Shalom Aleichem
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Shalom Aleichem

Tonight the skies over Abu Ghosh, a beautiful Arab city a few miles outside of Jerusalem, will sparkle and sprinkle stardust on our adored grandson Josh and his bride, our wonderful new granddaughter Shosh. The guests from near and far have arrived. Let the simcha begin!

It is very special to come here to our holiest land to rejoice. By the end of the evening my feet will hurt and my heart will soar. And love will be triumphant yet again. Ken yehi ratzon!

This occasion will not be our first trip to Israel. My husband and I have traveled here hundreds of times in the past 50-plus years. I remember some of the journeys more than others. These trips are always exhilarating, unless you have a dog packed away in cargo. There was that time when we came here in 1973 with plans to stay for more than a year. Our children were all on board for an adventure, even the two youngest, who were only 2 and 3 years old. The naysayer, if she could speak, was our 13-year-old dog Gringo, who had reached her dotage, a time in her life when adventure was low on her wish list, and lying all day on the couch was her favored activity. 

We tried to make things easy for her by having her veterinarian pen a note explaining to El Al that Gringo’s numerous chronic health conditions necessitated that she ride in the passenger compartment, so that we could tend to her properly. The airline personnel are probably still laughing. Gringo’s fate was to be stowed beneath us in the hot underbelly of the 747, a long arduous ride with a stopover at London Heathrow for a couple of additional hours of misery.

My crafty husband created a custom crate to ship Gringo in. His primary concern was that she have access to water for the entire time she was aboard. Somehow he designed a spill-proof water bottle that we hoped would survive the trip. It did.

We loaded the crate with comforting blankets from home and prayed that she would survive the trauma. There had been a recent article in Consumer Reports about many pets not surviving airline travel. We hoped for the best — but were plenty worried!

After landing and dispensing with all the formalities, we finally arrived at the luggage pickup and, happily, a kind baggage handler had removed Gringo from bondage and given her free rein in the terminal. I can only imagine what went through her mind, but when she saw us, we shared a moment of utter joy. Her tail wag was intense. Biology and evolution had removed my own tail but I rejoiced with her as if it were still attached.

The saga, however, continued. Gringo needed her toilette. She had refrained during the entire trip, which was at least 24 hours. Now what? We were not free to wander outside until we collected our sizable heap of luggage and passed through customs. Gringo was desperate. I walked to a forbidden emergency exit with her. Suddenly, out of nowhere, we were surrounded by a dozen soldiers, pointing their weapons at us. They encircled us and Gringo knew this was scary, clearly not an act of friendship and welcome. She nervously emptied the contents of her bladder, and elsewhere, onto the clean and polished terrazzo floor. A mess, but problem solved. She no longer needed to go out, and we could proceed to collect our luggage. 

On another trip, in 1986,one of our daughters was selected to appear in an Israeli televised contest. She was a student at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union and this was her first solo trip to Israel, to compete against Jewish students from around the world. She was not the winner but she certainly felt like she was when her plane arrived back in the United States and was met with balloons and musicians and much pomp and ceremony. She walked out to a huge drum roll, uncomprehendingly, inches in front of the real honoree, Soviet refusenik Anatoly Scharansky — since then Natan Sharansky — who was making his first visit to America.

Then there was the trip where a daughter, already the mother of several very young children, was about to travel back to New Jersey with us. As she walked onto the plane she had an anaphylactic reaction to some substance, still unidentified many years later. There was no possibility of her flying and she was told to deboard and seek treatment. Dutifully I accompanied her off the aircraft, leaving my husband to tend to his very young grandchildren by himself. This was, until that moment, an unlearned skill set for him. He proved to be a quick learner.

There were many trips where we met people we knew and others where we made new friends and chatted across the world. We also shared our flights with Christian tour groups on pilgrimage. They were usually the most well behaved passengers, sitting with seatbelts securely affixed and never ever conducting a minyan while blocking access to the lavatories.

We have flown with screaming babies galore and with those for whom kosher food is not nearly enough. It must be special kosher. Lately we’ve flown with the unmasked who were ordered to be masked. What we’ve rarely flown with are empty seats. The many daily giant airplanes spewing out endless passengers into Ben Gurion Airport are always full.

One thing has changed, however, and that is the amazing and emotional welcome that always brought us to tears of joy. Some might have caIled it kitsch. I never did. It went like this: an announcement over the El Al loudspeakers told us that we were now crossing the coastline of Israel. All those at window seats would look out and peer at the sandy beaches of Tel Aviv and south. This always-thrilling moment was then followed by a rousing musical rendition of Heveinu Shalom Aleichem. Few dry eyes could be seen. The powerful moment brought tears to the eyes of the most hardened, the most sophisticated, and the most blasé. El Al has long since stopped this practice. I cannot imagine why.

We don’t need excuses to fly to Israel, but a glorious wedding is quite the incentive. May this young couple continue to share smachot with their people. Here’s to Israel and here’s to love.

Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was!

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