‘Onwards and Upwards!’ thought Monty Schwartz smiling happily, as the El Al plane transporting him to his new life heaved itself off the runway at Jan Smuts airport and flew into the clouds. Not even the occasional drop into an air pocket dimmed his feeling that the future was golden. He ate a hearty kosher meal and slept most of the way.
At Ben Gurion airport the man from the Zionist Federation was waiting for him on cue and spirited him off to a hostel for new immigrants in Tel Aviv. Everything was new and exciting – the torrid heat, the Hebrew lettering on the signposts, the crowds in religious garb, the single-decker buses roaring through the streets — this was the Promised Land!
From this point on, however, things started to go downhill, like a bus parked with the brakes off, moving slowly at first, then gathering pace. Monty discovered that his passport had been incorrectly stamped so the first few days of his stay had to be spent commuting between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in an effort to remedy the situation. First, the appropriate department had to be located and within it, the appropriate office. To reach his destination, Monty had to make several bus journeys, and to achieve this, directions had to be sought. But this was easier said than done. Pedestrians ignored his timid ‘‘slicha’ and hurried past him as if he were a ghost, and when he eventually succeeded in his ambush, several other passers-by, now instantly attracted to the problem and eager to join a debate on the best route to his destination, simply confused him with contradictory advice and fell to arguing amongst themselves.
The dilemma was eventually resolved when one of the disputants pointed frantically to a bus slamming on its brakes further down the street. Monty missed it by seconds, but another bus would be along presently. However, identifying the correct bus was only half the battle. Entering it was the next problem. As one bus after another shuddered to a halt and the door opened with a hiss, a throng materialised from nowhere and people fought like mad things to get on board. Little people, large people, men, women, sturdy young people, frail old people burrowed through the scrum with murderous intensity in order to gain purchase on the step of the bus, leaving Monty with his quaint notions of courtesy and chivalry standing forlornly on the pavement. ‘Savlanut’, he thought, rehearsing a new word in his vocabulary. There will be another bus shortly.’
Finally, the office in Tel Aviv was reached. After much to-ing and fro-ing. the bureaucrat behind the counter concluded that Monty would have to visit the Jerusalem office to obtain the necessary stamp. During the cross-country coach trip to Jerusalem, Monty, aka Candide, reflected that at least he was beginning to see some of the country. However, there was a further let-down in store for him when the sour-looking official in Jerusalem advised him that he must return to Tel Aviv There had been a ta-ut and it was up to the Tel Aviv branch to rectify it. Monty noticed the blue number tattooed on the man’s hairy forearm and felt a strange mixture of compassion and anger stirring within him.
The return visit to the Tel Aviv office was almost thwarted again. It was around noon on a Friday when Monty reached the counter. ‘Sagur’, said the by-now familiar figure at the desk, pointing towards a sign hanging on the glass partition. Monty turned away, but there must have been something about his disconsolate demeanour and the unusual absence of protest on his part which struck a chord with The Adversary. ‘Bo!’, he barked, and within minutes all had been put right. Monty had a new purple stamp in his passport and the requisite signature to prove that he had arrived in Israel on the day that he had arrived, and not the day before.
Monty sat down on a nearby bench and wept silently with relief. He had survived his first hundred hours on Aliyah.