Friday, June 28, 2013

Airline woes

I’m writing this on the plane to Israel, which is the plane scheduled nine hours after the plane I was supposed to be on. And which left another hour and a half after that. But I’m on the way after much unpleasantness. First, the runway construction wasn’t supposed to affect anything and, in fact, up until I arrived at SFO with bags all packed, Virgin America showed its status as “on time.” It wasn’t. It was delayed by two hours. Which meant that I would miss the flight to Israel. Because they were booked separately (had to be, due to staying in New York at the other end), I was SOL—had to pay extra for another flight. Felt like I was talking to a used car salesman—they started out trying to charge me $700 extra, then $500, and when they got to $300, I took it. Probably should have held out for $150—but my sense was that $300 was it. Not that I felt I got a deal—just less ripped off than I would have been otherwise.
Here’s the lesson I got: I’m not flying Virgin America again—nice folks, but not good at communicating. I’m avoiding SFO like the plague. I’m always going to factor in an overnight if I have two separate airlines (I actually did that on my last trip—don’t know what I was thinking (or not) this time). And I am NEVER EVER flying El Al again. They were within their rights—but there’s being right and there’s serving your customers. I won’t think of them without feeling ripped off. That said, the people at JFK were very nice about getting me on the 7 PM flight, instead of the original 11 PM flight—so I am grateful to them.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Turned out that another woman also had a Virgin America-El Al set of flights. Unlike me, hers were linked, so her bags could go ahead. (In my case, I needed time to get my bags, then go through El Al security.) And she spoke only Russian and Hebrew (not quite true: her limited English was better than my execrable Hebrew. Man, I remember nothing!). So I became her guide and she helped me with Hebrew. Coincidentally, we were seated next to each other on the flight. The pilot must have really put pedal to the metal—we got to JFK at 9:45, were rushed off the plane and escorted to the El Al boarding. So she made it—and I felt good to have helped.
And then I spent a day outside of security, meaning very few amenities at all. Most of the day was in baggage, which was cool and had chairs and was remarkably quiet. I read three books—I had debated bringing any; now I’m a bit sorry I didn’t bring more. Two very good books, one so-so. All will be helpful in my summer’s work. And I feel ready to go: I won’t get every bit of work I need; it’s clear that in focusing on sociology (and, let’s be honest here, putting off the bibliography), I’ve missed a good bit of work, but the good news is that my stuff fits right in.
I’m sitting next to an Orthodox man, whose brother was a Conservative rabbi (Leo Trepp; I read his work in college years ago). He began to say how the Jewish people are doomed. Which they are, by his standards. He was quite insistent that Judaism did not change and that Orthodoxy is the only path. I tried to bring up matrilineal/patrilineal descent and the role of practice and belief, as opposed to blood. There really was only one path for Judaism and it is exactly as it’s always been. Never mind the evidence that shows otherwise. It wasn’t disheartening—he is a lovely man and it was an interesting conversation, but it is very clear that there is no way to communicate. In particular, the child of a Jewish man and a non-Jewish woman is not Jewish unless that child converts and lives an Orthodox life. This is as opposed to the child of a Jewish woman and a non-Jewish man, who is Jewish and doesn’t have to do squat. I asked what if the first case the child did live a Jewish life and had been dunked in the mikveh. That didn’t matter to him—not enough and such a person is just playing games—or being inauthentic and fake. He wasn’t being unkind—it was simply black and white: you do it the Orthodox way or not at all. Where is pluralism in that? It isn’t there at all—that is, it can’t come from those who hold that mind-set. My view is that his approach to Judaism is important and valid and enriches Jews and Judaism. But so does mine. And I want Jewish leaders who can encourage that kind of pluralism. I’m thinking I might use this incident in the talk I give at the end of July…

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