Delta flight 467 from to Tel Aviv seemed completely full. I got an aisle seat, which was nice. I looked around and took note of my seatmates, wondering who was going to keep me company as I headed to my favorite place on earth for another JWRP trip in Israel.
Two rows ahead: a religious couple with a baby (Delta gives out face masks and earplugs – nice). In my row: three fresh-scrubbed girls. My guess: college kids. My J-dar was telling me they weren’t Jewish, so of course curious me wondered what kind of program they were on – I definitely was getting the “program” vibe. On the other side of me was an Israeli couple, ostensibly returning home.
Curiosity satisfied, I settled in. My frequent travels have taught me to travel light. My backpack slid under the seat in front of me. Neck pillow available. Kindle out for reading. Shoes off. Benadryl available for sleep induction when ready. Check.
We took off. I relaxed into my seat. Said a few prayers. Wondered, as always, what my seatmates thought of my little Hebrew book being read the wrong way. Prepared to sleep a bit, but turned first to the girl on my right. “So, is this your first time to Israel?” (Yes, I’m that annoying seatmate who likes to chat.)
She said, yes, she and her friends were headed to Israel from American University in the DC area. Google later told me that it’s a Methodist-affiliated school. They were rising sophomores on a program called Passages, a 10-day trip for Christian students to Israel. I asked them where in Israel they’d be traveling and they excitedly replied “everywhere!”
I smiled, took my Benadryl, and checked out.
But curious me needed to know more. On the Passages website, I later found this:
One of my favorite memories from Jerusalem was visiting a Jewish home for Shabbat dinner. I carefully dressed according to the specifications, and eagerly loaded onto the bus. I was excited and nervous; I had no idea what to expect. My group was dropped on a street corner where we laughed and joked for fifteen minutes with our Israeli guard, Alon, who was also coming to Shabbat dinner with us.
We had to wait until 7:45 on the dot to head to the house. Promptly at 7:45, I heard a “hello” from behind me. I turned, expecting to see an Israeli man or boy. Instead, a tall, lanky, red-headed young man without any noticeable accent was standing in front of our group. His name was Yishai, and he and his wife Rebecca were from Canada. They had moved to Israel a year and a half prior to that night, and regularly hosted groups for Shabbat dinner.
It was fascinating to take part in the traditional Sabbath dinner. The traditions associated with it were ancient and unifying – I loved the feeling that Jews all across the world were participating in the same Shabbat dinner and prayers as we were. The hospitality with which Rebecca and Yishai invited us into their home was also inspiring – they were eager to share something as important as their religion and donate their time to strangers.
I know the relationship between Christians and the land of Israel has some conflicted implications for us Jews. And I know that many of their beliefs are deeply at odds with ours. And yet, when I see these young, fresh-faced girls, and their excitement to visit the Holy Land, so similar to mine; when I read accounts of respect between faiths and nervous anticipation to learn more, I can’t help but be filled with a sense of joy and calm. I can’t help but feel that all is right with the universe – that humans will be okay.
People of faith inspire me, no matter who they are. I am a staunch believer in the Mishnaic passage, “Who is wise? One who learns from everyone.” The girls from DC were traveling far from home to inspire and be inspired. To learn and grow. To participate and be active in their communities. And even though the baby cried, and I had forgotten to put in my earplugs, I slept well, that night, in that uncomfortable Delta seat flying over the Atlantic with me, the religious couple, the Christian girls, and the Israelis. I hope we all did.