Israel Lite: An immigrant's tale

By CARMELITA LEE
October 11, 2007 12:56

I landed on a moonlit December night, the last flight of the evening.

4 minute read.



immigrant cartoon 88

immigrant cartoon 88. (photo credit: )

Twenty years ago I dreamed of immigrating to Israel. I pictured myself landing in a rough-hewn, romantic land, my hair swept back by a warm desert wind as I kissed the tarmac. I imagined the goodwill and well wishes of fellow countrymen, who would be grateful that I chose Israel over Southern California. After all, I was bringing with me the energy and spunk of a pioneer, and the dedication and faithfulness of a bride. And look at what I gave up to be one of them. Then life got in the way. Landing at Ben-Gurion Airport in 2004, the fire that drove my dreams in 1984 was only a glow. I knew if I smooched the tarmac, I might not get up again without the assistance of two strong men. Even so, I was psyched about coming home, and had been to Israel enough times not to be disillusioned. So I believed. Maybe just a little dance, I thought to myself, no ground-kissing, but surely my fellow Israelis will welcome me. That was my dream. Reality is such a slap. I landed on a moonlit December night, the last flight of the evening. The new terminal took away my option for symbolic gesture; instead we were greeted by a state-of-the-art facility to match any international airport in the world. We had filed out of the airplane almost dead last: Ari, Suzie, our unamused 20-something daughter, and me. We were not looking forward to the next hour of entrance queues, baggage claims or waiting to find out if Precious, the family cat, had arrived alive. The changes at Ben-Gurion were fantastic. No more race off the plane for one of the three seats on the bus, no more herky-jerky ride to the terminal pressed into hymn-singing tourists, haredim, with nothing, or their long-suffering wives carrying everything. We were a people-mover away from being home. We waited through our queue and tolerated entire families pushing their way to the front when they were clearly behind us moments before. At the passport control booth, worn out and drowsy, Suzie and I put on our happiest faces and pushed our brand new Israeli documents under the window. "I'm a new Israeli," I crowed, smiling, as my daughter translated. The girl looked up at me, looked at her watch and kept working. Never did smile. Something was wrong with the papers. She left, taking everything with her. We watched the room empty while we were left standing there. My husband was getting testy. The room got quiet. Puzzled, we strained to see where the young woman went. She returned 10 minutes later with an older woman. I saw this two ways: Either she's got a lot of experience under her belt and she's been softened up by life or she's got a lot of experience under her belt and it's made her hard as nails. Her face told the second story. Something was wrong with our documents. She gestured and pointed, and resorted to the American theory of linguistics: When someone doesn't understand your language, shouting louder gets the point across. Even Pollyanna gets tired sometimes, so I got loud myself. "Get us someone who speaks English, please," I pleaded. "Geveret medeberet anglit, bevakasha." It was my best attempt at Hebrew. Anyway, I understood me, and I hoped she did too. Someone else materialized, and the three of them looked at our documents for an endless five minutes, shaking their heads, whispering and walking around with the documents while we tried to get someone, anyone, to tell us what was going on. Ha-ha-ha, heh-heh, ha-ha-ha. The girl came back in and sat down, while the two people remained behind her booth whispering. I was imagining some unforeseen faux pas that would land me in jail, contemplating my mother's reaction to a dazed photo of me with numbers on my chest and a headline that screams "Phoenix woman jailed." I was full-blown into imagining Ari settling down with a buxom kibbutz woman while I languished in jail when the third woman returned. She spoke a few words to the first girl, who then stamped our passports and pushed them at us. With a smile she said, and in English, mind you, "Welcome home." I stopped to ask the third woman what the problem was with my/our passports, and she waved me off. "Nothing," she said, "nothing to worry about. A misspelling. Welcome home." A misspelling? We had waited so long that our baggage was all that was left. Of course, there was no sign of Precious, but there were two burly security men approaching us. They looked annoyed. You have to understand that my imagination runs rampant and, being a conspiracy theorist, I believed they were coming after me. They were, actually. They helped with the luggage, and started sweet-talking the daughter, who brightened considerably at the attention. But they had another purpose. Did we come in on flight such and such? Yes. Were we traveling with a small black cat? Yes. Our relief to be helped turned sour quickly, as my fears again sprang to life. We so sorry to tell you... But instead they said, "If you come quickly to take the cat, we can go home!" Aha! They weren't annoyed, they just wanted to go home. No wonder they were so nice. A sleepy customs man nodded us through to the almost empty new mezzanine, while Precious gave us her legendary tell-off. We spotted our daughters who had made aliya two months previously. It was a joyful reunion, complete with flowers, hugs and tears. I did a chicken dance. "Mom, you're crazy," they said. "Mom, you never change," they said. "Welcome home," they said. And then, to the amusement of the taxi drivers and building maintenance crews, the five of us started dancing. We were home.


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