The woman in 27B glances at the half eaten plate of airplane food resting in front of me. “It’s funny,” she continues. “The visitors get the kosher meals while the Israelis don’t. Are you with Taglit?”
Yes, I answer. Like many of the other participants, it will be my first time in Israel. It’s hard to believe that just this morning I left a frozen New England town and now I am hovering over the Mediterranean moments away from landing in Tel Aviv.
I explain to 27B that I am part of one of the Taglit-Birthright Israel: Mayanot trips but while most Birthright are grouped by university, this one is not. We come from all over the United States. Though the majority of us arrive at JFK airport in New York without knowing anyone else, we will spend the next ten days sharing hotel rooms, sleeping on buses, and exploring Israel. With the help of ice breakers, we learn that there are a variety of reasons and experiences, one being a common passion for journalism and media, that lead us here.
27B introduces herself and her husband, 27C. After growing up in Tel Aviv they now both work and raise their family in the city. When 27B hears it is my first time in Israel, she turns to me and asks, “So what did you expect? What have you heard about Israelis?”
I say that I thought Israel would be a desert (wrong) and that I had been told that Israelis are, in a word, upfront. This makes 27B and C laugh. “Yes,” 27B replies. “Upfront, impolite, straightforward, direct. An American will tell you his or her opinion on this or that, but an Israeli will tell you that you should be doing this, this, and this. From far away, Israelis come off as rude, but they are very caring once you get close.”
For the remainder of the flight, 27B&C and I chat about the arts programs in Tel Aviv, the “Eretz Nehederet” satire of Birthright participants, the opera, living in Jerusalem, and traveling around Asia. They look over the itinerary, recommend the best places to shop on Ben Yehuda, and share their own jeeping and desert camping experiences.
Before we part they assure me that the next ten days will be great and that after a week of eating kosher meals I will get used to the food. But if not, trust in the street vendors.