The Sunday after Thanksgiving is traditionally the busiest travel day of the year. Airports and flights are crowded and the weather can be bad. If you travel on that day, the chances are that you may face a headache before the day is done.
We were scheduled to leave the Holy Land on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Since we made our flight reservations in early November, we should have anticipated that the scheduling would be tight.
Sure enough, instead of the standard flight from Tel Aviv to New York or Atlanta, we were scheduled to fly on a red-eye from Tel Aviv to Bucharest, Romania.
Considering the late reservation, we were happy to find a flight at all. As a result, we didn’t feel too bad when we saw a number of Jewish families with small children board the New York flight after a Thanksgiving week break in Israel.
We boarded the crowded plane at midnight and had a three-hour flight to Romania on Tarom Airlines. The Romanian airline did a good job at making us feel comfortable, with chairs that recline farther than any plane I have flown.
The in-flight magazine had a few interesting translation problems. “How smart do you fell at 30,000 feet?” was the question at the top of a page of puzzles. I thought about that question for most of the flight. Thankfully, I didn’t learn the answer.
We arrived at the Bucharest Airport at 3 a.m. and, after passing through a security check, found ourselves in a mostly empty airport. The only other people were two men who had been on the same flight. We started talking and were glad to hear that they were also on their way to Salt Lake City, another casualty of last minute reservation on the busiest flight day of the year.
The two Israeli men, Ben and Ami, are executives of Gizmoz, a high tech firm with offices in Menlo Park, CA, Ramat Gan, Israel, and Draper, Utah. They were traveling to Utah for two weeks. Ben is the Chief Operations Officer and Ami is the Chief Technology Officer for the company, which helps people create digital “avatars” for use on the internet and beyond (see their website at www.gizmoz.com).
Our enjoyable conversation in the middle of the night in an empty airport in Romania covered a wide range of issues; everything from family to religion to technology to flying. They had interesting and well thought responses to every question and every topic.
They had both served in the Israeli Armed Forces and had lived very interesting lives.
Ami talked about the challenges of dealing with the strong religious background of his family. Ben talked about taking his family on a one-week vacation this past summer to Lake Powell.
We had three hours to kill before our next flight to Paris and as the night passed, our conversation became more personal. I asked, “So how did your families end up in Israel?”
Ben answered, “My mother’s family lived in the Old City of Jerusalem for many generations. My father’s family is from Poland.”
Ben then told us the story of his grandfather, a Polish Jew who had assimilated into Polish society and wanted nothing more than to simply be a Polish citizen. He and his family were taken one night and shipped to Auschwitz, where most of them were killed.
Ben’s father, then ten years old, endured Auschwitz for nearly three years before he was freed and made his way to Israel. It was a sobering conversation, but also hopeful, since Ben’s father had obviously built a successful life and had successful children and grandchildren.
We were deep in conversation as the morning was starting to break. People started to arrive for our 6:30 departure to Paris and the seats around us began to fill. I noticed one man who walked in looking like a living negative stereotype of an Eastern European. He was disheveled, unkempt, unshaved and sloppily dressed. The hulking man sat down directly behind Ben, and turned around several times during the conversation. He appeared to be agitated.
Finally, he turned around and said, “Can you please shut up! Just stop talking, shut up! Stop talking about my country!” As he went on, he became louder and louder until he was nearly shouting.
People began to turn around to see just what was going on. Ben quickly defused the situation by telling the man, “Ok, thank you” and we all got up and walked away. Ben said that the man was intoxicated.
What a strange turn of events. Afterwards, I asked Ben if we had caught just a brief glimpse of the anti-Semitism that is apparently alive and well in some corners of the world.
He answered, “I did not hear any anti-Semitism in the man’s response. I guess it was more of a drunken national pride.
“… By the way, I think that anti-Semitism comes out in many drunken Europeans but the anti-Semitism I am more worried about comes from the European intellectuals, politicians and journalists.“
The direct flight from Paris to Salt Lake City is wonderful, allowing us to avoid the crowded holiday airports in the northwest United States. There were four movies, two meals and two snacks during the 11-hour flight, which travels over Greenland and comes into the United States over North Dakota.
Lynda was on one side and the seat on the other side was empty through much of the boarding process. As happens all too often, my hopes of an extra seat were crushed just before the door closed.
An elegantly-dressed tall man came down the isle, with a flight attendant scurrying behind him. He had a full head of coiffed hair and fine features, looking so much like a celebrity that I wracked my brain if I knew who he was He sat down in my spare seat and the flight attendant gave him a free Delta in-flight gift bag, all the while speaking French.
As we taxied down the runway, I asked him if he was a celebrity refugee from First Class. He said, in English, that he firmly belonged in the economy class and simply knew the flight attendant from a prior flight.
I eventually figured out how he knew the flight attendants. For most of the 11-hour flight, he stood in the back of the plane doing tai chi exercises, and talking to flight attendents.
Jon L. Heberling was on his way home from the south of France to Kalispell, Montana, where he works as an attorney. Heberling represents nearly 750 former and current residents of Libby, Montana.
Now the residents of Monticello (and the entire Colorado plateau) should know about Libby, Montana. The working class community in the northwest corner of the state is home to what the Environmental Protection Agency calls “the worst case of industrial poisoning of a whole community in American history.’”
Libby was the home of a vermiculite plant that succeeded in exposing every resident of the town to asbestos over a 70-year period. Even though it is alleged that the owners of the plant knew about the asbestos exposure for 30 years, it was not until 1999 that the contamination came to the attention of the general public.
Asbestos does terrible things to the human body and the residents of Libby have paid a high price for their years of exposure.
(By the way, the documentary Libby, Montana, by High Plains Films, was nominated for an Emmy award. The latest release by High Plains Films is Brave New West, a profile of Jim Stiles, publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr and columnist for the San Juan Record.)
Heberling was very interested in the story of the Monticello Uranium Mill and the work of the Victims of Mill Tailings Exposure.
Heberling is a child of the 1960s. He moved to Montana after completing law school at the University of California Berkeley, with the intent of becoming an environmental attorney. He said that while the environmental work was satisfying, the bears and deer he was helping didn’t pay their bills. So he began to look around and found the case of a lifetime in Libby.
The residents of Libby are much like the residents of San Juan County. As a general rule, they are conservative and independent and mistrust the federal government. They hate environmentalists and outsiders and newcomers.
Now, after facing the health impact of years of exposure to asbestos, these same residents are embracing a liberal, French-speaking, Berkeley-educated environmentalist who does tai chi and vacations in the south of France. I wish him the best of luck.