"The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." Saint Augustine
Anyone who's noticed my sporadic postings the past two weeks knows I just got back from a trip to Israel.
I like traveling. Been doing it for years, all over the world. I'm not afraid to fly. And I look forward to those ships-passing-in-the-night meetings with people from different countries and cultures.
But going to Israel is a very long trip. I don't like 14-hour plane rides -- that's just too much time to have my respiratory system and personal space invaded by strangers. Plus, no airline flies there direct from Philly.
So I break up the trip, fly to Europe and change planes for Tel Aviv. I've tried several routes and settled on Frankfort as my stop-off destination of choice. Say what you will about the Germans--and as a Jew I've said plenty--they are incredibly efficient.
German airlines and airports are models of proficiency and cleanliness. The German people are ceaselessly polite. They speak English proudly, without the supercilious attitude of many Europeans that says they're doing you a favor because you're too provincial to learn another language.
Many Israelis speak English too, and like the Germans, do so without condescension.
Israelis don't seem as efficient as the Germans, but that's a ruse. Try getting past an Israeli security agent, who chats you up in the security line as if you're on a first date. And manages to learn more about you in five minutes than if you'd been in a long term relationship.
I don't mind. I want him to be that thorough with everyone. Because then I know once I'm on the plane, my only concern will be how to pass the time.
On my flight from Philly to Frankfort I sat next to a cultured but troubled art dealer who confessed he was having a hard time getting his widowed mother to leave Iran and move in with him and his American family in the states.
Frankfort to Tel Aviv netted me a woman so morbidly obese she needed a seatbelt extension. But as always, appearances can be deceiving. She turned out to be a member of the Iraqi parliament, en route to a third round of trade negotiations with the Israeli government.
On my return trip from Tel Aviv to Frankfort we had some excitement. There was a group of Christian pilgrims in the airport. Waiting in the security line I watched a white-haired lady in a flowered dress become increasingly irate with the polite but determined questioning of a security official.
Then she said the magic words, "What do you think we are, terrorists?" How dumb could she be? As it turns out, very. "We're from Kansas," she continued in high dudgeon, "We only came to your little kike country to walk in the footsteps of Christ Our Lord."
Everyone froze. Dead silence. And a dangerous look on the faces of the usually phlegmatic Israeli security agents.
The plane was delayed, but eventually they let her and her humiliated husband on board. And we wonder why foreigners don't like Americans.
I had an empty seat next to mine on that flight, and was glad of it.
Frankfort to Philly was a different story. A German businessman, gravely polite. He was about my age, which put him post WWII with parents squarely in the middle of it.
When I mentioned I was traveling home from Israel, he spoke frankly of his generation's guilt over their country’s actions during the war. His late father had been a member of the Nazi party, he told me, but his mother refused to discuss that or anything to do with the war. "She's very wrong," he said ruefully. "We can't change the past by ignoring it. I have told my own children all I know. I don't want them to make similar mistakes."
I told him of the Church Lady on my previous flight. He sighed. "Imagine if a German had said such a thing. You'd still be sitting on that plane."
I thought about that. And about the ignorance and bigotry behind her remarks. And about how many good, decent human beings--Righteous Gentiles like my various seat mates--there were in the world to refute the past and combat the hostility of the present.
Travel broadens more than my horizons. It also increases my hope.