Religion & Beliefs

Birth Writing: LAX To Ben Gurion

Jay Judah’s Birthright Israel story is a bit more nuanced than that. Reading his account seemed more like The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test or Hunter S. Thompson, less cheesy testimonial. Read More

By / January 26, 2011
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A few months ago, Jay Judah went on the Taglit-Birthright tour of Israel.  We’d heard a million different stories from individuals about their time on the trip.  From people finding religion, to body watching on the beach, shooting a machine gun, riding a camel, or deciding to give up the USA and making aliyah.

Jay’s story is a bit more nuanced than that.  Reading his account seemed more like The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test or Hunter S. Thompson, less cheesy testimonial.

Obviously we liked that, and wanted to publish it.  This isn’t an advertisement for Birthright or Israel, just a series that we’re really happy to present.

Bedraggled and beleaguered from an impromptu going-away party the night before at La Descarga (a Cuban speakeasy halfway towards Downtown with a swanky dress-code, smoky music and a smokier cigar lounge) I picked up my good friend Zach – myself, through luck and chance, still wearing last night’s rumpled suit, and the two of us wound our way down Los Angeles’s bright streets and back to my apartment, where I hurriedly changed into jeans and my favorite button up. The two of us were shortly joined by Becky, our third musketeer if you will on this adventure, whose roommate Vanessa had (fantastically!) agreed to drag our luggage and ourselves to LAX on this chilly Los Angeles morning. Zach, Becky and I have purposely applied to Birthright together, and on our second attempt, all of us were accepted. We were set to leave on Dec. 30th at 9 AM, to arrive in Jerusalem at 3 PM, Israel time.

And so off to the airport we went.

In LAX’s El Al terminal, we checked in with our group leaders and waiting in line (for two hours, mind you!) to go through security. Small talk and nervous chatter and Jewish geography and what part of town are you from and quite a few “Oh, that’s my favorite bar too” and then we’re poured onto an enormous El Al airplane for a fifteen-hour odyssey into the soul.

I was seated next to Joey, ex-Navy, now an aspiring screenwriter, and we immediately take a shine to each other over dirty stories and the promise of trouble. On my right, Carina, cute, sarcastic, hilarious and works with lasers. So far, so good.

We bond quickly and, as is my style, get goofy even faster. El Al makes the mistake of offering wine to its international passengers — something they don’t exactly advertise and something they make you actively inquire about to get. How truly Israeli of them.

Well, inquire we do. Around hour six (after the three of us have synchronized our personal media players to watch the same TV shows and movies together – adorable, huh?), and after two glasses of ‘please-may-I’ requested wine, we decide it’s just not enough. So, with a shrug and a wink, I go scrounging. When the coast is clear, I stumble into the gangway and rifle through their steel cabinetry, eventually finding (and successfully liberating) two bottles of sickly sweet Merlot. The rest of the flight goes swimmingly. I don’t want to get into specifics, but around hour 9, we built a blanket fort across our aisle. No big deal. It was truly inspired.

We land, we meet everyone once more, and remind-me your-name-one-more-time (I’d forgotten both Joey’s and Carina’s names, tragically – good thing I was able to introduce them to Zach and Becky to force my own selfish reintroduction. Suckers!) and we stumble onto what would become our home-away-from-Kibbutz: the bus. Immediately, and without hesitation: the cameras come out, and we are all trigger-happy tourists. Oh, look, dear, buildings on the hillside! How quaint! Snap snap snap.

Our bus was a lovely smattering of all types and thankfully I got to know everyone equally. Working the room — or bus I suppose I should say.

I had slept 9 hours in the past 72. This was all about endurance.

We arrived at our kibbutz and had down-time to shower and meet our roommates. Mine were Daniel and Mitch. Daniel is an Israeli soldier specializing in intelligence. Mitch is a solid dude and very tall.  In retrospect I should have taken better notes – Mitch, should you read this, I apologize. We were all rushed and tired and perhaps the briefs alone would have to do.

New Years Eve was that night, and we celebrated twice in the fluorescent-lit rumpus room beneath the hotel’s beige wall-carpeted restaurant – once around 11 when we all get tired; again, at midnight for the true soldiers amongst us. In a rare and apparently unprecedented move, the New Year was la’chaim’ed with 6 bottles of the Israeli-equivalent of cheap champagne bought for us by Taglit Birthright themselves – an appreciated move, don’t get me wrong, but between the 40+ of us, it’s hard to get in the spirit after a meager thimble of bubbly.

Our true celebration was, however, brought to us by yours truly and the LAX-Israel duty free, where a short-lived bottle of Johnnie Walker Double Black (an item apparently exclusive to El Al airlines) caught my eye and my money. Others donated what little libations they had, and together, 40+ of us –students, travelers and wayfarers all– crammed onto three low mattresses in my hotel room, gleefully ignoring suggested alcohol policies and bonding over profession, location, even college major (a pick-up line I thought left behind at frat parties.)

And like our own special Hanukkah, it came to pass that six bottles of champagne (just six! Only six! Six little bottles!) managed to get a busload of people burning brightly with the New Year spirit.