Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Phone Call

Everyone who has made Aliyah, leaving family behind, knows that sooner or later that The Phone Call will come. The Phone Call can come at any time: the middle-of-the night, early in the morning, just as the family is settling down to supper, or as everyone is running out of the house. It is the phone call that we all dread, the call telling us that a loved one in the Old Country is seriously sick, injured, going into emergency surgery, or, the worst-case scenario, already dead.
Our first experience with The Phone Call happened twenty-one years ago on the fourth night of Chanukah. It was late evening. The candles in the menorah had long burned down and our latkes were a nice memory. The younger children were already sleeping and we were winding down for the night. And then the phone rang. It was my brother-in-law. He was not calling to wish us a happy holiday. Rather he had sad news. My father-in-law had passed away.

My husband, Avraham, had been blessed with a wonderful visit with his parents in Phoenix less than a month earlier. That did not mean he did not want to return to America to be with his mother and the rest of the family. Knowing that our parents were not in the best of health we always kept our passports up-to-date and in the house. We had an international credit card so that we could buy an airline ticket at a moment’s notice. All my husband needed was reservations, a little extra cash in case of emergency, and a ride to the airport. We moved into action.    

He pulled out a suitcase and began filling it. I took over the phone to call El Al. There were no cell phones at that time so our two oldest children were assigned missions and went out into the neighborhood. The first task was to borrow some money and the second was to find someone to take their father to the airport.
The El Al agent was not as helpful as I would have liked. In fact she was downright apathetic. It was December 23rd, she informed me, and a bad time to try to travel. As if I had picked the date! The best thing for Avraham to do was to get to the airport as quickly as possible.  Hopefully, they would get him on a flight. Borrowing some money was not a problem.  Finding a ride to the airport, however, was not so easy. It was Chanukah, schools were out, and all the teachers were on vacation. Many of the houses in our neighborhood were empty. All of the neighbors who were home were ones without cars. Several who did have a driver’s license would have been happy to take my husband in our car. However, we had bought it with our new immigrant rights and no one else was allowed to drive it.

The clock was ticking away and we were beginning to get nervous. How was he going to get to the airport? He could drive but then what would happen to me and the car? We were out of ideas when, miraculously, we spotted car headlights heading down the street. It was Yisroel, one of Avraham’s closest friends. He had been the first choice to take us to the airport but he and his family had been at a Chanukah party at their grandparents in Jerusalem. Now they were home!

Within a few minutes we were on our way. We spoke together softly and seriously, as befitted the situation. It was a little more than an hour-long ride to Ben Gurion, along windy country roads in nasty weather. Entering the airport with its bright lights and bustling crowds was a little overwhelming. Blinking a bit we made our way to the ticket counter. A perky clerk, the total opposite of the one on the phone, was immediately sympathetic to our situation. She was able to get my husband reservations until New York. Then he would have to fly standby. It was better than nothing. Avraham handed over his credit card and that’s when the real trouble began.

For some reason his credit card was blocked. I ran to the ATM to get out as many shekels as possible with Yisroel’s and our Israeli cards. It was not enough. The clerk began dialing over and over the number to the credit card company trying to talk to a person and not get a recording. It was not working. Suddenly there was the announcement of a suspicious object and everyone was ordered to clear the departure hall. Our clerk ignored the order, sat down on the ground behind her desk, and phone in hand, continued dialing. The suspicious object was neutralized and we were allowed to return. Shaking her head we knew that she had not managed to reach a human being. Calls for boarding Avraham’s flight were sounding on the loud speaker. We were getting desperate. If the clerk had the money I think she would have paid the balance of the ticket price. And then Yisroel happened to stick his hand into his pocket.  

“Avraham,” he asked in wonderment. “Will this help?”

Miraculously, he held up a wad of American dollars. One of his relatives had loaned or given him a large sum of money at their Chanukah party and he had forgotten all about it until just then. It was enough for a one-way ticket. Relieved, the clerk quickly issued the ticket. Avraham ran for the plane just throwing a quick good-bye over his shoulder.

It was a long journey but he made it to Phoenix in time for the funeral. In fact, he arrived sooner than some of the relatives who only lived a few states away. Clearly HaShem wanted him to be with his family and he sent Yisroel to help him not once, but twice.

Soon, when all the Jews have come home, The Phone Call will no longer come from The Old Country. As painful as it might be, it will not hold the drama of needing to find passports and travelling overseas. Then, when all the Jews are living in The Land of Israel, it will simply mean jumping in the car or boarding a bus for all of the family to be together. I pray that time will come soon.   


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