The happiest place on earth isn’t Disneyland, though I would definitely put Disneyland in the top five. No, I’m convinced that the happiest place on earth is the arrivals hall of Terminal 3 at Ben Gurion Airport. Everyone is happy. Whether they’re waiting in nervous but happy anticipation for their loved ones to land, coming for a visit, home after a visit, or home after a lifetime, everyone is in various stages of euphoria to have landed on Israeli soil. The festivity is enhanced by the myriad balloons on the ceiling. I had wondered how they had gotten there until one time I came to meet my son with a balloon and in my haste to hug him I let it go and it floated up to join its friends.
There’s contained Israeli mayhem as people talk on their cellphones, dogs bark and people squeal and rush to greet their friends and family. The airport workers intermittently try to shoo people back behind the barrier as people stream in from the dozens of flights from all over the world. But they do so half- heartedly knowing it is a lost battle. Israelis are fiercely loyal to their travelling relatives. And then there are the groups on pilgrimage or friends of Israel who come in singing and dancing or beating drums dressed in various costumes. There are the Birthright groups and the tourist groups. People don’t get disconcerted if you shout at them, “He what flight were you on?” And everyone comes out smiling, beaming, grateful.
It’s also a very user friendly hall. For those of you who’ve never been here (What are you waiting for?) the arrivals hall is in a semi circle shape with a decorative barrier so that you can see the arrivals and they can see you as soon as they come out of the doors and you don’t get in people’s way if you happen to jump the barrier in your enthusiasm to greet someone. A huge board clearly displays the arrivals and when they’re supposed to arrive and while you’re waiting you’re surrounded by food options. Also I saw someone bring brownies.
Unlike in bigger city airports, you will invariably meet people you know, or make friends with people waiting. But as I stood watching the hugs and kisses, the greetings and joy, the children gamboling into the arms of waiting relatives, the groups being welcomed and the vestiges of chaos that still, baruch Hashem, give Israel that family flavor, it was clear to me that this was the happiest place on earth, the only tears being tears of joy and the only time, this moment.
Tourism is one of Israel’s biggest industries. Groups coming on aliyah is a frequent news item and the wandering Jew perpetually wanders even if now it’s on a tourist visa. But whatever language you say it in, Welcome Home is always applicable here because there’s no place like home.