An American in Israel: Travel Diary

The passport control line at Ben Gurion Airport is always a nightmare. Knowing Israelis, I see this line as a ploy to scare the heck out of foreigners. The tiny cubicles, tight faced Israelis inside, stamping passports and asking questions such as “Do you remember your Bar Mitzvah Parsha?” and “What kind of lettuce does your family use for the seder plate?” in order to confuse the foreigners, young and old, as they make their way into the country.

Now, I, by definition, am a foreigner. I am a dual citizen of The United States and Israel. I proudly declare myself as a citizen of both. However, for simplicity purposes, I always declare myself as an American when entering Israeli soil. Usually, it’s not a problem. But, on this particular trip, they decided to give me a hard time.

“Name?”

The woman behind the glass panel was less than thrilled to see me. I couldn’t tell if she was short, or if her chair was simply far too low for comfort. Her dyed hair, an awkward shade of blonde, fell around her face, framing it, making her just beautiful enough at first glance. It was late. She had probably been sitting in that booth all day.

“Leigh Hershkovich.”

“Where are you coming from?”

“New York.”

Silence. Terrible, terrible silence.

“Are you an Israeli citizen?”

“…Yes.”

Her voice grew deep and concerned. “Well, where is it?”

I reached into my oversized backpack and pulled it out. I handed it to her, nervous, though I wasn’t sure why.

“You should never hold back a passport, miss. That’S asking for trouble.”

More silence.

“It’s expired.”

“I know…there was a strike at the consultant in New York and…”

“That’s fine, but, you cannot leave the country until you get it resolved. And there will be a fine of about $600.”

My jaw dropped.

“I’m only here for ten days…”

She didn’t seem to notice, or care. She was too busy scribbling something down, her hand scrunched tightly around the pen. I heard it snap as she pressed it down on the paper. She looked up.

“Give me a moment…” She began searching around her 2×2 booth, looking for a spare pen.

I dug my hands into my pockets out of frustration. In the left hand pocket, I felt my fingers close around a pen. A friend of mine had given it to me a week prior. I forgot that it was there. It was shaped like a needle, one of those funky, artsy pens you’d find in a museum or art supply store.

I nervously took the needle pen out of my pocket.

“Here.” I gestured towards the pen.

She took it from me and didn’t say a word.

After a forever moment, she looked up.

“Ok, listen. You should go to the passport office first thing in the morning. They should be able to renew it for you before you leave. We’ll wave the fee and let you off with a warning this time. Welcome to Israel.”

With that, she handed me my passports, and the pen. I noticed a hint of a smile on her face as I walked away, but I cannot be sure.

Welcome to Israel.

In the time that has elapsed since that scene at the passport booth, a little less than sixteen hours ago, my life has been turned upside down.  Israel has a beautiful, manic way of making a foreigner feel alive and free, yet dead and somewhat captivated at the same time.

It’s amazing how much one can accomplish when jet lag is part of the equation.

Tonight, I leave Bnei Brak from Jerusalem. So far, I have visited the passport office, the mall, the post office (twice), two cafes, and a ‘thinamajig’ store that fixes international cell phones. I’ve come across people from all walks of life, including three Arab cab drivers, two Israeli bus drivers, and a flight full of American teenagers. What can I say? It’s good to be home.

 

Cheers.

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