Thursday, November 24, 2011

Flying is not walking

My dad came up with this profound statement. He was not a big traveler at the best of times. But flying was his least favourite means of travel. I thought of him during the flights we just experienced. I can imagine he would have had a few other choice words to add to this if he had been alive to experience it, or even hear my story.

The truth of the matter is, I am completely over it all but I thought you would all get a kick out of it.

Leaving Israel is a piece of cake. Security is at such a high level that the worst you can expect is to be asked some ridiculous questions. And of course we were. The lovely young lady that questioned us, was intrigued at our Hebrew and when we said we had lived in Israel, she didn't seem to believe we could have learned such perfect Hebrew ONLY in Israel. Had we not known Hebrew before arriving? I mentioned that we had both gone to Hebrew School, which led to a long stream of questions about where exactly we had gone to Hebrew school and the names of all of our relatives in Israel.

And then of course she noticed that my last name was spelled differently in my Israeli passport than Marc's. I explained, blah blah blah, Consulate, last minute blah blah blah mistake made, no time to correct blah blah blah. Off she went with my passport.

She returned a few minutes later, returned the passport, smiled and wished us a good flight. Phew. One security check down.

When we went to get our boarding passes, we knew right away that the last leg of the trip was likely to be problematic. Royal Jordanian was able to give us our boarding passes for Amman and Delhi, but she had no idea about the last flight. "Some discount airline" she said off hand. "I am not sure what terminal it will be". OK, no panic yet. 

The flight to Amman was finished almost before we left. Less than 30 minutes in the air. When we landed, we followed the signs for transfer flights. Eventually we went through security.

Well It was called security but in reality it was a free for all. No one could stay in line or take their turn. There were only a few plastic containers to put things in and people were just throwing their stuff together with other people's stuff. Women were told to go in one direction and men in another. The metal detector reminded me of the ones in Egypt at the entrance to every museum. They don't really work, but make a lot of noise beeping all the time. Every man went through five or six times until the beeping stopped. All of the women were escorted into a closed booth, where a woman security person got her jollies feeling us all up from head to toe. In the mean time, all of our personal belongings were at the other end of the room with no one there to fetch them.

Lovely. We felt really safe and secure.

The flight to Delhi was five hours long and almost immediately the flight staff were serving drinks and hard alcohol. There were several young men on the flight, one sitting beside us and one just ahead of us. Luckily for us, the young man sitting beside us, quickly determined that it would be much more fun to join the fellow in front of us. It became clear to me by his third drink that we were in for trouble.

The stewardess serving him drink after drink, tried to slow him down but he was persistent. When he finally began vomiting, all she did was scold him and hand him a box of kleenex. For the remainder of the flight, Marc and I enjoyed the sounds, smells and sound effects of his performance. No one came to clean it up or to check if he was still breathing. Each stewardess that passed just made a face and moved on.

This flight finally ended and we arrived in New Delhi. We were met by a representative of Jet Lite (our discount airline) and escorted to the counter where we would get our boarding pass, and our luggage which had been checked straight through to Kathmandu, would be located and forwarded to the proper flight.

All seemed surprisingly organized until the Jet Lite rep, looked at our freshly printed boarding passes and started tearing them up. He asked to look at my e-ticket, had a long conversation with himself, made a couple of phone calls and declared "You will have to call expedia." "You flight is booked, and paid for, but there is a ticket number missing and I can not make the change", he said shaking his head. "But we don't have a phone, and calling the US to try to fix this will be more costly than this ticket" I said trying to keep calm, "Surely there is something you can do from here".

Well I won't bore you with all of the details, but needless to say we stood there for two hours trying to get someone to figure out a way to get this worked out to no avail. Finally I called expedia from a pay phone that looked more like an adding machine, and asked them to have their people call Jet Lite/Royal Jordanian's people and make this problem go away before we missed our plane to Kathmandu.

Somehow miraculously at the same time, a Royal Jordanian rep realized himself that he should be the one to fix this. He assured us that at 9:30 when the reservation office opened, he would make sure this all got fixed. That was two hours away and we were losing patience. Moments later expedia's people called Royal Jordanian's people and as if by magic our boarding passes appeared.

We are still not sure what exactly happened, but we were ushered through to another less than efficient security screening and into an ultra modern airport. Yes, the New Delhi airport is beautiful, clean and modern. If I didn't know any better, I would have thought I could drink the water and eat the food!

Instead of taking any chances on the water or food, we found very comfortable lounge chairs where we slept for three hours. By the time we boarded our plane to Kathmandu, we were rested and ready for the next adventure what ever it may be.

But truthfully, everything after that went like clockwork. We arrived, filled out our visa forms, received our visas, collected our luggage (yes our bags arrived!) and walked outside where our guide Dhana was waiting with a big sign with our names on it. He delivered us to our hotel, were we were served Masala Chai.

So now you are almost up to date. I have lots to say about the drivers here, and our day of sightseeing, but that can wait for another day. It is really late and we are up early tomorrow to make our way to Pokhara, so no photos today — sorry. Hopefully tomorrow night I will still have internet!

Goodnight all!

Even McDonalds knew I needed a hug

On Tuesday, after an amazing final night with family, Marc and I bought our last bags of nuts and our last (really thick) slice of halva, wrapped them all up for our Nepal trek and drove the last stretch of Israeli highway to Ben Gurion Airport. With only one wrong turn, we made it to the drop off point for our rental car, and found ourselves at the airport four hours before our flight.

I know. Way too early. But we were feeling so depleted, that there was really nothing to do but get to the airport. The last three weeks were so filled with joy and then such sorrow, that we were completely spent. We found ourselves alone again. Although full of anticipation for the next leg of the journey, there was an emptiness hard to describe.

When Marc brought me the McDonalds cappuccino I ordered, the beautiful heart in the steamed milk was enough to bring tears to my eyes. How did they know I needed a hug?

The four hours passed somehow and we boarded a plane to Amman, and then Delhi. And then after a very stressful couple of hours figuring out the next leg to Kathmandu, we rested in the Delhi airport until boarding a flight to Kathmandu.

Within less than 24 hours, we left one world for another. As night turned to day, we found ourselves in another reality.

But before I can begin to tell that tale, I must thank all of our friends and family in Israel (and our Adamit family abroad) for welcoming us so warmly, and for making it so incredibly hard to leave. The love we felt each and every day was more than overwhelming. We have the most wonderful people in our lives and we love you all more than words. How can we possibly thank you enough?

As for the trip — the story of our flight and first day is hilarious ... Coming soon!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Steve Miller 1945-2011 — Farewell dear friend

Three weeks ago, when we all arrived in Israel to celebrate Adamit’s 40th birthday, none of us could have known the significance of this journey for our dear friends Steve and Pam. Against all odds, after a serious life threatening operation, chemotherapy and another operation scheduled upon his return to New York, he made the long and difficult trip, to be part of this special gathering.

Little did he or any of us imagine that it would be his last.

On Friday afternoon, under the care of a large staff of doctors in Nahariya Hospital, with his wife Pam at his side, Steve’s struggle to overcome, came to an end.

Marc and Steve shared a special bond all the years we all lived together on Adamit. He wrote a beautiful message the morning after his death and I think it is a beautiful tribute to their friendship and to Steve. I share it with you now:

Dear Comrades,
Steve and I shared play. Among other things, we played bridge. Shmuel Erez was Steve’s partner. I played with Mark Maipaz. The games were sometimes held at Mark’s place (yes, the infamous Bait shtem esray). But, more often, in public, during the evening hours at the moadon. The competition between us was faux fierce. Mostly, bridge was a nice vehicle to unwind from the work and social pressures of the day, to kibbitz about the kibbutz, and to provide some personal support to one another if it was necessary.  Bridge on Adamit filled our nonmaterial needs, each of our respective partners provided what we could to try to win based on our ability (plus a certain measure of canniness as well as plain luck).

Steve and I also shared work. Upon arriving on Kibbutz, I received excellent instruction from Shmuel, the pardes leader, on how to pick the winter’s citrus fruit (oranges, grapefruit, and the dreaded lemons) in the valley.  From there I ‘graduated’ to Steve’s domain of spring and summer fruit (apples, pears, plums, and peaches) growing on top of the mountain. Steve had a way of managing us with just the right balance of respect and professional authority. It was hard work. Steve made it enjoyable as well as meaningful.

In addition, I shared in some of Steve’s struggles. He recognized that he (along with other kibbutz members) needed to wean himself from cigarette smoking. He turned to me as head of Va’adat Tzricha (Needs Committee) for permission to enroll in a couple of smoking cessation programs (behaviour modification, acupuncture). The Kibbutz agreed that this was worthy of sponsorship. Hopefully, these helped to eventually stop his habit (as well as helped decrease the colbo’s cigarette distribution and the kibbutz population’s second hand smoke consumption).

Most of all, I like to think that Steve and I shared a friendship. It was a Kibbutz Adamit friendship. In other words, it was one of those lifelong friendships that transcend time and distance. Six years after he left the Kibbutz, I wrote to tell him that I too would be leaving. His response was to be sure to come and visit if I was ever in New York. But he added something to that clich├ęd response that very much resonated with me at the time: he said he REALLY wanted me to visit. I’m pleased that Naomi and I were able to resume our friendship with Steve and his new wife Pam on several subsequent trips to New York. We were very much looking forward to continuing to do so during our planned extended stay at the Big Apple this spring and summer.

I know that I speak for all his other Adamit friends in saying that his passing is a personal as well as collective loss. We’ll miss you Steve.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011


From the I dream of Pizza Blog
Just inside Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, down the second alley on the left, an unassuming sign leads you to a hole in the wall called Green Door Pizza. We discovered this gem in 1975, when we were living in Nive Yaacov. Neither of us can remember exactly how we originally found this place, but every visit to Jerusalem, we find ourselves down this alley, checking to see if Abu Ali, the man with the large hands, that made us the most delicious pizza so many years ago is still alive and still making pizza.

It seemed to us in 1975, that Abu Ali was at least 90 years old. Yet each time we return, he is still alive, doing what he always did — stoking his wood fire pizza oven, while preparing his specialty pizzas.

From the I dream of Pizza Blog

The walls, as always are black with soot. As we entered, he was adding the wooden leg of a chair to his pizza oven and watching the existing embers ignite the new piece fuel. We announced as we do each time we come, that we have been coming back for over 30 years to eat his pizza. "Welcome" he greeted us as always, "Meat or no meat?"

Under a long narrow plank, in a metal tray, are pre-prepared pizza shells that resemble pie crusts. A flat bottom with raised sides ready to be filled with his special ingredients. He set to work immediately on our vegetarian pizza. The ingredients have not changed over all of the years we have been coming here. First there are two triangle cheeses, carefully unwrapped and smeared over the bottom of the crust. Next comes the tomato paste, and then the key ingredient — two eggs cracked over the cheese and paste mixture. A sprinkle of spices, and the pie is placed on a wooden pizza spatula, and disappears deep into the mouth of the red hot oven.

In the mean time, Abu Ali calls to his partner to break up some additional pieces of wood (misc building scraps), runs his utensils under water, moves the hot coals around and checks our pizza. Within minutes, the eggs/tomato/cheese filling is bubbling and the crust is browned and crispy. As always, the pizza comes out of the oven burning hot. And as always, Abu Ali picks the pizza up in his large hands and transfers it from the wooden spatula to the table. But how does he do it with out burning his hands? We have never figured this out!

The pie is cut in four pieces with a large knife, and is way too hot to touch when it is placed in front of us on a piece of wax paper. After a few minutes, we dig in and enjoy this treat as much as every other time we have been here. Clearly, the place and this man, add to the unique flavour of the experience. "Surely", we both think to ourselves "he is by now at least 90 ... ". But we think this each time we come, and each time, he is still here, looking the same age!

"Thank you" he says to us in Hebrew after we have eaten the last bite and settled our bill. "You are welcome any time!"

Satiated, we take our usual walk from Damascus Gate to Jaffa Gate taking in the sights, sounds and aromas of the Old City.

From Jaffa Gate we board the new rapid transit line for a ride from the Old City to Mt Hertzl. The train is sparkling new and free at this point so it is bustling with people commuting through the different neighbourhoods of Jerusalem.

On our way back, we stop at Machane Yehuda Market in the New City. Another sensory experience, not to be missed. This time we purchase nuts, fruit savory pastry and fruit juices to keep us going for the rest of the day.

By the time we arrive back at the Jerusalem Hostel in Zion Square, we are almost bursting from all of the delicious market food we have eaten — and we still have more to eat in our room! Definitely not a low calorie city!

Monday, November 14, 2011

The summer of 1974 — Naomi meets Marc

Every stop along the way here in Israel, brings Marc and I back to some nostalgic point in our collective history. In the fall of 1974, through some twist of fate, we both ended up on Kibbutz Beit Alpha in the Jesreal Valley. For me, the plan to be specifically on Beit Alpha was dictated by the fact that my aunt Irene and uncle Osher lived close by. For Marc it was simply because it started in October, and that fit into his plans.

I had just turned 18, and for me, this trip to Israel was my first time traveling alone, any farther than Minneapolis, Omaha or Kansas City. Marc of course was much older and wiser and had already managed to finish University and travel through Europe, by the time he arrived. By the end of the six month Ulpan (intensive Hebrew language program), Marc and I were quite sure of two things; We wanted to be together, and we wanted to live in Israel on a kibbutz. Less than a year later, we were married and on a plane to Tel Aviv!

Looking back, I guess you could say that Beit Alpha is a pretty important piece of the Broudo puzzle.

We always make an effort to visit Beit Alpha each time we are in Israel. This time we decided to see if they had a guest house and spend a night there. We were able to book ahead, not knowing for sure what we would find. As we drove into the kibbutz a few days ago, and followed the signs to the Guest House, it eventually became clear that we were driving closer and closer to the exact buildings we lived in 37 years ago!

Could it possibly be that we would be sleeping in the same rooms?

It ended up we would be staying across the road from our original dormitory, but close enough for it to feel like once again time had stood still.

For me, at age 18, Beit Alpha was shangra la. I had never seen a place more beautiful. Perfectly manicured lawns, date palms and other exotic vegetation everywhere you looked — and to top it off, views of Mt Gilboa always in the background. For a prairie girl from Winnipeg, it was more than magical.

Although much has changed on Beit Alpha, The beauty of the place has remained intact.

We visited the large dining room that is still functioning (at least for lunch), were able to find a photo of the man who originally welcomed us to Beit Alpha (Shaoel Zinger) in a display of kibbutz members that had passed away. Our amazing kibbutz breakfast was served in a building that was originally the dining room for the elementary school. Quite a few people looked familiar to us, but we didn't manage to actually make contact with anyone we knew. Never the less, it felt good to be there and to remember our beginnings as a couple, and as young socialists.

Afula, the closest town to Beit Alpha, is famous for the best falafel in Israel. We took the opportunity to meet at Mifgash Golani with friends, Peter and Gila, Nomi and Bob, Sue and Joe and Verna to partake in the experience. I forgot to take pictures, but thanks to YouTube, you can see why they are so famous!

This area of Israel is important to us for so many reasons. We met here, learned how to speak Hebrew and I guess became kibbutznicks here. My Aunt Irene and Uncle Osher lived in this area for many years, and my Uncle Osher is laid to rest here. Aaron completed a year of high school and made life long friends here. So a visit to Beit Alpha and a visit to Uncle Osher's grave were a must.

Great memories of a great time in our lives.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

An extraordinary Friday night dinner on Kibbutz Adamit

From the archives! This was the original Dining Room
Adamit’s first dining room was a simple building at the entrance to the kibbutz. When you got of the bus, there it was. When Marc and I arrived in 1976, plans for the new building were already in the works. When construction was complete, we had a dining complex more beautiful than any of us could have dreamed of.

The kitchen itself was fitted with the latest institutional sized refrigeration rooms, convection oven and fryer. Large steam pots for preparing soups, a machine for pealing kilos of potatoes, and another for cutting them into chips. We had a Mixmaster, large enough, to prepare cake batters, or to whip mashed potatoes for 200 people. But most importantly — the new dining room had a state of the art automatic dishwasher. Shiny new pots and pans, knives and mixing bowls lined the shelves and new dishware filled stainless steal wagons.

A picture of the new Dining Hall.

As you walked into the impressive building then, a solarium greeted you, planted with flowering plants. To your right, was a wall of mailboxes where we all received our daily Mail. To the left was the entrance to the expansive and impressive dining hall, arched windows on both sides, which was the centre of our communal life.

We had our meals here, and celebrated holidays here. Every evening, work for the next day was assigned here. It was the heart and soul of our — and every kibbutz. And it was a magnificent piece of architecture. It was also a place we all took turns looking after. Everyone at one time or another had washed the dining room floor, taken a turn running the dishwasher, wiped down the tables, set them for holiday meals, decorated the walls, and even cleaned the washrooms. The heartbeat of our community pulsed here.

So it was again — as if time stood still, when a group of about 20 of us assembled on Friday morning, to brush off the cobwebs so to speak and set up the dining room for our Friday night reunion dinner.

There have been many changes on Adamit, and for that matter on most of the kibbutz collectives in Israel. Most dining rooms have been closed, and lay dormant. Explaining why and when it all happened is much too complicated. Just take my word for it. It happened. This magnificent building, once so vibrant, sits empty most of the time. It still has its uses, but they are few and far between.

When we arrived, David was sweeping the front steps, Dan was unclogging the drain in the bathroom area, Joe was moving chairs, Tali and Isabel were bringing in supplies, Naftali and Gali were deciding on the floor plan of the tables to best accommodate the number of people attending. Within minutes, we joined the group, each of us figuring out what needed to be done and getting to it. Within a few hours, the entire place had been transformed. Floors glistening, tables covered in festive table cloths, the stage in place for the evening’s entertainment, flowers cut for centre pieces, napkins and silverware in place, and areas designated for food, hot and cold drinks and dessert.

At 7:00 that evening, the magic began. The parking lot filled with cars arriving from near and far. Before long the dining room was filled to capacity. Approximately 150 old friends in one long embrace, from wall to wall. The energy in the room was electrifying.

But the evening was not just hugs catching up and food. There was of course entertainment. Isy took the stage as the master of ceremonies. All the usual suspects took their turns, making us laugh and making us cry. In between musical acts and skits, Isy and Mayer retold stories of yesteryear that had us all in stitches.

photo by Steve Goldman

It was after midnight by the time we, Adamit members, past and present, cleared tables, packaged up leftovers, and said our farewells.

If we look at this experience from the point of an archeologist — uncovering an ancient civilization — everything I have described thus far, is only the top layer of dust. When you dig deeper and understand the hierarchy, structure and interconnection between the 150 souls sitting in that room, the true depth of the experience is staggering. I don’t really have the tools to do this justice. I have tried to find the right words but they still elude me.

For lack of a better description, perhaps the facts speak for themselves.

For the 10-15 years that most of us in that room shared this piece of land with each other, we, (children ourselves) built a community. We did army service, planted, grafted, sprayed and picked apples, pears, plums, peaches citrus fruit, avocados and cotton. We caged chickens for market, sewed t-shirts for sale, mended, laundered, and cooked. We got married, had children and raised them. We built houses for ourselves and for our children, installed central heat, fixed tractors, unplugged sewers and tended gardens. We sat up nights arguing about our socialist ideals. We danced and we sang together. We hurt and cried together. We fought and didn’t always get along with each other. We broke many of the ten commandments in the process, but came out the other end, adults — so much richer than when we started. For everyone in that room, those years were among the most significant in our lives.

We share that bond. Period.

Our reunion lasted six days and six nights officially. If you take all of the emotion I have tried to describe in this and the last post and spread that over six days and nights, in a restaurant here, someone’s living room there, the kibbutz dining room one night, the kibbutz club house the next, you can start to imagine the depth of the experience.

As I was saying my final goodbyes in the kibbutz clubhouse on Saturday night, Tzaffe, a present and long time kibbutz member (married to Yaffa who has been a part of Adamit in one way or another almost from the beginning), came up to me, gave me a deep hug, and said “Thank you!” I was confused and looked at him and said “But why are you thanking me? I should be thanking you for letting us have our reunion in your home.” He smiled, waited a moment and said quietly, “All of you built this. We will keep it alive”. My throat tightened, and my eyes filled with tears. All I could do was smile back at him. Any attempt to speak, and I would have lost all composure.

The truth is that the biggest thanks goes to Sara for coming up with this amazing idea and to Sue for agreeing to help her make this a reality. And to Tali and Isabel and all of the current members of Kibbutz Adamit for welcoming us all back into their home for the experience of a lifetime. Yet another experience we can add to the endless significant moments that we have shared together.

Happy 40th Adamit … Forever in our hearts.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Adamit Forever

I painted this rendition of Adamit in 1984, to be used on the poster I was designing for the celebration of Kibbutz Adamit’s 13th birthday (I may have the math wrong as to which exact birthday it was, but I know I am close). Last week on Nov 1st 2011, we landed in Tel Aviv to celebrate Adamit’s 40th birthday — with as it turns out, hundreds of friends, from all over Israel and all over the world. How could it possibly be 40 years?

Where to begin. Even typing these first few words, I can hardly keep it together. There were many moments during the last seven days that I felt my heart would simply burst.

Adamit Forever.

The connection to this place and these people is so deep, it actually hurts.

From the moment we (after three hours of driving in rush hour traffic) arrived at Kibbutz Eilon, where we would be staying for five nights, it was a bit like coming out of a time machine. Had time stood still for more than 26 years?

Everyone agreed that it was our voices and body language that stay the same, even if our physical being has changed. There are all these mannerisms' and voices we know so well, all around us, yet the details have to be filled in. In short order the small group at Kibbutz Eilon were reunited and it was as if it was just yesterday we were on Kibbutz Adamit together, building a community.

A deep and sincere feeling of family fills the air. It is so strong that it overwhelms you at the oddest moments. This connection is so intense it catches you off guard.

Our Reunion started in earnest at Bustan Hagalil on Nov 2nd.

We were, we think by the end of the night, about 60 people at Maureen and David’s Moshav near Naharyia. The party got started at 2:30 pm, and until late in the evening, friends continued to arrive from all corners of Israel. There were people we only had time to hug and say a few words to, and others where we managed longer conversations. But I know we were all left feeling there were many others we had barely managed to acknowledge.

photos by Dishi
Tables were filled with salads of all descriptions. The barbeque was sizzling with meats marinated to perfection. Open bottles of wine, juices and beer were set up on another table at the back of the yard. Desserts on yet another table. But — seriously — who had time for food and drink with all of the talking and hugging going on?

And they were not simple hugs. They were heart felt embraces. Long and tight. Sometimes so tight you could not breathe. This went on for almost eight hours straight before all 60 of us, emotionally drained, but higher than kites from the excitement, found our way into our cars and back to wherever we were staying the night. But how do you go to sleep after this experience?

Safely back at Kibbutz Eilon, the eight of us staying there, plugged in the kumkum (tea kettle) and sat around together for another two hours trying to wind down, drinking camomile tea. Then we each retreated to our own rooms and stared at the ceiling for another two hours before most of us finally fell asleep.

When we all managed to pull ourselves out of bed the next morning, and gathered for a communal breakfast of all the usual suspects (cottage cheese, white cheese, vegetables, hummos, techena, prili, sour cream tomatoes, cucumbers etc.), the first thing on all of our minds was “Can we possibly keep this up for five more days?”

Well we did — and it kept getting bigger and better! But if I tell you everything in one post, that would be no fun.

More tomorrow if I can get enough internet to download photos!!!

For more photos of the event try this link

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What’s more fun than flying to Tel Aviv?

Flying to Moscow on the way to Tel Aviv!

OK, we took a chance. A flight came up on expedia that was way cheaper than all of the other flights. Russian airline. Flight to Tel Aviv through Moscow. Why not? I googled them and they got some good customer reviews. So they have had one crash — What are the chances it will happen again?

As we got closer to the date, I started getting nervous. Does this airline even exist? Expedia sent me an email confirming the flight. I looked the airline up online and called to reconfirm the flight. A0K! All systems go. The flight was on time, and the airline exists. What a relief!

The lovely customer service agent with a strong Russian accent suggested getting to the airport three hours ahead. It would be a big plane after all and it takes time to get everyone on board.

We left Brooklyn on time and were also comforted when Transaero, our airline, had several agents in terminal 4 at JFK and there was a line up of people checking in. We did the same, wandered through duty free, made some purchases, had lunch and came back to our gate, where our fellow travelers were assembling. At first we noticed a fairly large group of Russians from some sort of organized group, all wearing blue and white jackets and the men wearing interesting crocheted hats. Through a process of elimination we decided that they were a part of a dance group of some kind. But we soon realized that the majority of the 300 plus passengers on this odyssey with us to Moscow, were Orthodox Chasidic Jews. Literally, hundreds of them.

Them and their hats.

I imagined immediately that they had all come to New York on a hat buying trip. Why else would they not only have the hats on their heads, but also endless boxes of hats. They had so many hats, that the rest of us could barely find a place in the overhead bins. This was such an ordeal that we actually were delayed until every hat was rearranged a hundred times until it fit just right.

Some of you may have a hard time imagining the scene, but let me tell you it was surreal. None of these young men were over 25. All in black suits, white shirts, (black hats of course), perfectly curled long side burns (“or pais”) all talking in a mixture of Yiddish and Hebrew, pulling boxes and hand luggage in and out of every overhead bin, making deals in broken English with other passengers about rearranging their items so that there would be room for one more hat. Some of them were standing on seats peering into bins to find one more spot.

I am sure you have all been on an organized bus trip. Maybe with a sports team or your youth group, cub scouts — you get the picture. Well this flight was kind of like that. No sooner were we finally settled and off the ground, but these guys were in the aisles, hats coming in and out of bins, on and off their heads, non stop talking and moving around the plane visiting, passing prayer books and glasses of water.

Now we Jews do not pray as much as Muslims, but on an overseas flight there is more than one opportunity to do so, and let me tell you we had several minions going on. But which way is east? And what time is it anyway? Many false starts, and rearranging of hats. More than once there was an announcement from the pilot or the stewardesses, about no loitering in large groups in the aisles, but between the thick Russian accent over the PA system and the din of Yiddish in the aisles, it was a lost cause.

Then there was meal service. Kosher meals outnumbered regular ones, and the staff, were working overtime carrying all the special meals by hand to most of the passengers while the rest of us waited patiently for the regular service. When the meals finally arrived they were surprisingly good!

Nine hours later, all of us, and all of the hats deplaned in an ultramodern Moscow Airport, safe and sound. Two hours later, we boarded a slightly smaller plane to Tel Aviv, with an even greater ratio of hats to storage bins! Oy!

Transaero, and our flight to Tel Aviv via Moscow was an experience we will not soon forget. As Airlines go, it was a very comfortable flight with courteous staff, and generous legroom. The free entertainment all around us made for memorable experience, and most importantly, a great story!

We arrived in Tel Aviv around 3:00 pm and by 5:00 pm we were on our way North to Kibbutz Eilon, where a large group of our friends were gathering. We hadn’t slept by that point for more than 24 hours, but were energized immediately when we were reunited with some people we had not seen in over 20 years.

It just doesn’t get any better than this. What a great start to the next leg of the journey!