Journey to Israel, Day 1

El Al B777-200
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On March 28, 2011, your editor traveled to the Land of Israel for ten days. For a Christian this is a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to the land where Jesus walked. For a Jew, this is often a one-way trip, or a more regular pilgrimage. For your editor, this became a highly personal journey, not merely to a land, but to a fresh appreciation of human gallantry and honor.

Your editor came to Israel intending to see some sites of archaeological, historical, and faith import. Israel has that—in fact Israel has the highest concentration of archaeological sites, often many levels deep, of any geographical region in the world. But it is also the rightful homeland of a people who have endured incredible persecution for thousands of years, but still carry on. And, contrary to every expectation, reasonable and unreasonable, they do so with far less bitterness of spirit than others have shown who have endured considerably less (including many who have made up a story out of the whole cloth). Those same people will not even let nature stop them, for when they returned to a land that had become desert, they remembered how lush and fertile it had been, and grimly decided to make it so again. And in that they have succeeded.

But Israel is important for the future of the world, as well as its present and past. Israel—and more particularly its capital city of Jerusalem—is the travel centroid of the world. That is, the sum of all the travel distances to all other land areas of the world is shorter for Jerusalem than for any other city. Israel is not a very rich land—it does not have its true equivalent of the Nile or the Amazon or the Mississippi—but it has been a commercial and military crossroads for thousands of years. And, again contrary to expectation and even to standing doctrine in some branches of Christianity, God is not finished with national Israel or its people. After one more test of endurance, bloodier and more challenging than any that the Jewish people have endured before, Israel will continue as the capital district for God’s Kingdom on earth. On that account alone, everyone should gain a full understanding of this country and the role it has played in history, ancient and modern.

The journey begins, of course, with the flight in—for any flight into or out of David Ben-Gurion Airport on El Al Israel Airlines (which can translate either as “Skyward Israel!” or “G_d over Israel”) is an extension of Israel itself. If the round of applause that breaks out when the plane is “wheels up” does not convince, the prayer session that a rabbi might hold during the flight, as one did on my flight, certainly will. Every El Al flight has its contingent of “regulars” who fly in to visit relatives in Israel, or go home after completing whatever business brought them to America. To understand their attitude, one must understand the country itself, and that comes only after direct exposure.

That exposure begins at the airport. A nattily dressed, scrupulously polite young woman with a no-nonsense attitude asked to see my passport, and then questioned me quite closely on where I came to the airport from, why I was traveling to Israel, and under what circumstances I joined a tour group affiliated with a church that I do not actually attend. Then she asked me to wait, and another agent, a young man, asked me the same questions all over again. I told him the same story as before. (I won’t repeat it here, out of respect for the privacy of my traveling companions.) I was prepared to open my suitcase for inspection, but they did not ask for that. I satisfied them because, though my story probably struck them as strange, I told it consistently and with no change. They tagged my suitcase and messenger bag and “cleared” me to the check-in counter.

I still had to “clear” TSA security. Of that experience, the less said the better, except this: though El Al’s security took longer to “clear,” it was far more dignified.

The last question that anyone asked me at the gate was whether I had bought anything in the duty-free shops. That shows that nothing and no one gets aboard an El Al flight that its crew and other staff are not sure about. No other airline in the world pays as close attention to security—which is why El Al has the best safety and security record in the entire aviation industry. El Al does not do this to win accolades—and indeed others tend to criticize them for the measures they take, and try to block them. This applies equally to the security regimen—which some decry as “racial profiling” against the goyim and especially the Arabs—and to the radar-and-flare-laying system that every El Al plane carries, and has carried ever since someone tried to shoot down one of their planes with a heat-seeking missile nine years ago.

El Al serves the best food in the air—Kosher food, as nutritious as it is tasty. Whether the Bible documents all the principles of kashrut is open to debate, but that it is the most wholesome diet known to man is undeniable.

The flight lasts for ten and a half hours, one of the longest flight times in commercial aviation. (The record duration is over 13 hours, on the run from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv.)

A flight headed eastward compresses time, so that in one flight one experiences sunset and sunrise.

A landing at Tel Aviv in the early morning is a breathtaking experience. As the plane descends, it passes over the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, and then over the city itself, on its way to the runway. And as the plane touches down, everyone on board breaks out into heartfelt applause, as much in appreciation of the land of which they are a part, as of the skills of the Israel Air Force veterans that have brought them there.

And so the journey begins. As one can see, El Al is a symbol of the country it represents. The airline does what it must to protect its employees and passengers, people criticize them for it, and still they carry on. As the Jews have carried on for thousands of years.