Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Nefesh B'Nefesh (NBN) Experience

I figure I should tell a thing or two about the actual experience of taking an aliyah flight. The flight was with Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that helps with 100% of the transition to Israel, from job search efforts to government paperwork. With El Al, the main Israeli air line, they have a few flights a year that are entirely made up of new immigrants, or olim chadashim.

Along with the olim, which on my flight was around 200, there are NBN employees and members of the press. The NBN staff and media guys took probably about 10,000 pictures and hours of video footage. Talking with a friend, they will snap your picture. Eating your breakfast, they snap your picture. I even caught them video tape a guy while he was sleeping. Seriously.

The majority of the people on the plane were religious, those that probably fall into the ‘dati leumi’ religio-political order. Essentially, they are both orthodox and Zionists. Nevertheless, there were some secular Zionists, as well as two Russians that I swore were smuggling drugs. The security guards pre-flight thought so too, and I overheard the woman being pulled aside, while the guard says “look, I know you have a lot more than clothes and jackets in this bag.” I was sure they were carrying drugs.

I was a little envious looking around before we boarded. Families abounded. Even the single olim, those coming alone, seemed to have tons of friends with them. I saw many families with children anywhere from infant range, to a few that had multiple teenagers. I wondered how those teens must feel, being uprooted that far, at the most insecure time in their lives. I have a nearly overwhelming fear of daily life in Israel, mainly over Hebrew, but how magnified it must be for a 14 year old pimply faced kid that has never had the confidence building experiences that only come with 10 more years. I am quite jealous of those youths, that they have families, they will pick up Hebrew in mere months, that they don’t have to do the mundane impossibilities of Israel (i.e.- opening a bank account).

On the other hand, I don’t have any jealousy what so ever. I’m doing everything on my own. I have all my own responsibilities. I am making this decision, certainly not my parents. But don’t let this fool you. I was feeling quite insecure. I was watching friends and families take pictures together, as I stood in a corner waiting for a ceremony to start. I thought, quite distinctly I remember, “is this really my life? Am I really here? Do I have any similarities with these people?” I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t disappointed, I wasn’t excited…. I was just waiting. I think I am a cerebral person, one that doesn’t get into anything until it is a thoroughly understood and conquered thing. I mean that I am not going to jump for joy over being Israeli until I do the mundane: land in Israel.

So, we boarded, waited for over an hour, left at 4:30 when we were supposed to leave at 2:30, etc. Didn’t sleep one bit. So cramped I could have gone on a rampage. Talked to a flight attendant, fell in love, was interrupted, she smiled at me the rest of the flight, felt heartbreak that I didn’t get her number (typical Danny stuff there). Etc.

So after over 24 hours with no sleep, we landed in Israel. A 10 hour flight felt like 10 days. We got off the plane on the tarmac and took buses to the terminal entrance. There is always a big welcoming party, composed of random guests, press, family/friends, and the obligated soldiers. This was really very very exciting. I felt like I was 17 again, pregame for basketball, as we exit the bus to music, overly loud music, cheering and jumping fans, and a tunnel-like walkway of soldiers, all waving and handing out Israeli flags. It was just like a basketball or football game entrance.

The first thing I felt was joy, relief, and pride. Then I noticed how bloody young the soldiers looked! They were 18 or 19 I guess, but they didn’t look a day over 16. I think I’ll have quite the out-of-body experience when I join the ranks at 24, next to 18 year olds.

The prime minister was there. We had to listen to all manner of speeches, but the prime minister was there! And no one really cared. All the religious hate him because they think he wants to give away the West Bank to the Palestinians, a crime above any other for a Jew (because the Torah says all the land is ours, given by G-d, it is a sin tantamount to slapping Him in the face). So, when Ehud Olmert came on stage, some people started to stand up, and this religious guy said “don’t stand up for him!” Thank goodness we were in a smaller section, away from the main group. I don’t like Olmert either, but he is my prime minister, and he hasn’t done anything grievous enough to merit disrespect. I stood, clapped, and took pictures.

More waiting, got our Teudat Oleh (immigrant identification), cash, and then finally got luggage. We also got free taxi/sherut rides to our destinations. I rode with 3 other people I had met, to Jerusalem, in the most ridiculous sherut (a shared van) I have ever seen. There was no back area for luggage, so everything was piled up behind the driver and we couldn’t see the road at all. I was in the very back, with about half a foot of room for my legs, so I was sittin’ sideways, sweating bullets. The vehicle was the biggest POS in the world. The driver probably almost killed us 100 times, he drove so fast. This is a country known for terrorism, but 4 people were just killed in less than 24 hours in separate auto accidents a couple weeks ago. So dangerous, and I felt it as he darted in between traffic, passing buses, merging into traffic that was merging into us. The kicker? The sliding door didn’t even close, and one of the guys had to keep closing it as we were speeding down the interstate.

I’ll upload some pictures of said events, later.

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