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El Al stole my toothbrush

Claiming to have worked at The Times of Israel turned out to be a bad idea.

“We are going to keep the toothbrush,” a particularly frightening El Al agent informed me as she swabbed my Sonicare toothbrush for the third time.

El Al is without doubt the most secure airline I have ever been on, and from my experience perhaps the only one that does not racial profile.

Because despite my tan, I didn’t think I looked all that threatening. I was a short blonde girl wearing a peace t-shirt and leggings, and they weren’t even spandex.

Apparently, however, my dental hygiene is an international threat. Maybe it’s all that flossing I’ve been telling my dentist that I have been doing.

“We need to take this apart,” the agent said putting my toothbrush in a biohazard box, “We can ship it to you on the next flight.”

I didn’t really want it back. I found the fact that my toothbrush had tested positive for explosives slightly alarming. What is Colgate putting in its toothpaste?

But it wasn’t just my toothbrush; the security agent had unpacked my entire suitcase. Which was particularly embarrassing for me, as I had decided that my wash could wait for when I got home.

And as they were sifting through my delicates, and my not-so-delicates (some days you just really need to wear the granny panties) they started the interrogation. Might I mention that I had no legal representation. Which is an outrage because I’m pretty sure it would be easy to find a lawyer, there were at least a dozen on my flight.

“Why are you here?” a terrifying agent asked. They all terrified me.

“To work.”

“Where did you work?” They looked doubtful.

“At The Times of Israel.” This was strike one, as apparently no one had heard of this paper and it appeared as if I was making up an alibi.

“Do you belong to a congregation?” They changed the subject.

I had gotten this question before, so I knew the correct answer. “Yes.”

“Which one?”

“Shalom something.” I tried, I had never been one for names.

Strike two.

“And do you have family here?”

“Yes,” I said, praying that I would not forget my uncle’s name. I was hoping that by openly praying I would come off as more religious.

It worked, I was safe.

Instead of asking me another question or a particularly difficult riddle (the horse’s name is Sunday) they packed me up and escorted me to the next security checkpoint.

This checkpoint was more cozy. It was just me, five agents, my carry on, and my roommate Arielle, who the guards told me, would not fit in the overhead compartment.

Once again everything that I owned was swabbed, my shoes, my laptop, my wallet and the area behind my ears.

I was okay with this, I always forget to clean there.

During the complimentary sponge bath, one of the agents took my passport and made a telephone call. I have no idea what he was saying, but I think he was talking to Mossad, the Israeli CIA. That or Peres.

“So who is your family here?” he asked after hanging up.

I would like to point out that I never told him that I had family in Israel. He must have found out from someone else (Mossad) so that he could double check that I was keeping a constant story.

I was.

I told him who my uncle was, and that no, nothing in my bag was a gift from an unidentified stranger, and yes, I do believe that leggings count as pants.

Then he confiscated my halva spread, which was a gift for my dad or perhaps an unidentified stranger, and threw it away. A minute later he dug it out of the garbage can and handed it back.

“You can actually take this,” he said, swabbing it again.

He was playing psychological mind games with me.

I didn’t crack.

After a ten-minute huddle with the other agents (in which they discussed my story and the possibility of a blitz) the man told me I could proceed.

Apparently my story checked.

All in all the process took about two hours, and while I never got my toothbrush back, I’m pretty sure I was added to the No Fly List.

Which brings me to my final point. Now that I am (finally) home, this may be my last blog post (at least for a while). I would have gone out with a big bang, but I’m worried that El Al is still monitoring my activity.

So instead I will just answer the question that every Israeli has asked me:

When am I making aliya and moving to the country?

My answer: not for a while.

Probably never.

I love the country, but I don’t think that I’ll be able to fly back.







About the Author
Nicole Levin grew up in California and now studies government at Harvard University and writes for the Harvard Crimson
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