The Blog

Hello, Goodbye, and Peace

A journey to Israel.

12:00 AM, Aug 14, 2002 • By LARRY MILLER
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DATELINE, JERUSALEM--Okay, I'm not actually in Jerusalem, but I just returned from there, and I always wanted to start an article with something dramatic. I mean, it beats the tar out of, "DATELINE, A SHABBY OFFICE IN HOLLYWOOD WITH ONE GOOD COUCH FOR NAPS." Now that I think of it, if I ever appear on the NBC show, "Dateline," I could start an article with DATELINE, "DATELINE." And if I'm ever dating someone who works at "Dateline," I could--okay, enough. This was my first trip to Israel, and there's so much to say, so much to think about. I expect to be sorting it out for a long time, but, for now, the best place to start is at the beginning.

The trip began at the International Terminal in Los Angeles airport. You remember the International Terminal in Los Angeles from the mysterious incident a couple of months ago where that confused and troubled guy shot two strangers. It was mysterious, naturally, because none of our law enforcement agencies could seem to figure out why an Egyptian, who was angry at America, shot two Jews at El Al. That was a tough one. Ah, well, life is full of random events.

Anyway, the International Terminal handles flights to dozens of large and small countries, and when we walked inside, the counters were bustling with travelers. Not going to Israel, of course. Nobody's going to Israel. That's the problem. That's why I went. And as I approached the counter to check in, I faced the first of a series of ironies during my week in the Holy Land. Want to guess what airline was next to El Al? Seriously, take a second and guess. Give up? Lufthansa. Is that gorgeous, or what? Can you imagine those conversations between the clerks? "Hey, Hans, I'm going out for a smoke, you have a match?" "Sure, Avi, here, keep 'em. What are you doing for lunch?" "Oh, Greta and Christine are planning a surprise party for Chava. See you there?" "Wouldn't miss it." (As a side note, since 1948, compared to the rest of Europe, Germany has been a very strong supporter of Israel. On the other hand, compared to Europe, Iraq has been a strong supporter of Israel. But, to give credit where it's due, Germany has done very well. In fact, because of this relationship, in Israel, about every other car, and most cabs, and all the buses, are made by Mercedes.)

I was travelling with a woman named Carol who works for the Jewish Federation. The Federation had been invaluable in setting up places to go and people to see, the alternative being my walking off the plane and turning left. Carol is married and has grown children and lives in suburban Southern California. Typical. And, throughout the eighties, she made a dozen trips to the Soviet Union to smuggle in bibles and prayer books of all faiths. Not so typical. She's been to Israel another couple of dozen times over the years, and her husband, Irwin, is used to driving her to the airport so she can put her convictions and, sometimes, her life, on the line. For the record, the Jewish Federation is an organization that raises money from donations and distributes it to, among countless charities, the hospitals and schools we were going to visit.

As many of you know, El Al puts at least one armed marshall on each flight. This is a good idea, one of two good ideas El Al gave to all our airlines about five years ago, when the Israelis were invited over to discuss security on airplanes. We didn't take that one. The other good idea they had was that maybe we should have something more than a beaded curtain separating the pilot from the passengers. We didn't take that one, either. (Apparently, both these ideas cost money, and that ended that.) The second Carol and I walked onto the plane, I leaned over and whispered, "I think I spotted the armed marshall." This was not because I have the observational powers of Conan Doyle's hero, but because a perfect idiot could have spotted the armed marshall, because as you hand your boarding pass to the smiling ticket agent, and walk past the smiling flight attendants making coffee and handing out pillows, you come face-to-face with a guy standing right in the middle of everything who is built almost exactly like "Oddjob" from "Goldfinger." Only bigger. He was wearing an El Al uniform (or five) and you knew three things very quickly: (1) That the bulges all over his sport coat probably weren't wallets; (2) That, most likely, he was not the guy you would later be asking for an extra sour-dough roll; and (3) It would be an immensely bad idea to run over to him suddenly, grab his lapels and scream, "Death to Israel."