Subscribe to Naomi's blog and receive a notification every time Naomi posts a new article.Click to Subscribe

Flying Home

As the plane pulled smoothly into a landing in a brightly shining Tel Aviv, a flight attendant wished everyone a “pleasant… stay in Israel.”

Tell me, who gets on a plane and heads deliberately into a war zone where some of the world’s biggest homicidal maniacs and savages are tossing rockets and missiles toward shopping malls, schools and apartment buildings? This was the question I asked myself on November 19 when boarding El Al flight 324 out of Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport in the middle of Hamas’ frenzied orgy of missile-firing. I understood why I was on that flight: I was going home where my husband, children and grandchildren awaited me. But what of the others? The first person I asked this question was waiting on the check-in line. We smiled at each other like conspirators as we waited for the young Israeli security guards to begin their polite interrogation into the recent whereabouts of our luggage. She was about my age, blondish, stylishly dressed, and she smiled at me and addressed me in French. “English or Hebrew,” I responded in the very little French I know. Her smile grew wider as she launched into perfect Israeli Hebrew.

“I wondered if the flight was going to be empty,” she said.

“Apparently not,” I answered, nodding towards the usual crowd one sees waiting for any El Al flight: the men with beards and women in head coverings; the Christian tourists with crosses, the young Israeli men with their computers, the pretty young backpackers.

“What brings you to Israel at such a time?” she asked me.

“Going home,” I shrugged. “And you?” “No, no. I live just outside of Paris, but I have a simha in Jerusalem, and then I’m going to visit family and friends.”

As we explored this subject, I realized her friends lived about a block away from me. Whatever was going to happen to her would happen to me as well.

“Did you consider canceling?” I asked.

“I thought about it for a minute, but decided that I’d made my plans. I’ve been looking forward to this trip so much.”

As the line began to move, we parted, the short conversation turning us into friends. There is something about going to Israel, especially on El Al, that somehow gives strangers an instant connection.

In the King David Lounge, I recognized two women who had been behind me on the check-in line. They were an aunt and niece on their way to visit the aunt’s brother in Jerusalem. And they were nervous.

“We are staying at the King David Hotel, only for two days. Do you think it will be all right?” “I think you’ll have the most luxurious bomb-shelter in Jerusalem,” I assured them. “Besides, the King David is so near the Aksa Mosque. They wouldn’t risk bombing that,” I added with an assurance I must admit I didn’t exactly feel. Just two days earlier, the siren had gone off in Jerusalem. Hamas are unpredictable madmen.

They were Persian Jews and we spoke for a while about the odyssey of Jews fleeing the ayatollahs’ regime, their family among them. The niece was living in London, the aunt in Paris, the uncle in Israel, and numerous other relatives in Los Angeles. There were even still some who remained in Iran.

At this, I shook my head.

“Wherever Jews are, it’s dangerous,” the older woman said.

Zionist that I am, what could I say to that? The flight was full but not packed. Promisingly, the young woman seated next to me was holding a copy of the New Yorker magazine, one of my favorites. I wondered who she was and what had brought her to this flight. But any hopes of finding out were dashed when she immediately put on her headphones, plugging herself into isolated oblivion. Disappointed, I wandered to the back of the plane, where I found an empty three-seater on which to stretch out.

I had a good nap until I was awakened by the unmistakable rattle of the food carts careening down the aisles. The pita bread was warm, the humous tasty. As I looked across the aisle, I saw a young man with a mustache and fashionable stubble, who could only be French, using his cell phone to photograph his food tray. I smiled and shook my head at him. He smiled back, pointing to the humous. “I have never seen this before,” he said.

As I unraveled the mysteries of garbanzo bean spread to him, I thought I’d come clean and admit to him that I was thinking of writing an article about the people on this plane who were deliberately heading into a war zone. Would he be willing to share his own story? He was French. Not Jewish.

“I’m going to visit friends,” he said. “She lives in Haifa.”

“Oh, a girlfriend?” “No, not exactly,” he squirmed and I took pity on him, dropping it.

“With all that’s going on did you think about changing your plans?” “No,” he said. “I never considered that.”

I suppose Jews aren’t the only brave, foolish people in the world. This was reinforced when I decided to go down the aisle and talk to a few more of my fellow passengers.

I introduced myself to a very French-looking older man with white hair, but the language barrier prevented any communication until his wife, a lovely woman in her seventies, volunteered to answer in her excellent English.

They were part of a group of 26 French tourists who were planning to see Jerusalem, the Galilee, Haifa and Tel Aviv. Were they concerned at all, considering the news reports they had heard? They looked at each other briefly, then gently shook their heads.

“We’ve seen a lot of things in our lives,” the woman said, by way of explanation.

I understood her so well. The older I get and the more I live through, the more I realize that the hope of shielding yourself from danger is an illusion, so you might as well live your life the way you want to, with faith that whatever is supposed to happen, will.

I had an easier time communicating with the couple just in front of them, Israelis from Bat Yam returning from a family celebration in France.

“We’d hoped to stay until Friday, but when the war started we changed our tickets and flew straight back.  Our kids are there, alone.”

“Are you hoping that the war will be over by the time you get there?”

“No. It’s time we put an end to it,” they said without hesitation.

Yes, that’s Israelis. Start a war against them and they quickly rush back to Israel hoping it will last long enough to do some real good.

In the next row, I found a young blonde in a fashionably cut blouse and tight leather pants that left nothing to the imagination. She was Israeli, living and working in Paris, and she had a little downtime at work which she was using to visit her family. In contrast, the woman sitting next to her was a French grandmother wearing a haredi head covering and a long, modest dress. But they agreed on everything else: They were sick and tired of the lying French media, they declared, who keep whitewashing Hamas. You had to have faith, the younger woman declared, and the older woman nodded.

Not long before landing, the entertainment screen in the cabin broadcast a live Israeli evening news program.

The devastating sight of bombs exploding on both sides of the border needed no explanation in any language. I saw the couple from Bat Yam put their heads together, watching intently, the French tourists whisper to each other. But the man on my left simply adjusted his headphones, continuing to watch an episode of Gossip Girl dubbed into French on his computer.

As the pilot announced our descent, I went back to my original seat, buckling myself in. The girl with the New Yorker was still wearing her headphones. But when all electronic devices had to be shut down, she finally took them off.

“Going for a visit?” I finally got to ask her.

“No,” she shook her head. “I live in Israel.”

And as the plane pulled smoothly into a landing in a brightly shining Tel Aviv, a flight attendant wished everyone “a pleasant, ahhhh… stay in Israel.”

“She doesn’t sound too sure,” I said to my fellow returning Israeli. Then we both smiled, glad to be home.

This article was published in the Jerusalem Post on 30 November, 2012.

Spread the word. Share this post!

12 comments on “Flying Home”

  1. Devorah

    So well expressed, so real – in true Naomi style.
    We arrived on Aliyah during Operation Cast Lead and experienced the trauma of the recent operation with deep concern for fellow citizens in the line of fire. My personal philosophy is to only worry about the things over which I have control and full confidence in others to handle the things in their sphere of control. I have no intention of leaving Israel again, neither in war nor in peaceful times.

  2. Bonnie

    I’m an American Jew who loves Israel. All Jews understand that we are not safe anywhere. So why cut our trips to Israel short, or cut them out altogether? There’s no point. They want us dead no matter where we live. So we keep going. And we will keep going.
    I have a group of friends who had a scheduled trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, and as the trip approached, the fighting and rockets in the Middle East began in earnest. They all wished they could cancel and go to Israel instead to be supportive of our brothers and sisters there. To show the world we Jews don’t keep our heads down and do as we’re told anymore. No worries, these are all regular visitors of the Holy Land, they’ll be on their way soon enough.

  3. Katie H

    Naomi,of all the people writing about Israel, you are the only one who gives a real down-to-earth picture of what it’s like to live there on a daily basis. What a welcome contrast to all the pontificating self-centered blowhards all over the internet.

  4. Lois

    Really good article. I have been to Israel many times with my children and grandchildren during unsettling times. We were staying in Jerusalem when Sbarro was bombed. I had many people ask us why we go. I feel that whatever happens to the Jewish people will happen to us. We dont live in Israel, but we are part of the jewish people and our hearts are in Israel, our homeland. We have never cancelled our trips, or stopped our grandchildren from going on their summer programs or year couses.

    • Naomi Ragen

      Lois, thanks for your comment. Now I understand why I feel the way I do about Israel. It’s because of people like you. This little country is full of them. I love you!

  5. drdon


    As always you have a way with the written word that conjures up a vision of exactly what you are describing. This column put me back into the wonderful days of yore when I was traveling to Eretz on El Al with great frequency. You have, so aptly, captured the atmosphere in its entirety. Thank you for the wonderful story and enabling us all to see the vision.



  6. Phyllis Levine

    As an American with her heart in Israel, I thank you so much for your insightful columns! We actually spoke to a friend in Tel Aviv on the 2nd day of the rockets and she had just come in from jogging, saying everything was “normal” and they saw the same news on TV that we see in the States. It’s a very small world! Glad you arrived home safely!
    One of your book fans,

  7. Mashi

    I was on one of my twice/three times a year visits as my mother lives in Jerusalem. After having lived in Israel for 10 years and being back in the states for 15 friends asked if I would be cutting my trip short due to the situation. Never did that occur to me…the sirens brought back memories of the Gulf war and even the Yom Kippur war both of which I lived thru in Israel. As I walked in Jerusalem watching people drinking coffee and chatting in Cafes knowing 1 hour away others were in bomb shelters and then sitting down to have lunch at Cafe Rimon on Ben Yehuda with a friend the siren went off in Jerusalem. There is no escaping and no avoiding but Israel will exist and must overcome the threats. I will be back soon.

  8. Mirel

    Well done, Naomi. During the “operation” we had a family from the States visiting with us, with their father and young children. Tuesday afternoon we took them along with our own grandchildren to Kiftsuba, an amusement park for young children on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Usually, Tues in winter the park is empty, but on that day, the park was hosting 1790 guests from the rocket zone. And as we entered the park, the air raid siren sounded. In an instant, everyone but us and the park attendants were lying on the floor over as many of their children as they could cover, hands over their heads. It was surreal. And as my daughter commented, it eerily brings home to us how over the last decade, while we live our daily relatively carefree lives in Jerusalem, this has become routine to them.

  9. Jonathan

    Reading what you write is a like receiving a gift, touches us all and provides deep insight into your life.
    Thank you for sharing

  10. Judy Litvack

    Your articles touch my soul. Your insights are tangible, and affect me far beyond simple comprehension of your words…
    Many thanks for helping us know the virtually unknowable.

    Judy Litvack

  11. Pierre Leclerc

    Dear Mrs. Ragen,

    Nice to read your article. Canada is so far away from Isreal. This article help us to understand that it is not happening to “unreal” people but people exaclty like us looking for happiness on their journey on Planet Earth. The article shows us that this war has dramatic consequences on daily life as well.

    Warmest regards,


Comments are closed.

Discover more from Naomi Ragen נעמי רגן

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading