Yisrael Rosenberg

Close encounters at the airport

I’m at the C4 (Caliente Cab Co. Café) at Newark International Airport.

I pick a table in the public eating area and open my laptop. Just beyond my screen, I notice a young woman with dark hair and an orange day-glo Hawaiian shirt waving at me and smiling.

I look more closely. With legs like strong tree trunks planted firmly on the ground, high cheekbones and broad shoulders, she is either Hispanic, Native American, or all of the above. I have no clue in the world who she is. But she is persistent.

“Hello,” she calls out again, waving with fingers extended to catch my interest. “Did you miss your flight?”

I smile and zero in on her more carefully. The plethora of humanity that I have encountered in the few minutes I have been in the airport makes me wonder if I am in the United Nations.

“Remember us?” she says, smiling again. “We were the people who let you go to the front of the line when you said that you were late and running to catch your connection flight!”

“Oh yes,” I said. “How are you?”

Actually, in pretty hutzpadik Israeli fashion, I had decided to try my luck, asking several folks — nicely, of course — if I could move ahead in line as I sprinted toward the departing commuter flight to Boston. Past the customs officers, through x-ray security, into the full-body scanner — I was rocking, and people were treating me like I was President Shimon Peres or something, shooing me on with great understanding. How polite they were, with such willingness to help!

But alas, to no avail. In the end, the automatic boarding pass machine had printed the wrong gate, and I missed the flight. Drat. But my wife always says, “Every delay is for the best.” She is Yemenite, and her family has been Middle Eastern for the past 3,000 years. She knows how to maneuver her way through the world, in contrast with me and my Western, American, born-and-bred lack of patience.

The young lady, followed by similar-looking family members, comes closer, approaching the table where I am sitting. I am using the United Frequent Flyers Club’s free wi-fi link, whose signal is still strong where I am sitting just across from the busy McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts.Though not a club member, I can still vicariously enjoy some of the privileges of the chosen few.

“Hey, thank you for that,” I said. “You know, I just was telling my parents how incredibly nice people are here in Newark. Everyone seems so understanding and helpful!”

She walks up even closer, and continues in her Spanish-flavored English: “Well, it’s the least we can do for you. Where are you coming from?”

“Jerusalem. I’m on way to visit my parents in Boston.”

“Jerusalem!” Her eyes begin to glitter like the stars that are just now appearing above the New York City skyline. “Really?”

“Yup,” I confirmed.

Wearing blue jeans, Timberland boots and a summer short-sleeve shirt, and sporting a large knit kippah (head covering) and a short beard, I wonder what category she was placing me in.

“Wow. Well, have a great visit here!” she gushes, and then, almost as an afterthought, she leaned forward and said, “God bless you.”

Funny. I hadn’t sneezed since eating a heavily peppered piece of fish on the plane several hours before.

“Hey,” I say, leaning toward her as she stands next to me. “Thank you for reminding me about that. There are those who say that blessing people in the name of Jerusalem is actually our true calling in life. God bless you too, from Jerusalem!”

Her eyes open wider as she steps up even closer and, with a circular motion of her hand, begins rubbing my back, as if I’m a little kid who has just said something witty. She and her family, walk away, all in smiles.


An hour and a half later, I finally board a later connecting flight to Boston. I find my place in the middle seat between two people. The girl at my left is an Italian-American attending a small private college in Rhode Island, and the fellow to my right is Mexican, with jet black hair and a swarthy complexion. As the flight gets under way, I reach up to turn the reading light on, and nothing happens; the bulb is burned out.

My two neighbor passengers trip over one another to offer me the use of their lamps.

I am incredulous.


As the plane touches down on the runway, I turn toward the girl. She is on her way to Boston to visit her boyfriend, whose family is originally from Lebanon. I give her blessings in the name of Jerusalem. A smile spreads across her face. A moment later, I offer a similar blessing to the Mexican man. He grins sheepishly, and lightly bows to me as he thanks me for my kindness.

Hey, I could get used to this blessing stuff.

About the Author
Yisrael Rosenberg is a former New Englander who made aliyah 30 years ago. He lives with his wife and four children in Jerusalem.