Esor Ben-Sorek

The Joys of Travel

One of the Joys in my traveling is the two passports I carry with me.  Like a roulette wheel I enjoy spinning to decide which passport I will use to enter and/or to leave from the country of my choice.

My Israeli passport is filled with entry and exit stamps while my other passport chastises me for lack of use. It’s not that I prefer one passport against the other. Rather it is simply a matter of which passport I will present at the border of a nation. I don’t always like the smirk on the face of a customs officer who needs to decide whether to open the passport from the left or from the right. Nor the unnecessary questions asked when all the information is in his/her hands.

There is something jolly about traveling with two different passports holding both in my hand while waiting for the border official to choose one of the two. It’s like a game. Which one will he/she choose? Which questions will be asked?  A smirk or a smile?

Before handing one of my passports to the border officer, I look closely at his/her face to decide. Sometimes a question is asked. Sometimes good welcome wishes are extended. Often I’m asked the purpose of my visit and how long do I intend to stay. And I always think just why that info is needed. Is my visit to see family and/or friends or is it just to come back home… a choice of the two homes wherever they may be?

If one of my passports is filled to all its pages, the border officer usually suggests that I apply for a new one. In event of a difficulty I present the less-filled passport. No questions asked.

On a few occasions while traveling in European countries I notice the less-than-friendly face of a customs official who holds the passport down instead of up because of the Hebrew script. One would think that there has been enough opportunities to examine Israeli passports but, as the saying goes, “it ain’t necessarily so….”

Some of the western European countries are more polite and welcoming than others. Entering the Czech Republic has been always polite. Entering Hungary has not been so polite and I’ve frequently been asked to present an other-than-Israeli passport. Bulgaria was more friendly than France while Cyprus and Greece were  always very cordial in their welcome at the border.

Polish border officials were polite but didn’t necessarily greet with a warm welcome. Only questions asked were answered accordingly.

Entering the USA usually at the JFK airport in New York was routine and quick. Likewise was the entrance into Canada at the Montreal train terminal. Passports were viewed and no questions asked.

Happiest of all was the arrival at BenGurion airport in Israel. There, passports were handed back with a charming “baruch ha ba”… welcome. And the welcome was a genuine one.

Travel has always been a joyful and pleasant experience for me. It first began when I was 16 years old and continues now as I enter my 90th year.  I can’t remember how many used-up passports I have saved in a safety-deposit box… a collection of history and of  more than 70 years of travel.

The world has changed. Entering foreign countries is much easier today than it was shortly after World War II. From arrival at a foreign post until an entrance takes only a few minutes depending mostly upon the crowd of passengers awaiting entry.

Entering and exiting from the Israeli border is delightful and one is greeted with cordiality and a”welcome”.

With one of my two passports kept in my jacket pocket I decide at the last minute which one to present. It’s not a matter of “eeny-meeny-miney-mo”. Rather it’s a matter of which country’s entrance appears to be faster and which official looks more pleasant and smiling. It’s then that I make my senior-moment decision…. which passport to hand over.

Both the customs official and me held the same opinion… we just couldn’t care less…couldn’t give a damn. So why waste time trying to decide?

Travel is not simply an experience. It can be a delightful one or a miserable one. Much depends upon our attitude. But when travel begins and ends, we can be richer and happier in our experience. It is our attitude which makes all the difference.

In recalling my youth, I remember positive as well as negative attitudes. One in particular did not involve travel, passports or permission. I was a student in 1951 Jerusalem in a magnificent area opposite the Armon HaNatziv, the palatial estate of the British Governor of mandatory Jerusalem. It was for us students the only area in the former mandatory Jerusalem in which we could travel. From 1951-1967 it was the only Jerusalem we knew. One half we called “the City” and one part, maintained by Palestinian Arabs, we called “the shitty Jerusalem”, the verboten city of our dreams.

Now, in 2022, many of us refer to the “shitty Jerusalem”, an area dictated by the Smotrich and BenGvir anti-Arab “heroes”, an eastern part of the city with a large Israeli-Arab population segregated by Israeli political fascist-like control.

As for attitudes. I believe that while Palestinian and Israeli Arabs can reside in their respective sections of the holy city, Jerusalem, aka Zion or Ir David, city of King David, but quite apart from one another, the entire city, central and east, is, was and forever will be the capitol of the Jewish State of Israel and will never be divided again..

Travel may involve a form of sharing… sharing of our common ancient cultures one with another and with mutual respect, but it will never be separated from its Jewish origins and its ancient and now modern history. Jews will always retain their attitude to control Jerusalem.

Others may live in it but they will never own it. Those who live in the various section of Zion-Jerusalem may treasure it but only Israeli Jews can own it. It will never again be divided. And for those who are unhappy living under Jewish law, Amman ,the capitol of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, is within walking distance over the Allenby Bridge and they are more than welcome to walk across to the real 77% of British mandatory Palestine.

As the French would have it…  Bon Voyage. Have a safe trip.  A pleasant trip. One long to remember ! And to enjoy for years to come.

Bienvenue. Welkommen. Baruch Haba l’Ir David (welcome to the City of King David). Benvenido. Zdrastvoya.  Recite prayers, benedictions, petitions and shed tears at the Wailing Wall, our kotel, the remains of the western wall of our Holy Temple built three thousand years ago in the magnificent reign of David’s son, King Solomon.

There were no Palestinians then and there will never be a Palestinian State on  Jewish soil.

Am Yisrael Chai v’kayom. The Jewish State of Israel lives. The people of Israel live. So it was once and so it will ever be !  Ever and forever.

Travelers to Israel who come in peace and tolerance and respect will always be greeted and welcomed with open arms and a hearty “Baruch ha ba l’Yisrael”…you are very welcome to Israel. And will be blessed with an ancient Hebrew word, “Shalom Aleichem”… peace be unto you!

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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