>Well, here I am in Israel. The plane ride was, if not exactly hellish, at least completely unpleasant. I think the days when I could sit through a long plane trip with serene equanimity are rapidly fading.
Not until the plane touched down at Ben Gurion airport did I begin to realize how desperately, hopelessly unprepared I was for the first leg of this trip. Getting through customs is a different experience entirely here in Israel. The passport inspector gave me the third degree, frequently repeating questions as though to catch me up in a lie, or perhaps simply incredulous at the answers I gave.
“You are here alone?”
“You are here to study?”
“Yes, at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.”
“You have a letter from them?”
“Not exactly. All my correspondence has been through email.”
“But you have a print out.”
“Um, no. I have directions an contact information.”
“Do you know anybody in Israel?”
“Only my contact at the Yeshiva and the man I’m renting my apartment from.”
“You are here alone?”
…and so on.
The overall effect was to make me realize exactly how alone and unprepared I was and fill me with the irrational desire to turn right around and smuggle myself onto the first plane back to the United States.
After wandering aimlessly around the airport for a while, I determined that the best way to get into downtown Tel Aviv, where I’d been told all the hostels are, was to take the train. I managed to purchase a ticket and make it down to the platform, where I ran into a man whose acquaintance I’d made on the flight. He was headed in the same direction I was, so I elected to tag along with him until I got my bearings.
As of now I’m staying at the Gordon Inn, which is on the corner of Gordon St. and Ben Jehuda. At $30 a night, it’s a little more than I was initially planning on spending, but the staff and guests are friendly, the dorm rooms are clean and breakfast is included in the price, though I haven’t been able to take advantage of this latter point as of yet, since I was dead to the world until about 11:30 this morning.
After I had showered and gotten settled in, the word came that there were some people offering to give a bike tour of the city for free. Miraculously, I wasn’t dropping dead from exhaustion at that instant, so I and a guy from my room–a tourist from New Zealand–decided to check it out.
As it turned out, this was an amazing chance. Eco Bike Cycling Vaccations, headed by Mark Novak and Amir Rockman, is just getting started. OUr tour was free because they were doing a test run with an actual group to make sure their system worked smoothly. Even with the asking price of 175 NIS (about $45), it seems like a great deal. For the price, bikes, helmets and bottled water are provided. You get a good, vigorous bike ride, a historical and architectural tour of the city, and everyone stops for a beer at a nice little outdoor bar at the end of the trip (also included). Not bad at all.
We were relaxing at the end of the tour when I was approached by a couple of guys who were looking for help making a minyan. There was some confusion as I had to explain that I’d converted under the auspices of the Conservative movement, but I tagged along anyway–as it turned out, they only managed to find nine people, so I worked as an “emergency tenth.”
It was an enjoyable experience. This was my first time davening with an orthodox group, and my first exposure to the Sephardic nusach. I enjoyed the service, though I do feel that the prayers tended to be read at a speed that (for me at least) interfered with comprehension, let alone kavanah. Afterward, we talked a bit about where I was coming from and the Conservative movement in general. I was pleased that they were open to including me in their service, and interested in learning about another approach to halachah. One younger guy I was talking with did state that he felt it would make sense to have an Orthodox conversion, even if I was committed to the Conservative movement, just to ensure that I was on the same page as everybody else with respect to status and contributing to minyanim. He seemed to understand, if not to agree with, my point that doing so would involve taking an oath to operate according to the orthodox of interpretation of halachah, an oath I wouldn’t feel comfortable making.
Incedentally: When I mentioned I was from Tulsa, one of these guys said he’d seen a film recently where one of the central figures was a Jewish crime boss from Tulsa, OK. Has anybody heard about this?!?!?!
On the whole, it’s been an interesting first day in Israel. My plan is to stay here until Friday morning, when I can go to Jerusalem to pick up my apartment keys. Hope everyone back in Tulsa is doing well. Shalom and l’hitraot!