Sunday, December 27, 2015

Fear and Loathing in Jerusalem

        "Jordana, I really want to come to visit Jerusalem tomorrow, but is it safe?" If I had a dollar for every time I've been asked some variation of that question in the past four months or so, I'd be a millionaire! Well, not exactly- but I could afford a really nice meal. It is a bizarre question for me at first, because they are essentially asking if the place I live- where I work, shop, socialize and walk around- is dangerous for them to visit. You know, because of the terrorist stabbings that have been happening with nauseating regularity in our holy city. 
         But I get it. If all I kept hearing was "stabbing in central ramming in Jerusalem.... thwarted stabbing attempt in Jerusalem..."on the news all day, I'd probably be a bit freaked out too. I mean, how do we even live? The answer is the same well-trod answer Jerusalemites have been giving for the past who-knows-how-many years, "Life goes on." Sure, you pause every time you hear about some new attack, you frantically search the internet for information, you discuss it with your friends and co-workers. But inevitably, you will realize that you're out of milk, that the bank is closing soon or that the light rail train in 3 minutes away, and you will return to your regularly scheduled life, a bit tenser, but in astonishingly short turnaround time.
It does get a little sticky when there is nowhere in your daily routine that hasn't been targeted. The shuk, where I have spent countless daytime hours picking out fruits and vegetables and evening hours having drinks with friends? Yep, two women with scissors started stabbing people there. The Central bus station, my main hub for getting out of or back into the city, several times weekly? It's been targeted a number of times. Countless bus stops, bustling city corners and road junctions that I would recognize anywhere- suddenly flashed across TV screens as the site of the most recent attack against my Jewish brothers and sisters, my brave and beloved policemen and soldiers. And while the armed populace has become more vigilant, more adept at neutralizing and killing the terrorists quicker, it bizarrely hasn't stopped the attacks from occurring.
         People are most scared of the Old City, and that breaks my heart. The area of Jerusalem where all visitors yearn to come and spend time and pray is now one of the areas they are most scared to visit. For months I would calm friends and say "Take Shaar Yafo/Jaffa Gate.It's all tourists and nothing has happened there." And then something happened there. And now I don't know what to say to friends. Because I am not in their shoes, looking in from the outside. Would I still go to the Old City through Jaffa Gate? Yes, and it's definitely not because I'm so brave. It is because of this.
         As hard as it is, I can not be scared of my city. I can keep my hands on my pepper spray, I can avoid suspicious-looking passersby (yes, through profiling- not sorry!) and I can be aware of my surroundings. But I can not be scared of my city. I can warn others of where to go and where not to go, I can give suggestions of routes or streets to take or avoid. But I can not be scared of my city. I can follow the news one day and shut it all out the next, to stay sane. But I can not be scared of my city.
        My city isn't like Tel Aviv or Haifa, or Beit Shemesh or even Tzfat. My city is the capital of Israel and the eternal capital of the Jewish homeland. It represents so much more to me and the Jewish people than anywhere else. We have cried, prayed for and bled for Jerusalem. I personally moved across the world, all alone, in order to live in Jerusalem. So I can not be scared of my city. And I hope you will come here and join me in my city- in our city- and we will not be afraid.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Tales from a Holding Cell

            I am writing this from Dublin, Ireland, where I am supposed to be. I planned a vacation with my friend Jess months ago. I was coming from Israel via London and she was coming from Madrid. I was going to spend a day in London, doing an abridged sightseeing trip, alone, and I was stoked. One of the great things about living in Israel is that plane rides to Europe are closer and more affordable. An obstacle to this is that now that I live in Israel, I work longer hours and make less money than I did in NYC. So you can imagine how this impacts my grand travel plans. But I finally got myself together and booked a trip: Tel Aviv to London, a day and a half there, London to Dublin Friday morning and a nice Irish mini break until Tuesday. So exciting!
         I wrote my usual checklist, packed up and went to spend the day in Tel Aviv with visiting American friends and to be close to the airport. I got there with plenty of time to spare. If I may just kvetch for a second. I flew an airline called Easyjet. For those familiar, you are cringing right now. For those unfamiliar, think European Spirit Air. Now you're cringing- okay, we're all on the same page. So I'm in the airport and I take out my Teudat Maavar- or temporary Israeli passport, as my permanent one hasn't been issued yet (and this one is valid for 3 years) and my American passport case. Only- there is no American passport in that case. It is empty, save 5 million ticket stubs from various other plane rides. Crap. I ask the security guy if it's okay that all I have is my temporary passport- he says "yep!"and I got through. Sidebar- Easyjet has security in Terminal 1. But you do not leave from Terminal 1. You have to take a shuttle back to main Terminal 3 and leave from there. Why? Why is this normal? Because- Israel. But I digress.
         So I realize I don't have my passport and tell the deal to the waiting ticket agent. He seems to not have a problem with this whatsoever, nor do the 2 other security/border agents I meet after him. I go on through to my flight feeling like my worries are over. After what can only be described as a rough flight over, I head over to UK Customs, get my Teudat Maavar stamped and head to my waiting friend in Golder's Green. Then, a border policeman comes running after me and tells me to come with him. A wave of dread washes over me. He tells me that my Teudat Maavar is not a passport and requires a visa in addition. I tell him it says right on the cover "In lieu of a passport"and that he can call the US embassy or Israel or whomever to clear this all up. He makes me wait for about an hour while he confers with his boss "Google"over who is correct. At some point, it dawns on me that the next course of action is deportation and I start to cry. Well, more like convulsively heave-cry for an hour and a half. The agent who initially stamped me through is playing defense attorney and a burly, surly woman is clearly playing prosecution. I start thinking about my weekend coming to an abrupt (and expensive) end. How will I eat the cost of flights, hotels and entertainment? How can I mess up Jess'plans? What about this vacation I have been planning for months? Gone in an instant- just because of negligence/stupidity/a distrust of Israeli documentation?! 
My Nemesis
                So the verdict comes down and I am to be sent on the first flight out the next morning. Immediately, the wheels start turning. I am thinking about how long it will take me to get back, if I can get another flight to London in time to make my flight to Dublin, what the costs will be, if my passport is still in my possession. I'm texting Jess, trying not to freak her out, wondering if she can tell how out of my mind with stress I am. I am taken by the border police into a back area, fingerprinted and my photo is taken. I am interviewed, offered food and water and interviewed again. I am given forms explaining why I'm being detained and all my money is counted and my baggage searched. I am given a room to sleep in, but my possession are taken away for the night. I wish I could say I am exaggerating any of this, but this is what happens when you forget your American passport in London. Oh, and my bed/futon? There is a camera trained on it, so Robert, my friend and warden gets to watch me as I sleep. Let me be fair. Everyone was very nice. They just saw a small, red-eyed, shaking quiet (just kidding- it was me) little girl and they definitely felt for me. But- well- it sucked. It was demoralizing and I truly felt it was over-the-top. The only saving grace was that apparently this happens to 5-6 people per day. So there are other morons out there, and that made me happy. 
I illegally took this photo- how good do I look for an illegal alien, though?
              Another thing that calmed me was the fact that had this happened on the way to Dublin as opposed to London, I could have been detained over shabbat. And that would have been a disaster. Okay, so I'm on the first flight back to Israel at 7 am and am escorted by my guards directly to the plane door. I asked if I was going to be handcuffed and the guy laughed and said normally yes but he wouldn't. I turned white(r). I got on to my next luxurious Easyjet flight and takeoff was scheduled for 7. Except a woman refused to fly and the entire plane had to be stopped, rechecked and get back on the departure line. It might have had to do with our co-passengers.
Hey, Ladies!
             Oh, stop it- I'm not a racist, I'm a realist-get over yourselves. Then, the Israeli couple with the baby behind me started getting squeamish and tried to delay the plane yet again. At this point, decorum was out the window and I said "Äre you even serious right now?"They decided to stay and off we went. After the uneventful flight, I was welcomed back to Israel and thought how to best get back to Jerusalem. I tried the bus route, which is super- annoying, requires 2 buses and a light-rail and found myself racing up my stairs to see my passport sitting calmly and blithely in my dresser drawer, Grrr. I got online, fired up good old easyjet,com and booked the same exact flight I had taken the day before, albeit about 150 bucks more expensive. I raced outside and hailed the first cab I saw, he quoted me some astronomical price and off we went to Ben Gurion.
              Back to Terminal 1. Back through security.Back on the shuttle to Terminal 3. Back onto another low-rent Easyjet flight. Back to good ol' Luton Airport. Back to Border Patrol. And back to my former nemesis, and now best friend forever, Border Policeman, who stamped my passport, gave me a hug, and wished me a good trip. I asked him if he expected to see me back and he said you seemed quite determined. I'm not all that surprised."And we laughed together like best friends do.
              You might think that's all. All that's left is to get from Luton to London City Airport, and to my 7 AM flight to Dublin. And I had 7 hours to make that happen. So I take my bag out to the transportation kiosk, planning the best route, when a bearded Jew stops and asks if I need a ride to Golder's Green or Hendon (2 religious areas). I told him my plans and that I would just probably sleep on the floor for a bit before my flight at London City. He asked if it was even open. I didn't 
understand the question. As a frequent flyer in JFK and Ben Gurion, I was unaware that some airports closed. But he was right! Apparently London City is closed from 10pm-5am! Luckily, this man offered to take me to his house, let me sleep a bit and call me a cab to take me to the airport at 5am. Would you like to guess what kind of man he was- aside from angel? He was Lubavich! Oh savior of many a lost and stranded Jew, this Rabbi Junik and his amazing wife Goldie, took me in, gave me food, packed me lunch, gave me a warm bed and called my cab for me. And the craziest part was that had Rabbi Junik not been delayed for the first time in 20 years, he wouldn't have even seen me stranded! In Jewish terms, we call this"hashgacha pratit"or "Divine Intervention"- although you might see it as an excellent coincidence!

            My cabdriver to the airport and I had a lovely chat (if you know me, no surprise) and after a 30 minute political discussion about what to do with the situation in Israel, I come to find out that he's Jewish too! So I gave him my number and begged him to come see me if he ever made his way "home."Then I took one last quick and uneventful flight to Dublin and here I am, waiting for shabbat in this tiny but welcoming community. This was certainly a trip I will never forget, and it hasn't even quite started! But all's well that ends well, and it was great for the blog- so thanks for reading and I'll see you when I get back to the Holy Land!

Regards from Dublin!