I greatly anticipated the holiday season, looking forward to traveling to Israel to visit (and hug) my daughter and nine grandchildren (oh yes!) — all of whom I hadn't seen in over seven years — and the five great ’grans I’d yet to meet.
My daughter found her place in the world in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem several years ago. She's the happiest and the most fulfilled she’s ever been.
Turkish Airlines had come highly recommended, and all went well during the thirteen-hour flight from San Francisco to Istanbul. I did long for past, shorter flights to Israel from New York or London when I lived at those locations. West coast living adds another five or six hours.
Arriving at Istanbul Airport, I was looking forward to checking out the shops. The airport is immense, and the hour-long layover barely gave me enough time to speed-walk a mile (at least) to my departure terminal. I heard the final boarding call just as I reached the gate and was able to make the two-hour flight to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.
Once in Tel Aviv, and following a two-and-a-half-hour delay at the luggage carousel (an issue in the airport basement), my cab driver drove me to my hotel in Jerusalem, just outside my daughter’s Ultra-Orthodox neighborhood.
I’ve found it to be a convenient location, just a short walk to her apartment, and busy Jaffa Street in the opposite direction, toward the Machaneh Yahuda Market as well as more modern shops.
I arrived tired but excited to see my daughter and her family the next day. The oldest children greeted me warmly, remembering my past visits, and the younger ones have heard stories about the mythical ‘Nana in A-MER-i-ca!’
My translation app that includes Hebrew allowed us to communicate on a new level of understanding beyond my daughter’s gracious efforts to translate from Yiddish to English and vice-versa.
Toward the end of my visit, I tested positive for Covid. I was devastated. My hotel reservation was to end the next morning, and at the very last minute I learned that a vacancy had become available. This permitted me to extend my stay a week in quarantine. I was grateful to remain in the same room because I didn’t have any energy to pack and move.
Luckily, I contracted the less-critical but extremely contagious variation of Covid. I escaped the fever, sore throat, and respiratory issues so often experienced, but I coughed like crazy and slept a very weird, heavy, brick-like sleep.
When I wasn’t sleeping, I watched movies saved on my laptop, though frequently interrupted by coughs, and ate very little of the food my daughter left at my door. I washed a few dishes and clothes with the dish and laundry soap I usually pack in little travel-size bottles, and I treated myself to clean sheets by moving over to the fresh twin bed in my room mid-week. I kept the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on my door to keep housekeeping from having to enter my room.
Finally, after daily swabbing and self-testing, after a week — woo hoo! — I tested negative. The airline was neither forgiving nor accommodating in helping me reschedule my flight home, and had no concessions in place to reward my efforts (and expense) to isolate until testing negative before flying home.
I left the hotel for Ben Gurion Airport at 3:30 am to stand in a long, winding line for more than two hours, with over two hundred passengers waiting for a single agent to check our passports. After another lengthy security check, I finally stood at the gate for my short flight to Istanbul.
We sat for nearly three-hours on the tarmac at Ben Gurion before takeoff, the fault of some ‘operational issue.’ I was thrilled to see that the window seat beside me was empty. I took it as a sign that things were going to work out. And then a very loud, rude dude plopped himself down there. Fortunately, he was asked to return to his seat at the back just before takeoff.
After our very late arrival at Istanbul Airport, at least two hundred of my fellow passengers and I ran to the next terminal, winding our way through four impossibly long security lines.
At the end of the search, we were loaded onto a crowded bus and driven about a half-mile to our plane, where boarding was achieved by climbing a steep movable staircase. Eyeing a nearby airline employee, I handed him my carry-on and motioned for him to carry it up the stairs for me, which he did. I thanked him profusely.
After my return flight home, I arrived at San Francisco International Airport and eventually met up with my favorite, scheduled Lyft driver. He spotted me on an outdoor video screen, standing at the luggage carousel where I’d been waiting for over two hours for one large bag. I was so relieved to see him, a welcome assurance that I was finally and really heading home.
It was raining hard when we pulled out of the airport, but I loved seeing the twinkling Christmas lights surrounding the airport and the bridges on our way. I had missed saying “Merry Christmas” to anyone during Hannukah (and COVID) in Israel.