What you learn on a 15 hour flight to India

We left Israel early yesterday morning, flying first to London and then to Bangalore, India. The trip to the London was fine, even quite enjoyable. The trip to India was an experience on so many levels, as was the first few hours here.

First, the flight. The planes on which we flew had personal viewing stations for each seat. I’m not that much into movies and news that is recorded and watched over and over again doesn’t appeal to me. What did appeal to me – such that while all around me people were watching movies – I was watching this one screen…of where the plane was flying at that moment, where it had been, where it would be. The time of day from where we left; the time of day  at our destination. How much time was left to the flight, the wind speed and temperature outside at that moment, and our altitude.

The trip from London to India took an interesting path and at each new country crossed, I had to deal with my own expectations and feelings.

As we left London, I snapped some pictures. From there on, as they day turned to night, I simply felt. I don’t know how else to describe it. Each country seemed to be sending me a message. I was a Jew on a plane with few others – perhaps even only one. To London, I was told that three quarters of the plane ordered kosher food. To India, as far as I could tell, we were the only ones. Worse, we were the carnivores among many vegetarians.

We crossed the English channel into France…France where growing anti-Semitism is making life very difficult for its Jewish community. The land called up to me – look how beautiful I am…rolling hills, little villages…beautiful and yet…France. I looked down with anger. You aren’t doing as much as you should to protect the Jews, I accused silently. Look how pretty I am, France responded.

The plane and the many travelers were oblivious to my thoughts. All around me, movies continued, people began to doze. I watched as we crossed into Germany. It doesn’t get much worse, I thought to myself. I had promised myself I would never go to Germany and rationalized by saying flying far above it doesn’t really count.  Look at my land, Germany called up to me, but I couldn’t see the beauty. Or maybe I could see it but refused to admit it. I too can be stubborn. And, I can be as hypocritical as the next person – where I found small villages quaint in England, in Germany I found this same formation of tiny villages and lone houses as a sign of coldness, of standing separate. Yeah, I know, but I was tired…

I was also looking for concentration camps…another silly thing because first – most of the concentration camps were built outside Germany, second, would I even be able to identify one from such a huge distance and altitude – absurd…but it’s what I did. It even took me a second to realize that was what I was doing. I even wondered if I’d find buildings in the shapes of swastikas. Germany and I don’t do to well on many fronts. This has been a growing challenge for me over the past year working with a team of German engineers and developers and I was more relieved than anything else when I realized two things. First, I am not alone among the team here in Israel – they don’t love working with the Germans either. Second, we are not alone. They don’t like working with us. One even had what would refer to as an unfortunate and certainly subconscious, unintentional slip up when, in the midst of a discussion with differing opinions, the German said, “well, we have to find a final solution here.” Yeah…no.

We crossed Austria…they never liked us much there either, I thought. I was tired and so I looked away. By the time I looked back, the screen was reporting that we were crossing on top of Budapest…Budapest…where my mother-in-law visited and mentioned “when we were in Budapest….” – not really good memories there either. It was either before or after the war…before they lost so many and she became an orphan, or after, where she was a devastated woman struggling with what remained of her cousins, to put their lives back together. Missing ere the generations – parents, uncles and aunts, grandparents, and younger siblings.

And then it got interesting. The Jew and the Israeli in me started praying that the plane would not need to make an emergency landing anywhere soon.

We crossed out of Europe into Turkey. Turkey? Wow, they hate us there and here I am flying over them…where in Europe there were villages – small, large, huge cities, in Turkey, other than in the far distance where Istanbul sparkled, it seemed it was every person for themselves, or perhaps every family…

People were closing the movies and beginning to sleep…I tried and failed. Below called to me. I was flying over land I will never visit – not as a Jew, not as an Israeli. We crossed in some area between Iraq and Iran and I thought, if the pilot had to land the plane, I’d refuse to get off it. While we were flying there – something strange happened. I looked out and then down and there was a plane directly below us – for a while mirroring our movement across the sky. I’ve never seen or heard of this being allowed…slowly, the lower plane pulled ahead of us and I was glad to watch it go. I thought of them intentionally crashing into our plane, attempting to sever a wing or just committing suicide in the name of allah. I thought of my children in Israel and though I knew I was being silly, I was so happy to see them pull away.

We passed next to Saudi Arabia and over what I think was either Bahrain or Yemen…no way of telling on the small map…glad that we were almost out of the area and back to a place where a Jew doesn’t have to look down and know hatred abounds.

Finally, we flew into India. It was a relief to be away from flying over the Arab countries; a relief to come to a place that seems so friendly.

In the airport, we were fingerprinted and photographed as part of the immigration process and then, as we collected our luggage, we saw armed soldiers patrolling.

So far from Israel and yet so clear, it isn’t only Israel that lives with the reality of violence and terror. And it isn’t only Israel struggling to make their land beautiful…Bangalore is huge. There are as many people in Bangalore as in all of Israel.

In the few short hours I have been here, I have already begun to understand that India is very different from Israel and yet what I have learned is that across land and sea, we have much in common.

About the Author
Paula R. Stern is CEO of WritePoint Ltd., a leading technical writing company in Israel. Her personal blog, A Soldier's Mother, has been running for more than 5 years. She lives in Maale Adumim with her husband and children, a dog, too many birds, and a desire to write her thoughts and dream of a trip to Italy, Scotland, and beyond.