone from the window or middle seat has to disturb their aisle neighbor to get up to use the restroom, you get the sense that they feel bad for being a nuisance. This is NOT the case on an El Al flight. As I have written this one paragraph, I have counted 24 people walk past me. The two elderly orthodox men in front of me are are conversing in Hebrew and standing in their row leaning on their reclined seats so that their fingers are in my face while I am scrunched up with my arms like a T-Rex just so that I can continue typing on my very small tablet. I actually need to type this with one hand and hold my paper cup of crappy free wine in the other, they are shaking the chair that violently. And while this type of utter disrespect for personal space would have appalled me in the past, I expect it now.
In fact, I was more weirded out by how polite people were on my Jetblue connecting flight this morning from Tampa to New York City. Wow, just now, the woman across the aisle from me stood up and started leaning ON MY SHOULDER. You cannot make this stuff up (*orders another glass of the complementary wine, anxiously anticipating for when the bottle will be up for grabs in the flight crew’s quarters*). And now she is actually reading over my shoulder in such an intrusive and obvious way that I suspect she is reading this very sentence right now — Shalom Mrs. 28D, how do you find the content of my blog, interesting? As I write this, 5 orthodox men walk past me (and shove past her) with their tallit grazing against my face.
So I find myself in seat 27C trying to understand why I am so relieved to be on this characteristically horrible flight. I think it boils down to this — these people, including Mrs. 28D and my orthodox buddies reclining literally on top of me, are my family. And even though you can’t pick your family, you love them because they are yours. These are my people — yes they might be rude and obnoxious and just downright absurd sometimes, but they are mine. And I am theirs. And I know this because I expect them to act this way, I know them. I know this because I smiled when I saw the assortment of wafers available for dessert in the business lounge. I know this because I understood snippets of words as the El Al check in crew spoke to each other in Hebrew. I know this because while waiting in line to board I could overhear complete strangers play Jewish geography and share about when their grandchildren did Birthright. And I could hear the same phrases and same conversations my grandparents have had in the past.
We are a collective. In fact, I recognized a young couple with a very young child from my flight from Tampa similarly trying to figure out why El Al agents weren’t at the check in desk at JFK when we arrived. Without hesitation I asked them if they thought we were there too early and what they were planning to do while we waited. Of course we exchanged information regarding where we are from, why we are going to Israel, the typical back and forth you have with a stranger who is a part of your tribe.
And no, we are not perfect. In fact we are far from it — and we are shameless about it. The man behind me is now tapping intensely on his tray as if he wants to make sure I know he is back there. I asked him to stop and he was sorry — he had no idea. A woman across the plane is using flash photography. With an expensive professional camera. Why on God’s Earth would you want to document this unbearable trek? Mrs. 28D actually asked to SEE each of the meal options for dinner before deciding on meatballs or chicken. These are all things I am noticing while listening to music and writing, trying my absolute best to be unaware of my surroundings. I think that’s one of the things I love most about this plane full of crazy people. We all know we are crazy and pushy and rude and we are unapologetic about it. I say “we” because pre-Israeli residence Arielle would have torn her hair out in response to these behaviors. Now I expect them and can not only bear them, but find them annoyingly comforting.
The best part of this is that I know the majority of my family members on this 11 hour plane ride from hell feel the same way. We are all annoyed. We are all annoying. And we are all willing to put up with it and each other because we love our destination that much. And one of the best parts about living in our destination is that we will continue annoying each other on the bus, at the shuk, and everywhere else because that’s just what we do and who we are. And I love absolutely every single one of them for it.