A Nation Fit for a King
A chance to meet a friend, a cheap flight, a good place to stay: why not go to London for the weekend? If I had been a more attentive student of history, I would have known that hundreds of thousands or more would also be making a pilgrimage to that very place on that very day. But it was not until a week before the flight that I realized my visit would coincide with the coronation of King Charles III, and this added another pleasant edge to a trip I had been anticipating for a long time.
I love communal rituals, the more ancient the roots and the more colorful scene the better. A coronation in one of the world’s great cities – however precious, misguided, empty, or holy the coronation might be depending on your point of view – promised to offer some of my favorite things as well as a breather from the tension and upset so many of us have felt in Israel in recent months.
“We apologize for the brief delay,” the pilot of the El Al flight bound for Heathrow said in Hebrew. “It will be just six or seven minutes before takeoff.”
Shesh-sheva dakot. Six or seven minutes.
Anyone who lived in Israel before Gett Taxi knows that a cab was always “six or seven minutes” away. Ninety seconds after ordering a taxi you might have heard the driver honking furiously before screeching away in a huff. Or after fifteen minutes of heated debate with the dispatcher the same driver might return calmly to the corner in his spotless white Mercedes-Benz, shrugging his shoulders and saying “Mah la’asot? I came as fast I could.”
My pilot was saying what they all say, but then he surpassed expectations.
“We are delighted to welcome President Herzog and his wife Michal on our flight. Thanks for your patience as they board.”
Like old-time Tel Aviv landings when everyone would cheer, or sing Hava Nagila at touchdown, the passengers on this outbound flight clapped with joy en masse. Cheers for being on the same flight as the president. Cheers for being invited to the same party. Cheers for one and all.
Israel is embroiled in domestic turmoil threatening to tear apart the delicate fabric of hope, hard work, and destiny that holds this country together. A moment before takeoff recalls that old “six or seven minutes” magic that makes it a place worth worth fighting for.
What other country would send its president on a cheek-to-jowl domestic flight to meet a king? The pragmatism, humility, and accessibility of a president and his spouse sharing a spot in a flying tin can with everyone else says something about a place, still troubled in so many ways, that maintains a kind of common goodness in its soul.
Something wondrously unceremonious and down-to-earth lives in Israel even in an age of doubletalkery and abuse of power. It’s the come-as-you-are vibe that enchants the moments of ordering a cab, getting fed a line by the dispatcher that means “it will get there when it gets there,” tussling over setting a price or running the meter, and parting with the driver as not only as friends, but with a few nuggets of life’s wisdom or even an invitation for a meal he is happy to share.
A president covering the same miles with a few fellow citizens escaping one old world for another embodies the shared spirit of a country that, when it is at its best, survives and thrives because it teaches us to hope for the best, to believe it’s all going to work out, and to heap everyone into the same boat, cab, shuk, or flying tin can required to get things done.
I saw a flash on the tarmac of something about Israel which truly is – proudly so and hopefully not just for a day – fit for a king.