First Steps in a New Land

4:20 AM 3 Comments

This is a continuation of yesterday's post. I apologize for the length. I really had intended for one post to contain a timeline of events from both my perspective and Rachel's. But, they both turned out to be too long, so we are breaking them up into multiple posts. A lot has happened, and we hope we will capture some of it.

From Adam's Perspective

Ben-Gurion Airport (Nov. 19)

The plane landed about 3pm local time. After the bathroom racing incident (see previous post), there was lots of anticipation and excitement. At least from the kids. From me and Rachel, it was more of a panic in realizing that there was NO possible way we could get the kids and our bags off the plane.

I said this many many times on Wednesday, and will continue to repeat it. We could not have done the flight without the help of NBN. Period. Beyond the logistical supports that NBN provides (which could take up an entire blog series by itself), having 58 other Olim, plus staff, on our flight ready and willing to lug a bag to two, push a stroller, or walk with one of our children was immensely freeing. I could have spent a lot more energy, and mental anguish than I did in trying to coordinate such an effort.

So, there we were, wandering through the airport not entirely sure where all of our luggage was. At least we knew where the kids were. For the most part anyway. When we got off the plane we were in the new terminal. I think we were directed to go up the gangway off the airplane and into the airport instead of following people down the stairs outside because we needed to pickup our strollers. It was sort of a let down to me only because I expected the breath fresh air stepping off the plane into the Israeli sunlight. Nonetheless, I was immediately cognizant that Ben-Gurion airport is very nice. And, oh yeah, we were not in New England anymore.

Some of the first steps in the airport were easy. Yes, there were lots of bathroom breaks. I really tried to keep track of them, but i just could not keep up.

Total trips to the bathroom in Ben Gurion: Let's just say it was a lot. הרבה הרבה הרבה.

We needed to get our passports stamped at passport control. I entered the room with many lines and MANY people. Luckily those lines were not for us. I was directed to the far right where there were a number of short lines for Olim. Awesome. There, the lady in the booth needed to view each person. The kids got a kick out of this when I picked each of them up to show her their smiling faces. That was easy. What's next?

From there, we were off to catch our first breaths of Israeli air, and to wait for the bus to the "Old" terminal. There, we would be given some government forms, yada, yada, yada. There will be food and beverages. Nice.

Outside at Ben-Gurion.
While outside, we were struck with beauty. The weather and scenery (read: palm trees and lots of Jews) could easily have been mistaken for Florida. My kids happily waved their Israeli flags, and I feverishly attempted to snap some photos to capture the view.

The Old Terminal.
The bus ride was fairly uneventful. My son resumed his questioning. What's this? What's that? How come this? As we drove across the tarmac we saw lots of airplanes. Each of which he believed to be the one we had just flown on. When we got to the Old Terminal, again I was struck with the landscaping that seemed to be everywhere. Were we in Israel or Disney World?

What happened next is fairly boring. I will skip most of the details. Imagine a big room. Lots of chairs covered in vinyl set in rows DMV style. A corner with a bar counter that had some weird sandwiches and a machine serving delicious lemonade. A row of small offices. And a very old computer supposedly hooked up to the internet (if you could actually get the keyboard to input a character). I typed a very short email to my family to let them know we landed. That short email took about 10 minutes to type.

Wall of the government office where we did our paperwork.
The kids patienly played for hours while we waited our turn. The frustrating part was that the majority of the NBN flight group was already there. We were part of the stragglers. So as we arrived, I was informed that my name had already been called and that I had to wait to go through the list again. O well. We were there with other Olim from our flight, and two flights from Ukraine. Before we could take the bus back to get our luggage, we needed everyone in our group to get called. Therefore, having missed our number was not really a big deal. Just a slight annoyance.

We met up with a single Oleh that is participating in the same Bayit Rishon program, except at Kibbutz Revivim (next town over from Retamim). We will call him Ben for now. He becomes an intricate piece of the next part of this story. We knew Ben was going to be on our flight, and we actually "met" him right after we landed. Nice guy. He will be in our Ulpan.

While waiting in the Misrad HaKlita office, I am going to assume you already figured out there were NUMEROUS trips to the bathroom. Again, I stopped counting. If I had to pick an over/under number, I'd go with 20.

Getting our Israeli ID (and therefore officially becoming citizens) was a bit of an anticlimactic event. By this point, the exhaustion was setting in. The kids were still behaving just fine, but everyone really just wanted to get on with our evening.

Next step was to head back outside to the bus, and back to the terminal where we landed. While waiting for the bus (mind you it was still in the 70s with palm trees gently swaying in the breeze) my son had an epiphany: "Abba, we forgot to blow shofar." Standing on the steps of the Ben Gurion old terminal, together we blew shofar announcing our arrival. A moment in time worth remembering.

Mezuzah at the Gateway into Israel
Back at the new terminal, the NBN staff showed my son the BIGGEST mezuzah I've ever seen. It may perhaps be the world's biggest mezuzah at about one meter in height. I did not get a picture of it, but here is one that I scoured from the Internet.

Our luggage was waiting in an empty baggage claim area. It was already getting pretty late at night by this time. My son had a blast running around spotting our luggage tags. Want to know something awesome about Ben-Gurion over Newark International? At one airport the porter expects a tip, at the other, he doesn't. You figure out which one is which. One porter leaves your bags in the middle of the airport for you to maneuver by yourself through big crowds of people, the other takes bags out of your hands so you do not need to do the lifting. Again, you figure out which one is which.

Perhaps what happened next was my favorite part of the evening. Imagine us. Two adults having endured a day and a half of travelling with three kids, who are themselves getting very tired. Did I forget to mention that we still had not even fed them anything more than peanut butter crackers and some Bamba? Oops. We are making our final leg through the airport with suitcases and carry-ons galore.

We come through a passageway out into the concourse area. Big ceiling. Shops. Etc. Through some sliding doors. What do we see? A group of about 30 teenage girls all bouncing with energy shouting Shalom Aleichem. Some are carrying Israeli flags. Some have balloons in their hands. Some have candy. They are running towards us. Dancing. Singing.

What are these girls doing?

Who are they dancing for?

Oh.

Wait.

This is for us!

They are welcoming us!

Singing. Dancing. Shouting. Balloons. Candy. Big, enormous smiles from the kids. Wow.

Forget energy drinks and caffeine. Do you want a jolt of energy to wake you up from an exhaustion? Make Aliyah and wait for the group of teenage Israelis to come dance around you and your family. That will wake you up.

If any of those girls are reading this, thank you for that welcome. That was special and something I will remember for a long, long time.

The Ride to Retamim (Nov. 19)

Here comes the fun story. Remember Ben? Well, we left Misrad HaKlita on the bus before him. We had to wait for him before the dispatcher would arrange a taxi for us. One of the benefits we received was one free taxi voucher.

We waited. And waited. And waited.

Again, the kids did terrific. Other Olim played with them. They had their balloons from the dancing balls of energy girls, and candy to boot. 

Finally there was a mini-coach ready to bring us five plus Ben to Revivim/Retamim. My thought heading into this trip was that it would be a nice calm trip. Everyone would probably be asleep, and I could take in some scenery. Enjoy the ride, if you will.

Wrong.

The taxi driver was annoyed with our amount of luggage. And was a bit slow in loading. What did I do? Helped pack everything up because I just wanted to get out of there and on the road. If we wait too long, the baby will start crying and then ...

... we waited too long.

The baby started crying. And did not stop. Can you blame him? It was late at night, he had been travelling for 18 million hours. You'd be cranky too. You probably would also understand this concept if you were a taxi driver used to driving people from the airport. However, apparently this taxi driver comes from a family who has no crying babies. In fact, I think this taxi driver had never heard a baby cry before. Because there is no other way to explain or understand his conduct.

The first 20-30 minutes the baby cried, and the taxi driver yelled. Did I mention that the spoke no English? Then when we tried calming the baby down (thanks to Ben too, he was awesome in helping in this unsuccessful endeavor), the driver got more angry. The two older kids were asleep. Thankfully.

Now picture this: two sleeping kids, one screaming baby, three adults with patchwork Hebrew skills, one angry taxi-driver. Now picture said angry taxi-driver screaming while banging (or I should say full out punching with every force his body could muster) the dashboard. Now picture said angry taxi-driver screaming while throwing two fists up in the air while slamming on the gas pedal. Yes, this was most definitely the fun part of the evening.

About halfway into this fun-fest, Ben needed to go to the bathroom. Quick, let's all figure out how to say this in Hebrew so we can communicate with the driver. 

"אני צריך השירותים" ("I need the bathroom")
"זה קצת זמן" ("This is a small time") - we were not sure how to say it will be quick

We asked the driver a couple times. He ignored these requests. When the pleas for the bathroom became more desparate, the taxi-driver pulled over. There was a highway rest stop with a gas station and a McDonald's. Perfect place to pull over for a bathroom break, and a chance to calm the baby down.

Right?

Wrong.

We never made it to the rest stop parking lot. Instead, our wonderful escort for the evening stopped the bus in front of an electrical transformer on the side of the road before the rest stop. Ben hopped out, ran behind some electrical machinery and did what he had to do. How much further up was the rest stop? A couple hundred feet. Clearly we could not drive there.

As the journey continued, the driver got more and more angry. He shouted a lot of things. I am sure they were not welcoming, and I am sure I was called a lot of nasty things that night. The only thing that I did manage to understand him say was "סוף העולם. סוף העולם." ("This is the end of the world! The end of the world!") Apparently the edge of the world exists about a two hour drive from Tel Aviv. Just ask the bus driver.

It became clear that the driver did not know where he was going. Good thing that I had spent some time looking on Google Maps at Retamim and the Negev. I vaguely knew what roads we should be on. It seemed like we were going the right way and should be there shortly.

The part that still confuses me is why this taxi-driver did not know where he was going. Surely he could simply pull out Waze. Or wouldn't the dispatcher have given him directions? Didn't he know that this was two hours from the airport? Isn't this his job to drive people from the airport around the country? Wasn't he used to travelling with passengers with small kids and luggage? Could this really be such a foreign experience for him that would warrant such a reaction?

The other thing that I don't get is that the driver spent a lot of time on the phone with our contact here in Retamim. He was giving him directions. Where was the confusion and rage coming from?

Nevertheless, we made it to Revivim where we were welcomed and escorted to Ben's abode. On the ride through Kibbutz Revivim, the staff lady laid into the driver. She let him know how inappropriate his behavior had been, and tried to correct it. "They are new olim! something something something." It was impressive and amusing to watch.

Our Arrival to קפר רתמים/Kfar Retamim (Nov. 19)

The trip to Retamim (about 5 minutes) was uneventful. The driver had cooled down, and it was only a couple miles up the road. Whatever was said at Revivim stuck. As we pulled up to Retamim, we were greeted at the gate. (Side note: people drive golf carts here. I want one). We saw a sign that said "Welcome Hopkins!"

Like magic, the stress of the day and night faded away. Replacing it was an overwhelming sense of home. Instead of fear pervading the atmosphere inside that bus, it was excitement. We were driving through the Yishuv (in the dark) towards our home. It was peaceful and quiet.

Waiting at our home was a group of people. It was 11pm. The Yishuv was quiet and everyone was asleep. But at our new house was a welcoming committee who helped unload our bags and showed us into the house. The kids ran ahead to scope it out. By the time I go into the house, they were already playing in their new bedroom with some of the toys that were setup for them. On the table was a couple big bowls of fruit, some bread, some muffins, and pasta. The kitchen was filled with new appliances. Beds were setup in the bedrooms. The bathroom was stocked with cleaning supplies. The refrigerator had milk, cheese, juice, and some other staples. The cupboards were stocked with dry goods and pots and pans. Our home was waiting for us.

I'm not even sure how to describe those moments in words. They were powerful for sure. A community of people that had never met us spent lots of time, effort, and money to prepare a house for us. Just as the dancing girls in the airport, we were being welcomed by strangers that were genuinely as excited about our arrival as we were. Maybe even more so. And in the time since then, we have continually been greeted and welcomed. Perhaps we have not fully grasped the magnitude of story we are joining. Living in this land is humbling and amazing.

There was so much excitement and happiness in the air that night that none of us went to bed for several hours. But, we made it.

The only thing left to do that night was hang a mezuzah on our door, and call it home.

Thoughtfully written by:

Adam Hopkins

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