[Taglit 5-Year Retrospective] The Travel To Israel

A reminder of yesterday’s post before I get started on the Retrospective.

Until the end of the month, I will be writing retrospective posts on my Birthright Israel trip, which occurred exactly five years ago, and fortuitously the days of the week also align (e.g., July 20, 2011 was also a Wednesday)!

I never posted my journal on the day before Israel, so I will post the journal entry here. For the remaining days, the following format will be given:

  1. A link to the original journal entry on my blog.
  2. A new reflection on my thoughts from that day in the five-year retrospective.

Each post will also be scheduled for publication at 10:21, Central time (corresponding to 18:21, Israel time). The oddly-specific minute is intentionally chosen, and long-time readers of my blog may realize why.

However, since my Day-Before post was never before published, I’ll JUST post that today and start retrospectives and reflections tomorrow. (The journal will have plenty of then-day reflections!) There are a few extra comments in brackets, but everything else is as I wrote it.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011 / Arba’ah[sic], 18 Tammuz 5771

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The post begins in Evanston, Illinois, at my apartment.]

The day began before it began!  I was jarred awake at around 300h as a thunderstorm had brewed.  Heavy rain, lightning, and thunder was evident.  Thankfully, I fell asleep easily thereafter.

I woke up “for real” at 600h, and the rain had abated.  For breakfast, I had yogurt and water, of course the former paired with Grape-Nuts.  While eating, I checked Facebook, and saw some encouraging messages about my trip.  It is almost on!  I equipped a “Go ‘Cats” T-shirt, zipoff shorts, applied deodorant, and ensured everything was packed.  I fear I will forget something important…

At 638h, I walked down Maple toward Davis.  It was already humid, but the heat hadn’t kicked in yet.  There were a few people about, but it was quiet.  Several Pace 213’s came by, but the 250 arrived at 655h.  I sat in priority seating, placing my backpack at my feet and suitcase underneath the seat.  The ride was uneventful, although I attempted to catch up on journaling in the ride [I was 3 days of bullets behind].  Once we got past Skokie, parts of Dempster were really bumpy.  Besides, I’ll have time to journal while flying.

The bus went on Dempster, very familiar territory as it changed to Miner, as we passed the Art and Science Academy [where I had biked to a tournament back in April].  A little further on Miner was the Metra stop, at which the driver stopped for a smoking break!  Is that built into the schedule?  After the break, turning left onto Lee Street was halted by two Metra trains and a long red light sequence.  It was neat seeing this downtown area.  It may be a fun bike adventure later!  With a new camera, too, I’ve got new options!  Lee Street curved to Touhy, and Mannheim went toward the Kiss ‘n’ Fly.

Exiting the bus, I ascended an escalator to the tram boarding area.  The left doors would open when it came, and it took about four minutes to arrive.  I noticed texts from Dina and Allison, the latter saying to have a great time [I had dinner with her and her sister Maggie on Monday, and my excitement for Birthright was palpable], and the former to locate myself.  The tram took a stop at Terminal 5, and then 3.  I noticed old city buses transformed into shuttles.  Cool!  At the terminal, I asked an agent where JetBlue was, and was pointed leftward.  I found Dina and Allison [not the same one as aforementioned in this paragraph] there, and the former had already checked her bag.

I weighed my bag, and dropped it with the TSA.  We walked (i.e. Dan, Dina, Allison, and I) to the security checkpoint, and in line, Dan’s hands were swept.  Lots of beeping was coming from the scanners.  When I got up there, I was asked to go through the [backscatter] X-ray.  I was also patted down [afterward]. It’s annoying, but I didn’t balk about it.  Neither of the women required any extra procedures.

We walked toward Gate L5, and I took a stop in the bathroom.  Once I sat down at the gate, I didn’t do much—I think I was either collecting thoughts, retreating, or something similar.  The plane arrived a tad late, but I’m in no rush since there will be plenty of transfer time in New York.  It was 925h when they started boarding.  Row 14 was part of the last set called.  Oh well! [They called first 1-8, then 16-25, and then the rest.]

The plane had fog coming out, clearly visible inside.  Each seat had a personal TV monitor that was provided by DirecTV.  I chose the Google Maps channel.  The flight took a while to take off, but the estimate was 103 minutes.  When I started the clock, Muthuswami was playing on my MP3 player.  During the flight, I caught up on journaling, and had PopCorners kettle chips with Coke.  I’m now fully caught up as we’re 1h30m into the flight.  One cool piece of trivia: we were in Canada for a little while [see below]!  Soon thereafter, the captain asked us to turn off electronic devices, but of course I tacitly refused to down the MP3 player.  I’ll have fun and go mad!

A Google Maps on an airport backseat screen.

In going from Chicago to New York, the flight flew over Canada.

The plane landed in New York after one hour, 44 minutes, and 49 seconds.  On time due to the secondary estimate of 1:45!  Exiting the plane with Dina, we followed the signs toward baggage claim.  Down an escalator we went, past a secured door, and saw Dan and some of the other Chicago JetBluers.  In a circle we stood, just hanging out until the bags came.  All of our bags arrived quickly.  We then took the tram to Terminal 3, then up and down an escalator and elevator to street level.

Well… not exactly.  We had to descend another level in a capillary elevator.  Glad we have time!  To get to our part of the terminal, we had to go past a crosswalk dangerously [and some of us, me included, did it illegally by crossing on the orange hand], up an incline, and into the terminal.  Once there, we all congregated in a corner near the check-in kiosks.  Flushing our bags against the wall, we all sat down to burn some time.  It is 1400h now.

One suggestion was Bananagrams, and we got a set of eight to play.  Word games are fun, as are board games!  With 8 players, the games all went quickly.  I won the first one using short words that collaborated well with my letters.  Rachel won the second time, I forgot who won the third time, and I won the last.  There were not many strings of “Peel” [like what usually happens when I play].

The game took its own derivative [i.e., disintegrated] around 1450h, but then Dan & Aaron alerted us to the availability of boarding passes.  This involved scanning our passports on the screens behind us, which was easy to do.  For Michelle, it failed for some reason [though she was able to get assistance and it all turned out okay], slowing Dina and me down.  That’s fine, though.  Heading to security was quick, but the line took FOR-EVER.  Dina, Michelle, and I all managed to stay sane, and this time, none of us required additional screening.  Good—once is enough!

The secured area through, we searched for food.  A circular area showed only Burger King, Starbucks, and a gift shop [Relay], so we followed the arrows toward Gate 6.  An organic gift shop and bar were along this corridor, but then a food court came into view.  The only appealing-to-me place was Chili’s, so I got a bowl of chili as the others got Sbarro.  We ate in the food court area, and discussed locales, bluntness, and offense (or lack thereof to Michelle), and more.  It was a good conversation, but of course I need not include ALL details.

At 1710h, we walked around the bend and found Gate 6.  Toward the back, Brooke gave us all name tags, of which I proudly equipped.  Even with the tags, I know I will have difficulty with everyone’s names.  I’ll do the best I can!  Trying to gather us all in a non-noisy place was a challenge for Dan and Aaron, but we found a place to discuss.  It was basically saying that our party isn’t complete until we get to Israel, and that money should not be an issue.

Gate 6 in JFK Airport, waiting for the flight to Israel.

Gate 6 in JFK Airport, waiting for the flight to Israel.

While waiting for boarding, random conversations abounded, in various circles.  All of them were partially introductions, partially other discussions, and none of them dug very deep.  Of course, recalling every detail is challenging.  With excitement running through my head, we’ll see if this journal turns into more thoughts than actions.

The flight didn’t even start BOARDING until 1930h [which was its scheduled DEPARTURE time plus five minutes… see above].  Once that happened, the line moved quickly, but it was still rather annoying.  The secondary security at the gate was easy, and we got on the plane.  It is a HUGE plane, with two aisles!  My 61D seat is an aisle seat [in the center section] way in the back.  In the other aisle seat in my section, a black-hatted man sat, and the middle two seats were empty.  Lots of Birthright people were together, [on the wings,] which may make it awkward to talk.

We left the gate around 2015h, as the screens ahead showed our route, distance to be covered, etc.  Despite the crew’s instructions, people were freely moving around the cabin.  Each time we inched forward, some of us applauded, but then groaned after stopping again.  (D’OH! Good thing I brought two pens—the מסע (Masa) pen has failed.)  I was getting antsy, but obediently remaining seated.  My stomach was a little knotted, but I am certain it is mental.

Finally, at 2121h, the plane took off!  Plenty of standard airplane announcements followed, and we ascended quickly.  It was bumpy, and hard to journal.  The estimated time-in-air is now 9 hours and 45 minutes, so we shall see what happens.  There’s no such thing as a midair traffic jam!  While the flight started, I had little trouble catching up to here, but as I got to this point (1h 8m in flight), it is clear some turbulence has hit.  Be strong!

The seatbelt signs remained on, even after we escaped that turbulence, but plenty of people were up and moving.  I was reluctantly obedient, though.  The dinner came shortly thereafter, and it was mushroom chicken with rice as the main item, slaw as a vegetable, and coffee cake for dessert.  A dinner roll I chose to save for later.  Clearly my fear of mushrooms is unfounded—although I didn’t eat them, the sauce was no problem.

However, even worse turbulence hit around the 2-hour mark.  Although it didn’t weaken my stomach, my bladder didn’t like it, nor did my sanity.  I’ve been obediently sitting for three-plus equicontinuous [(that’s a masked curse word)] hours [and that apparent urge to use the restroom three hours ago that didn’t come to fruition then now definitely has!]!  This turbulence was so bad that the flight attendants were forced to sit down!  As we exited the turbulence, [despite the seatbelt signs still being on], I got dibs on a lavatory and relieved the bladder [suffering a cramp since I had to hold it for so long].  After this, my body’s clock interpreted the time as 2300h, so I used Speed Sleep [and slept soundly for part of the remainder of the flight.]



Check out the remaining entries in this sequence!

[Taglit 5-Year Retrospective] The Travel To Israel (You are here!)

[Taglit 5-Year Retrospective-part 2 of 11] Achim Simcha

[Taglit 5-Year Retrospective-part 3 of 11] Take a hike!

[Taglit 5-Year Retrospective-part 4 of 11] A Shabbat in Israel

[Taglit 5-Year Retrospective-part 5 of 11] Awwwwwesome

[Taglit 5-Year Retrospective-part 6 of 11] Primary Sources

[Taglit 5-Year Retrospective-part 7 of 11] Sinat Chinam (and Ahavat Chinam)

[Taglit 5-Year Retrospective part 8 of 11] Coming soon!

[Taglit 5-Year Retrospective part 9 of 11] Coming soon!

[Taglit 5-Year Retrospective part 10 of 11] Coming soon!

[Taglit 5-Year Retrospective part 11 of 11] Coming soon!


Kenosha: 12 days.

Orientation: 26 days.

Day 1: 51 days.

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