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Arrivals Gate

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(Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily by Rae Abileah)

Remember that montage in  Love, Actually when all the couples and families are reuniting at the airport arrivals gate? That montage turned my heart to mush. And that scene in real life has the same effect. Since I was a kid I can recall loving to pick people up at the airport, or be picked up after a long flight; greeted by my mom beaming with smiles as I returned from a faraway trip or my boyfriend holding a bouquet of flowers and wearing a suit and top hat for the occasion.

My high school friends were in the marching band and we used to go to the SFO arrivals gate and play welcome music for random strangers just for fun. Throw in some free carnation flower handouts and we had ourselves an amusing night out. That moment of reuniting after a trip hasn't lost it's charm after all these years. In  Love, Actually, the British Prime Minister, played by Hugh Grant, says:

"Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around."

Of course, since 9/11, security protocols have pushed arrivals gate greetings out to the baggage claim area. Nonetheless, the ritual continues.Earlier today, when I arrived in Tel Aviv at Ben Gurion Airport I had a cheerful feeling. Arriving in the country of my family heritage on the eve of a major Jewish holiday,  Shavuot, and taking part in an interfaith delegation to meet with peace groups and nonviolent change-makers, despite grave concerns about Israeli politics, I felt grateful and excited to be arriving. But between me and the "Promised Land" loomed the passport control area. I filed into line with the rest of the bleary-eyed, jet-lagged passengers and waited my turn. I approached the passport authorities window and flashed a toothy smile, as my silver Star of David necklace glistened in the fluorescent lights. I spoke a short and cheery "Hello! Shalom!" and slid my passport to the girl on the other side of the glass. She asked why I was there and I replied tourism. She asked if I had relatives in Israel. "Yes." I added how excited I was to celebrate  Shavuot in Jerusalem, where I would be staying for the week. She printed out my entry card and wished me a " Chag sameach!" Happy holidays! And off I went. If there was a hashtag for this brief, easy experience, it would be #whitejewishprivilege.

Of our 26-person delegation (that's 25 adults plus one adorable baby), not all were so fortunate. Seven were initially pulled into "The Room" for more screening. After a brief time, five were released and two remained. Minutes passed. Then an hour. I went back to "The Room" to wait with these two and started pulling distraction tricks out of my bag:  Vogue, crossword puzzles, chocolate. I was thinking about the segregation of the Jim Crow South, whites one way, blacks another, as I glanced around the detention waiting room and noticed most people appeared to be people of color. Another hour passes and I'm asked to leave repeatedly. I am finally escorted out and told that, even though I'm an American escort with the delegation, I'm not allowed to be there. Off to baggage claim I go, where I'm greeted by a SMILE representative. SMILE is an Israeli private tour greeting company that welcomes groups and helps them get their bags and go. Their main client is Taglit-Birthright, and, many hours later, a SMILE representative offers me some chocolate chip cookie cake left over from an earlier Birthright trip arrival, and since I've hardly eaten all day, I take a few bites. Heck, if you can't have peace, you might as well have a piece of chocolate cake, right?!

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