Ours was supposed to be a religious trip to the Holy Land, and it was.
But it was also a five-day delayed trip back because of Hurricane Sandy and an iron-clad arrangement between United Airlines and our tour company, which was based in New York City.
We suffer, you suffer. We couldn’t fly back into Newark until it cleared, and we couldn’t fly back to anywhere else without forfeiting our pre-paid flight. Not to Chicago, Houston, Denver or Toronto.
We had to wait for Newark to open up and for a plane with 22 seats.
All of that aside, you cannot keep an old sailor or reprobate down for very long. He’s going to observe things and talk to people off to the side between meals and visiting shrines.
I therefore did just that and otherwise had a nice time bonding further with our tour group as well as finding out about as much of secular Israel as I could, which really was very little.
But believe me, the view could be much worse than that from a hotel near the beach overlooking the Mediterranean.
We spent time and shekels in Tel Aviv. Many, if not most, Israelis do NOT want to bomb Iran just yet.
They do not want to risk a general nuclear war which would “ruin everything,” one computer scientist told me.
Israel seems divided whether to try to destroy Iran’s nuclear with an all-out attack. Current measures like sabotage will continue for now, some told me.
On the other hand a munitions factory in Sudan was leveled by blasts everyone said was from Israeli forces.
Israel didn’t deny doing it, but neither did it admit to it. The arms from the factory were said to have been passing from the Sudan through the Gaza strip into anti-Israel hands.
Israel is in wartime mode. Everywhere we went from the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee to Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, we encountered platoons and companies of soldiers (male and female) armed with loaded weapons.
The military even called up while on our tour our middle-aged bus driver.
Each Israeli young person is mandated to serve two years in the military. Several veterans told me that policy is invaluable to the young people and to their nation.
I found myself wishing we could do the same, because time in service can bring growth and betterment to young people and their nation, during and after. The Israeli soldiers looked fit, alert and together.
We heard distant thumps, which sounded either like artillery or maybe missile attacks to the south. There really were such attacks while we were there.
We saw many military aircraft and we read about a new anti-missile system being installed, the Arrow III, by a joint effort among Israel space technicians, Boeing (yes, our Boeing) and the United States.
Israel really is surrounded by enemies. Israel is only one-seventh as large as the state of Florida and it is home to but six million Jews today. That is roughly the number exterminated in Europe during World War II.
Our tour guide fought in every war Israel has waged since 1974. He is in his mid-60s now, and had a military career, a long period in business and now is a tour guide.
A peer passed by us at Masada above the Dead Sea, and announced that Zev was the “second best tour guide in all of Israel.” After visiting the Holocaust Museum Zev told me his parents had been Polish Jews.
Somehow they escaped to Israel. But not one other soul in their extended families survived the war.
One can find readily the achievements the Israelis have brought to the world since they re-upped as a nation in 1948.
In agriculture they brought us field-level drip irrigation, workable water recycling methods, ways to convert sea water to fresh water and large systems for shading plants from the desert sun.
They have developed new varieties of food sources and have begun a massive banana raising business.
They also grow olives, citrus, dates, and many vegetables.
They have advanced computer sciences and health care techniques and insights.
They have also quit hiring local Arabs because they cannot be trusted not to enter the workplaces wearing suicide bombs. Thais work in agriculture, Ukranians in construction and other immigrants in other endeavors.
It was my deep honor to raise the American flag slowly on board a wooden vessel on the Sea of Galilee as the Star Spangled Banner played until it came to rest alongside Israel’s Star of David on a separate pole. At the same height they waved.
The deck hand and I spontaneously shook hands and grasped each other’s shoulder, expressing a bond we felt.
Zev would say later, “The world would be a lot worse without the United States.”