Dear Uncle Bud,
How are you? Had any visitors lately? How’s your new prosthetic working?
Yes, the trip was ok and everyone’s fine.
Flying with El Al afforded fifteen solid hours to get pre-acclimated to Israeli bluntness and the rich sound of spoken Hebrew. The gate at Los Angeles International Airport is very remote and hard to find (just like the Israeli embassy in San Fransisco is located in an unmarked building and, once inside, deliberately disorienting). The jet was roomy and clean, the staff professional, the food tasty. Most of the passengers were Jewish, and so there was a lot of camaraderie and sarcastic humor going on. There was also a lot of seat-shuffling, because some of them didn’t want to sit with members of the opposite sex.
The sophisticated young lady banker to my left chatted with me in a refreshingly candid way and shared her things as though we were old friends. The elderly lady to my right overflowed her seat like a big pillow and doted on me with shocking warmth. “We need people like you,” she sighed, patting my leg. A helpful lady in the row ahead taught me some fun Hebrew phrases (“Is my accent cute?”). She had a dark complexion and her traditional turban made her look like a Gypsy fortune-teller. “Be very careful,” she warned me, almost as if she were gazing into a crystal ball, “Stay away from crowded places.”
My best adolescent friend was a Gypsy girl from Romania. Do you remember her from when you were at our house, the last time you escaped? Her adopted grandparents were quite the globetrotters, if you remember, and I used to like to sit on a camel saddle at their house. So now I’m traveling and everyone looks like a Gypsy to me. Maybe one day I’ll see a Gypsy staring back at me from the mirror…
Modest mothers paced up and down the isles with crying babies. I’ve never seen so many bushy black beards and pregnant bellies in one place. It was reminiscent of an encounter I had last year with a big orthodox family, in an elevator. They crowded in like a flock of penguins until I was flattened in the corner with a toddler under each elbow, and then the elevator wouldn’t go up because it was too heavy, so they turned and looked at me, and I knew that it was time for little me to get off.
At the prescribed time, somewhere over Yellowstone National Park, the devout men rose in unison, took their tallitot and teffilin out of the overhead compartments, and trooped toward the back to pray. They had an appointment with God, way up there in the sky. They were very serious and avoided eye-contact with women.
A less devout man near the toilet was in a more sociable mood. He had a broken nose and an earring in one ear and also looked like a Gypsy. “Please be careful,” he pleaded softly, earnestly, shifting uneasily in his seat, “A terrorist won’t be able to tell the difference between you and… Just be aware—ok? Use common sense.”
And, of course, there was the mandatory Romeo prowling around. He positioned himself in the isle beside me, stretching loudly and vigorously in order to make his athletic figure as conspicuous as possible. Then he “found” a coin on the floor and asked, with a twinkle, if it was mine. More than once, actually. Stinker.
So anyway, I’m a stranger in a strange place again.
There are security bars on the windows here too–elegant, wrought iron security bars. Not to keep danger in, as in your case, but to keep it out. I know there are also places in American cities where there are bars on the windows. Many houses and businesses in our own little hometown have bars on the windows. But these bars remind me that this is the Middle East, no matter how many American flags I see, and Christians are being crucified and beheaded not far away, in neighboring Islamic states… I know how much you wish that you too were suffering for doing the right thing instead of for doing the wrong thing, and it makes me wonder what would happen if all of Christ’s followers everywhere wore orange coveralls for a day.
Do you think it might put some things into perspective? Do you think it would resolve some identity issues and relationship issues?
I’m dying for quiet today. Is it quiet where you are? I know too much quiet can be almost as oppressive as too much noise.
I hope they’re treating you ok, uncle dear. I’m sure God has a purpose for you in there. Sorry I can’t send you something—a fancy little chessboard or a little vial of perfumed oil. I know how much you like things that smell good.
Wish you were here.
Your favorite and adoring niece