When Good Behavior Backfired…

Anyone who has made the long trip between the US and Israel, knows that it is not one of the more pleasant experiences. After nearly 12 hours of squishy seats, complaining children, and those “delicious” powdered eggs, even the best traveler is ready to call it a day.

Yesterday, I returned back home after a 10 day family trip to the US. Upon landing, and dealing with my son’s upset stomach, we proceeded to go through passport control, and we eventually picked up our luggage. For most, the ordeal of a 12 hour trip would have ended right there. A good friend was waiting for us on the other side to drive us home, and I could already see the hot shower and cold drink that would be waiting for me at home.

Surprisingly though, our trip did not end there. Since making Aliyah almost nine years ago, I have flown back and forth between the US and Israel, several times. This was the first time that I was stopped by customs. As we were walking through that middle area between baggage claim and the outside lobby, I heard someone calling “Adon Adon.” At first, I ignored this, as I was sure that it was not directed towards me. Quickly though, before I could proceed much further, a customs agent stepped in front of me and ordered me to put by suitcases on his X-Ray machine to be examined.

This was the “last straw” of a very long day. Why would he pick on me? He could see that my two children were tired, and my wife and I did not exactly look our best. Of the hundreds of people walking through customs at that moment, this guy, for no apparent reason, had chosen to single me out. I assured him, that with the exception of a few cheap Chanukah gifts from the grandparents and relatives, that we had nothing to hide. After scanning our bags, he had me open one of the suitcases. For the first time during this encounter, I actually smiled, as I must admit that I took some pleasure to knowing that he would be hit with about a week’s worth of dirty laundry when he opened the bag. Of course, as I had assured him, he found nothing that was problematic. After wasting about 15 minutes and prolonging a day that seemed to last forever, he motioned for us to continue onward. At that point, I asked him why he chose to stop me. I did not think I looked suspicious, and it was clear that I was traveling with children. Why me out of all of the other people going through this area?

At first, he refused to answer my question, telling me that he can stop who he wants. My wife kept trying to get me to move on and let it go, but his general answer just didn’t suffice. So, I asked him again. This time, the customs agent gave me an honest, yet troubling answer. He told me that I had come through at the same time as a larger group. Because I did not try and cut the line, he assumed that I had something to hide. I could not believe this explanation. Had I been rude, and cut off a bunch of college students, I could have avoided this ordeal, but because I was courteous and polite, I was singled out.

As a parent, this message troubled me deeply. We teach our children to always be polite and to be kind to others. Yet, my kids saw first-hand that their good manners resulted in a rather unpleasant experience. While we all understand that customs officials have a job to do, the reason given for stopping me and my family was unsettling to say the least. My oldest son, actually made a comment that we should have pushed our way to the front of the line. There went 12 years of values and training! While I do not think my son was serious, nor did he intend for the agent to hear him, it was clear by the expression on the customs agent’s face, that my son’s message did indeed get through.

We all consider ourselves to be “productive members of society.” Each of us contribute to our surroundings in our own unique ways. I have no doubt that this customs agent was trying to do his job. We need to remember the values that we teach our children in everything that we do. For we are all examples through every action. Our professional and personal actions serve as examples for the broader society around us. There are a million reasons this customs agent could have given for stopping us and checking our bags. It was sad that it was our courteous behavior that caused us to be singled out.

About the Author
Aryeh Eisenberg is the CEO and General Manager of Bonim B'Yachad, an online education technology provider for schools and individuals. Based in Israel, Bonim B'Yachad works with students all over the world.
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