How I was invited to a world premiere in LA last week of a digitally restored
print of one of my all-time childhood movie musicals, Bye Bye Birdie, I’ll never
Ann-Margret’s rendition of the title song still resonates
deeply in my consciousness. And no doubt the link between the travel industry
and the movie’s title was somehow planted in my mind at the tender age of three
when the film premiered.
The movie parodies Elvis Presley’s draft into
the US Army and the decision to travel to a small town in the Midwest to plant
one last kiss on an innocent school girl to be televised on one of the most
popular variety shows in the US at the time. A multitude of factors must all
come together to create the desired outcome, which as fellow devotees of the
movies already know is never an easy path.
Thus when Rachel Ron, aged 77,
contacted me two weeks prior to Pessah, to ask what she described as a simple
question, a silent alarm immediately went off in my head.
Rachel and her
husband had purchased tickets to fly to Melbourne, Australia over a month
earlier, planning to arrive 10 days prior to the commencement of the Passover
holiday. Their daughter and, more importantly, their grandchildren resided in
Melbourne, and for this holiday it was decided the grandparents would fly to
When making the reservation, their travel consultant warned them
immediately that they needed a visa to travel to Australia. In fact most
nationalities, be they US or UK passport holders – and certainly Israeli
passport holders – are required to apply for a visa.
Let’s be frank –
with the advent of the Internet, common sense would assume that applying for
visas is a far easier task today than the antiquated format of filling out
lengthy forms. Both Australia, and to be honest, the US, prove this adage
To obtain an Australian visa, one must be very clear on the
reasons for one’s potential journey and the entire form must be crystal clear.
More and more embassies in Israel prefer that visa applications be handled by a
central authority, and the largest such conveyor of visa applications is the
Israel Tourist & Travel Agents Association.
Managing Director Yossi Fatael, has made the process of applying for a visa – be
it India or Australia, China or the United States – efficient and
The Rons’ travel consultant downloaded the correct forms,
sent them to her client, gave them clear instructions on what to return –
photos, documentation etc – and told them their visas would take approximately
14 working days to process.
So when I was told by the Rons that 21
working days had transpired, small beads of sweat erupted on my
However, a quick call to the Association relieved me. I was
informed that there had been a backlog but that in the next two days their visas
would be issued and the passports sent back to the travel agency’s
As they were not flying out until the following Saturday night,
and it was only Tuesday morning, Mrs. Ron was extremely grateful for my
optimistic words. It was the last time she would be so grateful.
morning, someone was kind enough to call me to say the Rons’ passports had been
collected from the Australian embassy in Tel Aviv and on Thursday morning they
would be sent via Taxi Aviv to the travel agent’s office.
surprise, somehow the satchel of passports, visas and other sundry items of the
Association never made it to the Taxi Aviv office.
This satchel contained
dozens of passports, with visas not only to Australia, but to the US and China.
Clients from offices throughout Israel were affected. Business clients trying to
squeeze one last meeting in the US before Pessah and Easter had no travel
documents; leisure clients wishing to join their organized tour down the Yangtze
River in China were set ashore, and the Ron’s fervent desire to spend Pessah
Down Under was drifting farther away.
Larger than a reticule, yet smaller
than a duffle bag, it was unclear if the satchel of documents had been lost or
stolen. Security cameras were searched; no clear answer emerged.
Friday morning I personally broke the bad news to the Rons that they would not
be flying out Saturday night, that the police were involved, that dozens of
passports were ‘missing’ and that serious alarms had been set off throughout Tel
Aviv. They needed new passports, as well as new visas.
Devotees of the
movies know that sometimes a small miracle is needed. In the case of Bye Bye
Birdie, a pill is slipped into the ballerina’s food, forcing her to dance at a
frenzied pace. That this dancer, Karel Shimoff, was only 15 years old and my
cousin only added to my belief that anything is possible.
needed no magic pill. He had Association representatives meet all those who
needed new Israeli passports early Sunday morning at the Interior Ministry in
order to issue emergency passports. He somehow cajoled and convinced all the Tel
Aviv-based embassies involved to issue new visas early Monday morning.
instructed every single travel agency involved to reissue new airline tickets,
rebook any missed hotel reservations and to get everyone on a plane that Monday
evening, arriving for Pessah with time to spare. All extra expenses would be
reimbursed by the Association.
The Rons were incredulous that it was
truly happening; their tepid thanks were quickly followed by inquiries of
compensation. No matter, I thought, they were blameless throughout the entire
process. Little did they know how much was done to enable them to make their
trip a reality! Sitting down to Seder the following week, as I retold our
people’s path to freedom, a half-smile crossed my face. Too often we are simply
unaware of what one man has to do to make someone’s personal freedom a
reality.Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem.
Questions and comments email him at [email protected]