The engines roar as the plane cuts through the clear sky, but I have ceased listening to these engines; my ears have adapted and now I see only the clear night and the Atlantic peaking through from beneath the clouds.
The Israeli sitting to my right pushes his arm into mine as he rolls, grumbling, in his sleep. His head is shaved and it tosses and turns with his body. I pull my arm closer to my side and push my head back into the small airline pillow that gruffly scratches the base of my neck.
Flight attendants are milling about whispering to people who are still awake—their whispers break the gentle hum of snores. I see heads capped with yarmulkes bobbing in half-sleep. The forty-odd members of my Birthright group are scattered about the plane and I doubt I could recognize them if they walked down the aisle. We have all just met.
The American to my left sees that I am awake and begins talking to me excitedly. She is wearing a round black hat that I associate with Orthodox women. She is flying to Israel to represent the Jewish Theological Seminary.
She lowers her voice and asks, “Why would anybody want to blow themselves up?” Perhaps it is because of my expression that she backtracks. She references the Intafada. Curling her arm around her pillow she asks, “Why would they want to destroy instead of build?” There is a note in her voice which betrays its proximity to breaking.
We are nearly over Europe and I am watching the screen in front of me. The screen shifts continually from pictures of the Northern Hemisphere, to the Atlantic, to Europe, to the country we are approaching. We are but an animated plane on a flat green and blue map. The city names rock back and forth between Hebrew and English. I am dozing off. A flight attendant offers the American woman next to me a drink. She asks in Hebrew. She answers in English.
The sun is coming up somewhere above the clouds. The pilot comes on the speaker and announces that Ariel Sharon’s condition has not altered. I hear the voice of a Hasid behind me quietly chanting the “Ani Modeh,” the morning prayer. The sound of his voice lulls me back into half-consciousness and the name of the airline repeats in my head: El Al, El Al, El Al… God… Air? This is a strange way to fly.