“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” – Robert Frost
I am a sheltered American, relatively well-read. From the comforts of my home, I consider myself worldly, following the news, speaking up online and in various venues to defend our people. That courage withers as I roam the international section of O’Hare airport. I’m still in Chicago, but I’m already feeling a vulnerable foreigner, seeing the crowds lined up for Doma—where on earth is that? (In Nigeria, a Google search later reveals.) I hear many languages and gaze at the plethora of scripts and signage.
Then I approach the Swiss Air counter where cool, composed blonds, with calculated smiles and a guttural Swiss accent look over the Tel Aviv-bound Jew. Am I paranoid, or do I feel the ice? The smooth stare. I imagine these Aryan beauties calmly cooperating with Hitler’s machine. It’s mere days after the horror in a kosher supermarket, Erev Shabbos. Their disdain for “Je’suis Juif,” for the messy Jew. I feel so dark and neurotic, that when I go to the bathroom, I’m startled by the azure blue of the eyes that greet me in the mirror….maybe I can pass… do they know?
Flying over Europe, on the way to beleaguered, amazing Israel, our little corner of home in a hostile, alien world. I hear the eternal song, flying heavenward, on a balmy evening in a ghetto, of gentle klezmerim escorting the kallah to her chuppah. I smell the greasy smoke curling up from the smoldering ashes of a giant graveyard that blazed such a short time ago, that erupted into yet the latest of a long, eternally long paroxysm of ugly death and destruction on a recent Friday, as shoppers loaded their carts with chrain and gefilte fish, and don’t forget those pickles that Shmueli likes. Violently snuffing out four lives in a hi-level target—a kosher grocery store. How could tatties and brothers picking up a little extra nosh for Shabbos be allowed to endure? To contaminate the world?
Flying over France, carnage smoldering, kedoshim newly buried, the earth yet unsettled over their freshly dug graves. I feel the utter aloneness of the Jew, the disdainful smirk, when the stewardess, coifed, sophisticated, polite, oh so polite brings me my glatt kosher cellophane wrapped dinner and I decline their lovely baguettes, their wine, their chicken, their Swiss chocolate. Who in their right mind declines Swiss chocolate? Oh, one of those, their glances seem to silently say.
That Swiss makes me shudder; a guttural cousin to German. I recognize many terms shared with Yiddish, as the steward wishes the passengers a Gute Nacht— but the staccato inflection is so vastly different. No Yiddishe mama warmth or schmoozing here.
The ovens burn, the streets are glistening and pure, the blue eyes coldly smiling. Run! Run!
I wish to tred not in Europe: your art, your palaces, your rivers of Jewish blood, your cynical denial of Jews and their state. There’s one place, only one, I feel at home and welcomed. Even though Welcome has been proclaimed in five languages, greeting me as I enter your airport, they all exclude me.
I’m anxious. I’m nervous. I’m longing to see a Yiddishe smile and stand on my ground, to feel that delicious relief of being in my one home. Where they’ll let me in. Not ambling in lonely confusion in a cold world.
Finally, tucked in a corner of the pleasant genteel airport, I find it—El Al! Mishpacha. I can relax. I’m already home.
Let me never become jaded enough to take this for granted. I’m enough of an outsider, a rose-colored glasses naïve American to still be amazed. I love El Al. I love flying on a plane full of Yidden. It’s warm, it’s real, it’s a different comfort level. I love the hand and facial expressions of the ridiculous comedians on the Israeli TV show that’s playing, they’re so absurdly, neurotically, deliciously Jewish.
I love the kosher food and stewardess that remind me that the creamer is Pareve. I love the Sheva Ha-minim, the 7 special fruits of Israel, the pomegranates, and dates and figs and grapes that grace my paper cup. And the announcements and signs in alef-bet-gimmel-Hebrew.
Bubbys and Zeides, kippahs and curly-haired, bright-eyed kids–Shalom.
Suspended in the air, removed from the moorings of daily life, I feel a drop of the rootlessness, the tension, the fear of the wandering Jew. Displaced persons—we wrote the book. Wandering a scorched earth. No address a haven for long. How did they feel? Cope? It’s overwhelming: at the mercy of the whims of czars, kings, popes, poritz- land owners, drunken peasants, Cossacks. How? How?
No army, no internet keeping Jews in other lands connected, no human rights, no watchdogs. How? How? Zurich is bucolic,the majestic Swiss Alps denying your complicity. How many millions of Nazi stolen art, jewels, estates, titles, insurance lie in your vaults and banks, ripped from an industrious, intelligent people, who endure; see the elderly Zeidy there in line—who endure. I am amazed, I am humbled. Happy, relieved, grateful, proud.
El Al, I love those Hebrew letters, Blue and white, Magen Dovid amidst a sea of red crosses….
The sheer chutzpah; those scruffy yehudim.