In November 2011, three months into my now-completed college career, I found myself with possibly the biggest first-world problem known to mankind. (Well, aside from “should we take our five children on vacation to Tahiti or the Maldives.” Considering I received my degree in journalism, this is a first-world problem I will never have.) My problem was that I had a crippling case of boredom.
After high school, I spent three months volunteering in Antigua, Guatemala, followed by three months of misadventures in my seaside California hometown. After the initial excitement of living completely on my own for the first time wore off, college became a mind-numbing routine. Wake up, class, homework, work, repeat. I just wanted to see the world. But even if I had a break from classes, I was still a broke college student, so it’s not like I could have just hopped on a plane.
Until one day, someone told me about a program called Birthright Israel. If you were even a little Jewish, this program would pay for you to go to Israel!
I was raised completely non-religious, with a Jewish mother and a Christian father. Even so that was still enough to qualify me for the trip, so I jumped at the chance. Free trip! Why not!
Given that I’m clumsy, directionally challenged, occasionally impulsive, and just generally pretty accident-prone, when I announced to my friends and family at the age of 20 that I would be spending a couple of weeks in Israel – and that I was leaving only 2.5 weeks after I announced it – I was met with a cavalcade of advice.
One of the things I was told the most was that I should memorize some facts about Israel before going to the airport. Some people told me they had heard that if you weren’t Israeli and didn’t have an Israeli passport, you’d be asked questions about the history of Israel before boarding the plane, and that if you didn’t know the answer, you might not be allowed to fly! Yikes.
I wasn’t too concerned, since I was going with a group. But I’m 100% American–American citizen born and raised with an American passport–so I researched and memorized some Israeli history before I left.
Yeah, y’all know where this is going.
Sure enough, in March 2012, there I was standing in a line at passport control in Los Angeles, California. Two hours-ish before my flight, I watched airport officials walk down the line and ask people questions. I saw that several people, including some in my Birthright group, were ushered out of the line before me after they answered. I couldn’t hear what was going on or see where they were going. I silently recited the answers I had memorized in my head.
Much to my relief, when it was my turn, they asked me exactly the questions I had looked up, and I rattled off the answers.
Maybe it was because I subconsciously looked at the ceiling while I answered (probably half so I could concentrate and half because I was nervous), maybe it was because at the time I had purple hair and a lip ring, or maybe it was some other factor I’ll never know, but right after I answered, the officer said “come with me” and began escorting me out of the line. Which like, on the list of things you want to NOT have happen at the airport, was pretty high up.
He took me into a room where several other passengers who had also been taken out of the line were waiting. One of the officers asked for my suitcase.
I asked why, and the officer told me he needed to search it, and asked for it again.
Also pretty high up on the list of things you want to NOT have happen at the airport is being separated from your luggage before you board a plane to a country thousands of miles away. I glanced around the room and saw that nobody else had their suitcase either, so I reluctantly agreed and went to go have a seat.
For some reason, although there were several non-desirable airport situations happening, I wasn’t nearly as panicky as one probably should be after being taken out the security line a couple of hours before their flight, having their suitcase confiscated and not provided an explanation for either action. Probably because I was 20 years old and just excited to be going somewhere.
After sitting in the room for at least an hour – and around 30 minutes before my flight was scheduled to take off – my suitcase was returned to me, and I was allowed to board the plane without any problems. I didn’t worry at all until I was on the shuttle out of the airport, and suddenly starting thinking about what I’d read in the news and wondering if I’d made a bad choice in visiting Israel.
My first few hours, I was a little freaked out by the abundance of bomb shelters everywhere I went, but then I had a conversation with an Israeli citizen who advised to “try to live a normal life in an abnormal situation.”
“If there’s a suicide bomber at the front of the mall,” he said, “use the back entrance.”
This actually calmed me down, and over the next couple of weeks, I floated in the Dead Sea, slept in a desert, came face to face with a REAL LIVE CAMEL, hiked a mountain at sunrise, visited waterfalls, ate my weight in falafel wraps, learned a lot and had a great time.