Growing up, no matter how often we went to Israel (every other summer, and on the off ones my cousins would visit us in New York), I would be astonished each time I found myself seated on the plane, amazed that we’d actually managed to do all the things we needed to do to get to that moment.
In part this is because my family was (and is) a notoriously last-minute bunch. Tickets and travel dates were agonized over and selected just weeks before we’d make the trek, amid the inevitable declarations of “this year we’re not going!” an ever convincing, always unconsummated threat. But once tickets had been purchased and kosher meals confirmed, the reality of our journey began to take shape—largely thanks to the various pre-trip rituals that cemented in my young mind that this trip was really happening.
Although actual packing was mostly left to my mother and me (a somewhat frazzled affair, despite the exhaustive lists I would write and pore over obsessively) the pre-packing shopping was my father’s project. We’d go to downtown Manhattan, each year returning to the same electronics store; a small, labyrinthine establishment filled with a seemingly endless supply of what I could only assume were bootleg electronics.
The owner and my father would joke and haggle in Hebrew as I’d peer through the glass display case and examine at the smaller goods—beepers, cell phones, watches and pocket knives—and then abandon those to look at the cameras, Discmans and other electronic treats. Eventually we’d leave with our booty, something substantial (solicited or not) for uncles and cousins, and a number of smaller goods that my father could never say no to for me, and then for my siblings when they were old enough to tag along.
We’d end up with off-brand riches: dinosaur tamagotchis that were basically the same as those produced by the original brand (at least similarly left to die a robot death once we’d all collectively lost interest in caring for those pixilated pets,) and a COBY discman with a 45 second anti-skip mechanism that only sometimes worked.
In Israel, my cousins would rip the packaging off their corresponding gifts while we sat in their living room, fighting the jet lag that sparred with adrenaline in our small bodies and kept us maniacally awake.
Now, of course, our trips are less whimsical. The gap between our American lives and their Israeli lives has gotten smaller with globalization, the Internet, and the westernization of that tiny country. I no longer write letters to my cousin telling her what movies are playing here, so that she can impress her friends with a near-mystical ability to predict far-away Hollywood’s next move. It no longer takes weeks for American movies to reach the holy land, and I hardly talk to my cousin at all. These days when we go to Israel we bear different types of gifts—tubes and tubes of Ben Gay for my paternal grandmother’s aching knees and Advil for my maternal grandmother.
But still, even years later, there is that same moment—when the plane takes off and I can finally stop worrying that we’ll miss our flight or that “this year, we’re really not going,” as my brother and sister are seated beside (and more often than not slightly on top of) me despite a year’s worth of threats that this summer they just want to hang out with their friends—and I feel that familiar sense of magic.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a graduate of Barnard College, where she studied economics. She now works as an editor in New York City.