[cross-posted from My Urban Kvetch]

kotelLast Friday, as rockets began to rain in the north, I found myself sitting in the Jerusalem offices of El Al. I had fixed my return date weeks before, while I was still on the bus with the birthright kids–had spent what seemed like an hour on the phone with the El Al office, extending my ticket from June 28, when birthright was over, to July 25, which would take me through the ROI conference, and beyond into a state of hopefully zen-like working at cafes on my book proposal and various articles, and making professional and personal contacts in the Holy Land, with a side of family and friend visitation.

But sitting there, waiting to make the date official and pay the $50 extension fee, I wondered if sticking to the original date was the best thing to do. I was here, and changing my ticket. Maybe it paid to just change it to a few days earlier, or a week earlier? I mean, if things were getting bad, and on Friday, we had every indication–with the Israeli tv stations broadcasting 24-hour news shows when original programming just airs news a few times a day–that they were, maybe leaving sooner was a good idea.

My brother lived here for years, through periods polkadotted by bombings, including one which happened on the day of his wedding, in audible distance of the apartment where I was getting my hair and makeup done. If my parents ever instructed him to come home, he didn’t listen. But I don’t think they did issue such a directive. Parents worry about their children, even when they’re not living in a region threatened by imminent war. But living in Israel is something that we’d been taught to aspire to, both through family connections to the Holy Land’s early pioneering days and through years of yeshiva education; a message from mission control of “Abort! Abort!” would have been inconsistent to say the least.

But the heart, while it can be moved to nostalgia and romanticization, can also feel compressed with panic and flutter wildly at the intimations of mortality. So it was with mixed, swirling thoughts and emotions that I sat there on the leather couch in the El Al office. I thought about the Wine Festival I had attended the night before at the Israel Museum, where 30 wineries (of varying kashrut levels) had set up tables for tasting by the hordes, who turned out in couples and families and singles in order to get a little tipsy and appreciate the fruits of the land for which they, their families and friends fight. And then I thought about how that night, after three weeks of my being here, during which my parents waited to hear from me, my parents had initiated the “how are you” call to me. Even if they weren’t going to tell me to come home, that call was an indicator. They were nervous about my being here. And that made me nervous.

It was my turn. I picked myself up and went to the ticket agent. I felt a little like I was jumping off a cliff, or even more primally, like I was evoking my biblical namesake. “Ka’asher avadti, avadti” (as I have lost, I have lost), I thought briefly, as I immediately replaced that thought with something more catchphrasey, a vestige from the days immediately after 9/11: “If I change my ticket, the terrorists win.” And then, I flashed to something nationalistic, undoubtedly a reactivation of the remainder of pioneer blood in my veins brought about by wanderings through neighborhoods with streets named after the people whose effort, sweat, blood and intellect shaped this land–a land through which I travel on the magic carpet of credit cards and privilege. My future is with the Jewish people.

Although I was not extending my stay to make a heroic point, or to join the army. And I wasn’t going to make any journalistically adventurous trips up north to see what a Katyusha sounds like when it soars overhead, I wasn’t cutting it short either.

“Matai at ozevet?” the ticket agent asked me. “I’m leaving the 25th,” I said.

About the author

Esther Kustanowitz

For more posts by Esther, see EstherK.com, MyUrbanKvetch.com and JDatersAnonymous.com.


  • You rock! Sure its scary, but its also the most wonderful place you’ll ever be.

  • Woo hoo!

    You rock!

    So glad we’ll have you around here a while longer. It’s just The Coffee Shop without you any more.

    PS I have a little quibble with your translation of v’kaasher avaditi, avaditi,” but I’ll save that for another time.

    Yay. Good for you!

  • This article/writing made me cry this morning as I sit here at work. My 21 yr old daughter is outside of Tel Aviv, on a volunteer program until Sunday.
    Today…she told me she feels she is abandoning Israel when she leaves. She in fact wants to stay and was looking into how Americans sign up. I know she wants to do this, but I want her to complete school first. This means now that I need to find a way for her to help/do something from home.

    Your line: Parents worry about their children, even when they’re not living in a region threatened by imminent war.


    Thank you for a great article. It is through great young people like you and my daughter and their friends, that the vision of the Jewish state will endure.

  • God Bless. you are in the best place in the world. That is why I suggested she stay for a year and see what happens. I am interested in covering your extension fee if you will provide a po box or something.

  • Queen Esther I fully support your decision to stay for the short or long term!

    And this is a great line But the heart, while it can be moved to nostalgia and romanticization, can also feel compressed with panic and flutter wildly at the intimations of mortality. Have you considered writing for the New Yorker?

  • I love see the western wall live :
    ed. note: Comment altered. Commercial spam is unnacceptable on Jewlicious. Just so you know.

  • Oh and by the way, whilst I do not wish to rain on this little Esther Love Fest, allow me to remind all y’all that there are a bunch of us – myself, Michael, laya and alli who actually live here. Returning home early or late is not an issue because this lovely country, Katyushas, Qassams, suicide bombers, Iranian nukes and all, is our home. I don’t care about myself, but how about showing some love to all the brave permanent residents of this country including the embattled residents of northern Israel, Sderot and the boys of the IDF (Yes, boys – most of whom are younger than the average birthright israel Jewlicious trip participant).

  • Obviously: love to all of the residents of Israel.

    My best wishes for Jewlicious posters/readers across the world and their friends, families, or selves in Israel.

  • CK: It goes without saying! But then again, apparently it needs to be said. Love, plenty, to you all, stay safe.

  • You’re right, CK. That post was not sufficiently about you (and Laya and Alli et al). Next time I’ll save my self-indulgent emotions for my own blogs. (And yes, my stomach parasite also consumed my sense of humor.)

  • While we’re enlarging the circle of compassion and concern, we should keep the people of Beirut in our prayers, as well as foreign nationals in that city (Americans, of course, included) who are struggling to leave.

  • Israel should bomb iran now. Let\’s have it out while we still have some kind of an edge. Oh, you think they are going to love you now? U think Israel is putting Hizzi out of business?

    Winner takes all. It\’s going to happen eventually.
    [ed. I\’ve removed the name because you have used other people\’s identities in the past while posting on Jewlicious and I have no way of verifying that this person is you – TM]

  • I’ll add a big, “me too” to this staying love fest – I’m arriving in Israel for my two-year stay in three weeks and the thought of not going hasn’t even come up.

  • Hey guys, haven’t had a lot of internet access here on the adriatic coast but wanted to say ‘allo to everyone. Muffti’s decision to go was based on a much greater danger: that of a croatian friend killing him for certain if he didnt show up on the day his non-refundable ticket demanded. Anyhow, it’s gratifying to know y’all are ok and a little starnge to see so many pics of the Muffti all over the site!

    The Muffti’s heart is with you guys and if he was a praying man, those would be with you too. Now time for a dip in this beautiful sea they call the Adriatic…

    Muffti will post his version of things in teh sinai when he gets to a place with proper wireless access. Croatia is lovely but internet cafes are a littel few and far between and the aformentioned murderous friend gets a little unhappy when Muffti sits around puttering on the internet all day…

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