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A Return to the Motherland / An Open Letter to the Woman Who Sat Next to Me on the Plane

It is almost 10:30 PM here in Kibbutz Farod, due southwest of Tzfat in Israel.

I’m back in the motherland.

I’ll get to the time leading up to this moment, but I have to get something off my chest before I start. I was somewhat nervous about taking this trip. I felt unprepared and unsure about it. Arriving in Ben-Gurion, hopping on the bus and seeing Israel through the windows, it all melted away. I love Israel. It feels like home.

The first step of the journey was the red-eye I took to New York on Saturday. Getting a chance to spend time with Amira and Steve is always a pleasure, and this time was no different, though it was a little difficult arriving and feeling like this.

Amira was busy in the morning so I got a chance to hang out with Steve and discuss some philosophical matters over 30 chicken wings and some pints (glory.) Later, Amira met up with us and we ended up going ice skating in Bryant park which, while somewhat stressful, was an enjoyable experience.

My cousin Matthew is a waiter at a fancy/hip restaurant modeling itself after traditional Jewish food in the 50’s. The meal was excellent, the company was good, and I partook in a drink infused with habanero for the second time in my life. Altogether a successful evening, in my opinion.

I managed to fill the hours before sleep with the requisite amount of stress, and headed to the Airport the next day.

Getting to the airport and meeting the group was easy enough–everyone seemed equally nervous and excited, so there was (and still is) quite a bit of small talk going on. We were told to be there very early, and as a result had very little to do in a huge amount of time.

The sunset was beautiful, and made for a great send-off from the good-ole U.S of A. Unfortunately, however, we then had to board the flight.

We weren’t seated as a group, which struck me as odd, but no matter. I figured that given the fact that about 5 separate Birthright groups were on this flight, odds were I’d sit next to some people I could call my peers.

Alas, it could no be so. I sat in the middle seat and was first to arrive in my row. The gentleman in the aisle seat arrived next, Tzitzit hanging stainédly from his bulk, sweater dripping crumbs and foodstuffs from meals which might have been had that day, but were most probably from some time earlier in the week. I had him tagged, based on his insistence to halt the flow of passengers aboard, as the one to look out for, and found myself pleasantly surprised when we casually chatted about the professions of his sons and daughters. (Quite varied, but I won’t bore you with the details.)

Then she arrived, and what follows is an account of the almost 12 hour experience in letter form:

Letter to the Woman Who Sat Next to Me on the Plane

Hi there,

I am being totally honest when I say I didn’t want to profile you when I saw you. It’s a natural instinct humans have: we try to define the world we perceive according to information we have gathered as individuals, and if we can’t, we make judgements based on the first data we collect–often visual stimulus.

I didn’t want to believe you were going to do exactly what I would have thought you would, and now I find myself in the awkward position of wishing you were the rude image I had created of you, since you turned out to be much worse.

Saying it’s poor manners to boss strangers around on El Al is like trying to explain to a dog why it shouldn’t pee on every tree along the walk. A futile effort. This woman, however, was something special.

You told us to get up, because we were in your way, and you proceeded to leave all of your bags on my seat. When I asked you to move them, you looked at me like I asked for your only remaining lung. As a response you put your belongings under the seat in front of me, where they promptly unloaded their crumby contents onto my jacket. Yay. Thanks for that.

Without pause, you asked me if I had a phone. I said that I did, and you asked to use it. I told you that I had turned it off because of the flight and you said to me “Nu, then turn it on again. I can use your phone?” I complied, because I figured it couldn’t do any harm. You impatiently waited for my phone to boot up, and when I took you to the dialing screen you attempted to make 5 calls, 2 of them to Israel. For some inexplicable reason, it didn’t work, so I took my phone back and turned it off again. This, of course, wouldn’t do, since when you asked for my phone again and it was off, you said ״נו, למה סגרת את הסלולר?״ (“why did you turn it off?”)

5 more call attempts, none successful.

Then your phone rang.

(Starting to see where I’m going with this?)

You answered your phone as if nothing were out of the ordinary, and began speaking at an excessively high volume inYiddish about a wedding or eight while the plane began to taxi. As we are in the plane, moving, you place the other calls you were hoping to place and were still on the phone after the plane took off.

(The gentleman to my left, at this point, is shaking his head in disgust.)

Skip ahead an hour, and I find myself having gotten up twice to let you pass. I’m trying to close my eyes, but every time I feel myself begin to drift into an uncomfortable sleep, something happens. You kick my foot. You reach under my seat to get your stuff. You shift your weight, throw your blanket over your back, not caring whether any part of me is trapped under it with you.

I give up and try to read my book. No? You don’t want the light on? But you aren’t asleep, you’re reading over my shoulder. Okay. Fine. I’ll use my iPad to read. What’s that? I need to explain to you what it is, how much I paid for it, and if it was worth it? Fine. Maybe I’ll just close my eyes.

(The gentleman on my left has pulled out his own tablet computer and has begun reading Torah on it. Not joking)

I could go on but I’ll skip forward to the “better” parts.

You lifted the armrest and backed up fully into my seat. In fact, part of you is sitting on my lap. This is making me uncomfortable. I try to move away without touching you, but I can’t since the gentleman’s bulk is leaking into my seat from the other side. You throw your blanket on my face.

I sleep for 10 minutes and wake up to the strangest feeling on my leg. Oh? You were actually farting on my leg? Really? I’m honestly impressed, at this point, with your lack of tact and consideration, and I wonder how it could get worse.

Our in-flight meal arrives and you visibly scoff that I’m eating it. It probably didn’t match your standards for Kashrut, but hey, to each their own, right? The food is cleared after you rudely refused to take any of it, and you reach under my seat to grab a Bodega sandwich from one of your bags. The egg salad smell begins to waft in my direction and I’m stunned into something between chokes and crazed giggles.

Cut forward to breakfast. You somehow again managed to lift the armrest and sit slightly on my lap, an experience made only more uncomfortable based on your more recent dietary choices. I bring my tray down, and you get in its way. I, however, am still in the wrong.

Eating my breakfast of fruit, you decide to turn around. I’ve made it through 3 grapes, a piece of pineapple and a piece of grapefruit when suddenly your blanket lands on my breakfast. Awesome. I didn’t want that. I’ll just eat this yogurt.

Only 3.5 hours left. We can do this!

Time passes with similar events, and I’ve slept no more than 10 minutes at a time 3 or 4 times on the whole flight.

We finally land, and as we’re still taxiing to the gate you ask why they haven’t let us out yet.

Because we’re still moving, I say.

Because we’re still moving.

Far be it from me to leave you, dear reader, with the impression that I’m not overjoyed to be here. I am so, so very happy to be in Israel. I can’t wait to do more. Today we went to Zichron Ya’akov, a town south of Haifa. It was an absolutely beautiful day. Here are two pictures I took while in the town.

17 Responses

  1. Glad you made it safely Elan! Your airplane story was hilarious and made this 2 hour wait in the Comcast office I’m currently inhabiting seem like maybe its not so bad. Thanks for that, haha.

  2. Jeeze, you put up with quite a bit more than I would have. Well done?

    Keep shooting photos! Might I suggest a picasa/google+ album for them all? You can even automate instagram uploads via

    Have a great trip!

    1. I took about 160 photos today with the Rebel…going to work o editing the album down and putting something on picasa or something. Thanks for the tip 🙂

    1. Knowing the situation, I somehow would have been detained and blamed for a bomb threat on the flight.mi wouldn’t put it past her to all my iPad and iPhone combo terror devices. Yay!


    I’m torn between feeling so, so sorry for you and laughing my ass off. Yeah, worst flight ever, you officially win. Or lose. It’s kind of relative.

    Glad you’re happy to be back in Israel. 🙂 Miss ya.

    1. Worst flight ever! I hope yours is better. I can’t wait for you to go to Israel. Best place ever!

      Then we can totally kvel about it 🙂

      1. Mine will be better. If someone performs any sort of bodily function on me, I’ll smack ’em and at least have that satisfaction to soothe me.

  4. 1. You are amazing
    2. I’m so sorry about that woman on the plane
    3. What on earth was stressful about ice skating??????

  5. Wow man, helluva flight. People fear the worst when flying so they get all worked up beforehand and then mostly the flight is uneventful but sometimes it’s the flight from hell and the rest of your life you worry it will happen again. Hopefully this was THE flight from hell, you’ve paid your dues and forever more it will be empty seats and rows to yourself.


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