Are You Aware?
Those whom the Lord has ransomed will
return and enter Zion singing, crowned with
everlasting joy; They will meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning will flee.
Our flights to the Holy Land were uneventful. I had worried needlessly about how the kids would travel. They did amazingly well! Of course, it helped that on our two longer flights, they each had their own screen in front of them and were able to choose what they wanted to watch. It was the first time I put no limits on TV time and I think they watched Scooby Doo at least ten times. Although, we did turn them off to sleep because we flew over night. They were fine with that and we honestly did not hear a peep from them!
We landed at Ben Gurion Airport, outside of Tel Aviv in the late afternoon. I was intimidated by the guards carrying large guns, but I knew this was one of the safest airports in the world and that it had actually won many awards. I swallowed my fear and we entered into the line for passport control along with everyone else who had flown with us that day.
I had read that the questioning at Ben Gurion could be extensive and to be prepared for possibly being taken aside. To say I was nervous about this would be an understatement. I looked around at the people entering into this country at the same time we were and I saw mostly white, mostly older people. Pilgrims, most of them. My fear factor went down and I started to relax.
I approached the passport guard with Ainsley and handed her both of our passports. Her questions were few and very simple. “What is your name?” How many of you are traveling?” “Why are you traveling to Israel?” She was kind and told me that she had a sister AInsley’s age and smiled at her. She welcomed us into her country and handed us back our passports. Disaster averted!
Stepping out of the airport was quite a different story altogether. “We are definitely not in Kansas anymore!” I remember thinking. I was totally unprepared for what hit us, even with all of the research I had done. Taxi drivers and people hailing taxi drivers. Lots of them. None of them speaking English. What on earth had I gotten us into? How were we going to get out of this one? Luckily, I had read about how to get out of the airport. We would need to find a Nesher Taxi. A sherut. Basically, a shared taxi that holds ten people. We started asking and only by the grace of God, pointed to a taxi that said Nesher on the back. We took up seven seats and the other three were filled quickly on we were soon on our way to Jerusalem.
The sherut ride proved to be bumpy, leaving us all sick to our stomachs as we got our first views of Israel. Dry, palm trees, stone building, barbed wire fence, clothes hanging out of people’s windows. Not at all like I expected. This looked far too much like Guatemala for my liking. I wouldn’t take my children to Guatemala. I closed my eyes and listened to Aliza:”I am going to throw up, I am going to throw up…”
Our driver dropped us off last, right in front of the Abraham Hostel. This was the place that was to be our home for the next couple of weeks. We dragged all of our luggage inside, quite ready to be done with all of this traveling around the world stuff. I walked up to the front desk and was greeted with a smile and broken English. “Hello! You checking in?” “Yes,” I told him, “we have a reservation?” “Passport?” he asked me. I handed him my blue American passport.
He opened it and prepared to start checking us in. But then he stopped. He looked up at me and then back down at the passport. At me again, one eyebrow up, studying me. (I would get this stare many more times…) “You are aware that you do not have an Israeli stamp on your passport, no? You asked for this?”
“What??? No Stamp? Are you kidding me? I wasn’t aware of this and I didn’t ask for this!!!” He handed it back to me and sure enough, the page was blank.
Through my research and talking to my world traveling brother, Peter, I knew that some people actually do ask to not have their passport stamped upon entering Israel. With an Israeli stamp, it is impossible to enter into many Arab countries. Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, the Gaza Strip, Sudan, Pakistan, Iraq and Iran are a few of the countries that will not let you in with this stamp in your passport. But, I had also read that attempting to re-enter Israel too soon after your initial visit will prompt more extensive and invasive questioning at passport control.
“Is no problem!” They guy at the hostel guy said, smiling and happily gave us our key and directions to our room.
Why had I not gotten a stamp? After curious inspection, we realized that I was the ONLY one in our family who did not get a stamp. My immediate reaction was disappointment. I really wanted that stamp! My next reaction was, oh no! What kinds of plans does God have for me in the future? I really, really hope He is not sending me to Iran, the Gaza Strip, Pakistan or anywhere like that! On the other hand, maybe He has plans for me to go back to Israel sometime soon and wants me to be able to avoid questioning. Maybe, there really is no significance in this at all. I don’t know. The only thing I do know is there is no record of me being in Israel at all.
Faith. There is only faith.