Privet from Moscow! I am currently sitting in a booth in a Russian airport, in the midst of an 8- hour layover from NYC to Tel Aviv. Any why, you might ask, did I choose to take this very scenic and unbelievably circuitous route back home, after spending 3 delightful weeks with my family in New York? Because the fare was so low, you actually feel like this airline is doing you a favor. Yet once you actually take the flights, you realize the trek is so long, and flying so thoroughly uncomfortable, that you seriously reconsider ever doing it again.
Since the whole experience of going back to America for the first time since aliyah is so intense, and since I did and saw so many things in my 3 weeks back Stateside, this post may actually turn into a 2- parter. But let me start at the very beginning, which I’m told is a very good place to start, and we’ll see how it goes. It was the week before Pesach/Passover, and I was finally taking that “trip back to the States” that I had booked way back in November and at the time seemed eons away. I chose this super-cheap flight via Aeroflot, and prepared for the worst. After all, online reviews had me thinking this was a pre-war era plane manned by KGB members with no indoor heating or cooling. And I was fine with all that, because the price was right. And who didn’t want to see the highly regarded Moscow airport (one of three in this city, I’m told) ? No one likes culture more than me, and I have a lot of great Russian friends, so what better way to connect to them than through spending 4 hours in their 3rd largest airport? Thankfully, the flights were totally fine- personal screens and all! And the airport even officially had wi-fi! Not wi-fi that actually connected you to the internet, more the kind that showed up on your phone as full service, but kept your screen loading indefinitely, you know the type. One of the fabulous things about traveling internationally as an Orthodox person is the wealth of kosher food options available to you worldwide. And by that I mean, there is nothing and you starve. It’s the main reason I am so well-traveled throughout the US, and so poorly traveled everywhere else. I refuse to stuff my suitcases with granola bars and microwave meals. I have way too many pairs of shoes for that nonsense. So I prepared in advance, and stocked up on Bissli, Bamba and Pesek Zman chocolate in Ben Gurion Airport in anticipation for the fast. I didn’t just want to be Israeli in that Moscow airport- I wanted to shout it out through my snack choices. I’ll fast-forward through the travel, because I could probably explicate on that for ages. One exciting element of traveling is that it was my first time ever doing so as a dual-citizen. This meant that I showed the Israeli agents my Teudat Ma’avar (temporary travel visa- you get a passport a full year after aliyah) as well as my American passport. Although, if I’m being honest, I’ve been using my American passport almost everywhere else. It’s just so much faster and I got things to do! So I finally get out at JFK, locate my bags (which I have an irrational certainty will be lost or stolen off the carousel every single time I fly) and reunite with my all-time best friend- my dad. He takes me to my family home where I hug my mom, my sister and my car- in that exact order. We then go to dinner with my other sister and her family, which include my 2 nephews and my niece. It is at this dinner, where I am sitting with the people that I love most on earth, some of whom don’t ever and will never be able to visit Israel, that I get super-emotional. I am lucky that I have a real sense of certainty in my decision to make aliyah. While I’m in Israel, I never question if my move was the right one- I know it is. I walk around smiling all day, and feel unendingly blessed to “live the dream” as they say. But at that table, with my niece and nephew on my lap, joking around with my immediate family just like it’s any other time, it is at the same time totally normal and completely surreal. And I allow myself a millisecond to think- how can I be without these people every day? How can I have made the decision to move across the globe alone, while my heart and soul are here? I will have this feeling a few more times over the next 3 weeks, but these are fleeting thoughts, and they do not last long.