The forgotten Jewish aviator


As the clouds and rain gave way to evening sunshine at Maryland’s historic College Park Airport, Rabbi Gil Steinlauf of Washington, DC’s Adas Israel Congregation recites the kaddish for one of aviation’s pioneers who died in a crash there on June 11, 1912, exactly 100 years to that day.

A crowd gathers to pay tribute and open a museum exhibit to commemorate the Russian-born Jew who was the Wright Brothers’ most trusted instructor, and whose student became the head of the U.S. Army’s air forces in World War II.

Arthur Welsh, born Laibel Wellcher, is hardly a household name today. Were it not for his death at age 31 at the College Park, Md. airport, he’d probably be lionized along with legends of flight like the Wrights, with whom he was so closely connected.

At age 9 in 1890, Welsh came to the U.S. and settled in Philadelphia with his family. Al, as family and friends knew him, moved to Washington in 1898. He was raised Jewish, attended meetings of The Young Zionist Union and joined the U.S. Navy in 1901. He served aboard two ships until he was discharged in 1905 as a seaman, and then became a bookkeeper. He and his wife Anna Harmel were the first couple married in Adas Israel’s second synagogue, now known as the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, in October 1907.

Captivated by seeing one of the Wrights’ demonstration flights in Fort Myer, Va., in 1909, Welsh decided to become a pilot. His initial application to the Wrights was rejected, but Welsh was so determined that he traveled to their base in Dayton, Ohio, where they agreed to accept him as a student. He entered the first class of the Wright Flying School in Montgomery, Ala., in March 1910.

Welsh then trained with Orville Wright near Dayton and soon became an instructor at the Wright Flying School, where he later trained Henry “Hap” Arnold (who became the U.S. Air Force’s five-star general). He also joined the Wright’s exhibition team, and established records for both speed and altitude while he flew throughout 1910 and 1911. Welsh won a hefty $3,000 prize at the International Aviation Meet at Grant Park in Chicago in August 1911 for being the first to fly more than two hours with a passenger.

Sent to the U.S. Army’s Aviation School in College Park, Welsh in the spring of 1912 made 16 official test flights for the Army on the new Wright C plane. On June 11 of that year, Welsh and a Lieutenant Hazelhurst were attempting to meet the Army’s exacting loaded-climb test. According to the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington’s (JHSGW) website, they took off at 6 p.m. and “the plane climbed to about 200 feet and then dove downward at a steep angle to gain momentum to assist the climb.” The airplane then “stalled and crashed into a field of daisies,” and “both men were killed instantly, the first fatalities at the College Park airfield.”

Paul Glenshaw, an aviation historian with the Discovery of Flight Foundation, said Welsh “was the second of only two pilots trained by Orville Wright exclusively.” Glenshaw confirmed that Welsh was the first Jewish-American pilot. Historians further believe, but cannot confirm, that Welsh was the first Jewish aviator in history.

“The Wrights were very private,” Glenshaw said this month on the 100th anniversary of Welsh’s death. “Trust was earned. They did not bring people into their inner circle very easily. By November 2011, all their pilots were gone except Welsh.”

What made Welsh different was that he “didn’t make a lot of glaring headlines,” Glenshaw said.

“He was a married man,” said Glenshaw, who added that most other early pilots were millionaires, stuntmen or racecar drivers. “Here’s a short, little guy, apparently kind of gruff but he just did sober, straight-ahead flying.”

“It was probably through [Welsh’s] sheer determination and probably a great deal of charm that he was able to get into the Wrights’ inner circle and to become their good friend,” Glenshaw added.

The cause and details of the fatal crash were not completely clear, although many observers—including journalists—were present. Welsh was apparently ejected, and crushed his skull as he crash-landed in a field of daisies. Some accounts say the wings collapsed or that the plane buckled, with one saying it fell from only 30 feet. An Army investigation concluded that Welsh was at fault, but that was disputed. Welsh and Hazelhurst were but two of 11 killed in Wright Model C flights by 1913.

Welsh’s funeral, held on June 13, 1912, was briefly postponed so that Orville Wright and his sister Katharine could come from Dayton. It was just two weeks after the funeral of their brother, Wilbur. Wright served as a pallbearer along with Lt. Arnold. Welsh was buried in the Adas Israel Cemetery in Anacostia (which is in Washington). In his autobiography, General Arnold said Welsh “taught me all he knew, or rather, he had taught me all he could teach. He knew much more.”

Welsh’s widow died in 1926, and their daughter Aline moved to England and lived until her 90s.

The public reception marking the 100 anniversary of Welsh’s death featured speakers, the new exhibition, and descendants of the great aviator. A commemorative sign honoring his unique place in aviation history was unveiled along with an Arthur Welsh Commemorative Medal, commissioned by the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (JHSGW) and sculpted by former Leningrad Mint Chief Engraver Alex Shagin. JHSGW President Laura Applebaum remarked that, “The notion of a Jewish immigrant penetrating the inner circle of the Wright Brothers seemed improbable.”

Cathy Allen, former College Park Aviation Museum director, recalled how the late Adas Israel rabbi, Stanley Rabinowitz, had once insisted to her that any exhibit about Welsh should prominently say he was a Jew. Allen recalled the rabbi admonishing her by saying that, “Being Jewish is why Al Welsh is who he was”.

The Welsh exhibit in College Park runs until Sept. 3. For more information visit www.collegeparkaviationmuseum.com.

Up close and personal with the TSA


Recent days have been full of continually unfolding reports about a new intercepted underwear bomb intended to be carried aboard a U.S.-bound plane by an al-Qaida agent. That agent, said to be British, turned out to be working simultaneously with Saudi and U.S. intelligence, and the bomb never got near a plane. But as I prepared last week to board a flight to Alaska, where I would be participating in a conference devoted to the ethical work of Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, I couldn’t help but wonder what role this newly acquired knowledge will play in upcoming discussions about airport security and the effectiveness of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Even though the TSA’s screening program played no part in thwarting this potential terrorist attack, the question of whether the existence of this bomb will help justify continuing the enormous sums of taxpayer money being poured into body-scanning technology has already begun to haunt me.

Over the past decade, something new has come to define the American ethos: fear. It isn’t as if fear had no part of our impulses until this moment, but the heightened fear that the world is a dangerous place has come to characterize the 21st century American mindset. It is a fear upon which we have allowed institutions to prey, so much that, since the events of 9/11, we have stopped asking many questions that still matter.

Jews are taught to question, and I have found that asking the right questions often leads to taking action. I have made a decision not to allow fear to lead my life, and I am committed to questioning any behavior that seems to have its basis in post-9/11 fear mongering. And that is how I came to find myself earlier this year in a face-off with a TSA agent at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). In that moment, I became achingly aware of just how critical — and difficult — it can be not only to ask the right questions, but also to do so even when asking those questions causes inconvenience. Still, simply doing what one is told, for me, is more transgressive and more destructive than inconvenience.

I was traveling from Los Angeles to Boston. My companion and I had made a decision not to submit to the virtual strip-searches routinely conducted by body-scanner machines. We had two reasons: First, the images of nude bodies transmitted by the machines are indecent and immodest. Even the newest auto imaging technology software that claims to obscure the image of the nude body only presents the machine operator with an edited version of the image, while the machine captures the entire image, which can then be stored by governmental and private agencies.

Second, while TSA and creators of the machines tout the safety of body-scanner technology, the truth is that there is no long-term data to confirm these claims. Researchers have challenged these findings, claiming that the amount of radiation is higher than suggested because the doses were calculated as if distributed throughout the entire body, whereas the radiation emitted is focused only on the skin and surrounding tissues. (This also means that if a bomb were carried inside the body, these scanners would not detect it.) The verdict on the safety of body-scanning technology has yet to be delivered. Rather than walk through a machine that may cause harm to my body, I prefer to ask questions. When told to walk through the body scanner, I informed the TSA agent that I could not submit to that form of screening, but that I would walk through a metal detector and have all of my items searched. The next step would be the infamous pat-down. I knew of one man who successfully opted out, and so we decided to see if we, too, could opt out of both.

Image from a full body scanner now used in airports

We could not. As soon as we explained that we could submit to neither the pat down nor the body-scan, the TSA shut down the entire line behind us, effectively decreasing the efficiency of their overall screening procedures and doubling the wait time for other travelers. Members of the LAPD arrived to deal with the “issue”: two people standing shoeless, respectfully asking questions.

The TSA Web site states that travelers are entitled to ask questions about the process, but the more questions we asked, the more we felt we were being penalized. It was an absurd situation in which to find ourselves — I a Jewish Studies professor and my companion a nice Jewish comedy director — and my emotions bordered simultaneously on laughter and tears as I realized with horror that we had created a spectacle. We were being used to create a spectacle of fear in what amounts to little more than the TSA security theater. I shuddered as I realized I was flanked by apathy and fear. People all around us continued to thoughtlessly walk through body-scanners and receive pat-downs. Those who were not altogether apathetic watched us with expressions of fear.

A revelation: It was not security that was being peddled, but rather fear and paranoia, all to create for the public an illusion of security. Do what we say, give us your trust, refrain from questioning us, and you will be safe. But are we safe? Are we safer than we were before the implementation of invasive searches?

In January 2012, the TSA published online a list of the top 10 finds for 2011. Some of these “good catches” include snakes, birds and reptiles; a graduate student’s science experiment that contained a device that looked like it could be an explosive device (it was harmless); inert landmines; a ninja book with two throwing knives (the passenger surrendered the book at the checkpoint because he had forgotten that it was in the carry-on bag); small chunks of inert C4 explosives found in the checked bag of a member of our armed forces who was taking them home as souvenirs; a pistol strapped to the ankle of a 76-year-old man; a flare gun along with seven flares; a stun gun disguised as a smartphone; and a non-metallic martial arts device called a “tactical spike” found in a passenger’s sock.

If it sounds like a list created by The Onion, it was not. This was published by the TSA in support of the strength of its security screening procedures. So let’s break this list down. With the exception of the “tactical spike,” not one of these “top finds” was discovered by a body-scanning device. The pistol would have been easily detected by a metal detector. Further, it is not illegal to travel with firearms, as long as they are declared and not carried on the plane. Typically, passengers carrying undeclared firearms were not arrested, but rather fined. That is, such passengers are suspected not of having terrorist impulses, but of forgetfulness or unintelligent decisions. In the words of the TSA: “Just because we find a prohibited item on an individual does not mean they had bad intentions, that’s for the law enforcement officer to decide. In many cases, people simply forgot they had these items in their bag.”

Now, the landmines: They were, well, inert. They were harmless, as were the small chunks of C4 explosives found in the checked bag of a member of our military. Without a detonator — and it is virtually impossible to carry a functioning detonator through a metal detector — there is nothing that could have been accomplished with the chunks of C4. As for the ninja book with the throwing knives, which the passenger himself surrendered after realizing that it was not in his checked bag, I’m not sure it should be on the list. And while I do not prefer to fly on an airplane with reptilian and avian stowaways, I’m also not sure that doing so would put me in the line of terrorist fire. The intense TSA security screening procedures have been implemented to protect us from the threat of terrorism, not to discover illegal but non-threatening items. I remain unimpressed with the effectiveness of the body-scanning devices and pat-downs. Apparently the experts are equally unimpressed. Rafi Sela, an Israeli airport security expert who helped design security at Ben Gurion International Airport, has said: “I don’t know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747. … That’s why we haven’t put them in our airport.”

One brash commenter on the TSA Web site suggests that he would rather the TSA prevent passengers with antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis from flying than confiscate birds, science experiments, unloaded guns, toothpaste and cupcakes. As always, the threat here remains unclear. Given the recent debacles over confiscated toiletries and baked goods, it seems that the greatest fear is that passengers will clean their teeth or develop Type 2 diabetes. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the threat was terrorism. As a result, we allowed many of our rights to be violated in the name of justice and in the hope of preventing another terrorist attack. But what has materialized is the realization that the cost of these procedures to our dignity — not to mention the monetary cost, hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase the machines and maintain them each year — is not worth the mountains of confiscated items.

We all want to fly on safe airplanes. The fallacy is that this must be accomplished by violating our privacy.

In my case, we had to make a decision: insist on ethics and dignity and miss our flight; or accept the pat-down, board our flight, and reclaim our dignity on another day. I opted to fly and found myself standing before a line of 12 to 15 men and one female terminal manager. A female TSA agent began to explain the procedure. I asked her if she would be touching my genitals, and she confirmed that she would be touching my “labia.” I was told to raise my arms, and standing in front of multiple men, my long blouse (which I had worn over black footless tights) was pulled up, exposing my entire bare midriff as well as the bottom portion of my bra. I forced myself to look into the faces of all the men who stood there, bearing witness to my humiliation. I continued to look, as the TSA agent pulled my tights away from my body and ran her fingers around my bare waistline.

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The TSA Web site states: “You should neither be asked to nor agree to lift, remove, or raise any article of clothing to reveal a sensitive area of the body,” and, “Bare or exposed skin should not be touched by the security officer.” Both of these regulations were violated in full view of those in charge. Surely, I thought, this must be an anomaly. Driving home to Pico-Robertson from LAX later that week, I experienced a clash of emotions: anger, sadness, shame, humiliation, regret, fear. I was confused. I had a deep sense of having insisted on the “right” thing, but it had gone unrewarded. I felt punished. I asked myself: What, as both a Jew and a human being, is my responsibility? The simple but complex answer is that I am simply responsible. And as I accepted that responsibility, I became a repository for stories more distressing than my own.

A colleague, his wife and their 7-month-old daughter, Hazel, were flying from Charlotte, N.C., to Providence, R.I., for Thanksgiving in 2010. My friend and his wife discussed refusing the scanner, but considering the difficulty of making a 14-hour car ride with a baby, his wife insisted that they “comply.” Out of respect for his wife’s desire to get home for her first Thanksgiving with her new baby, my friend agreed to undergo whatever invasion of privacy the TSA insisted on. He went through the metal detector after disassembling his daughter’s stroller. While he reassembled it on the other side, the agents asked his wife to remove their daughter’s pink cardigan sweater-vest. The mother complied, and the agent felt Hazel’s little torso, presumably for an explosive device.

When asked how he felt about the pat-down of his baby girl, my friend responded: “I don’t know. I’m still telling the story, which probably gives some indication of how I feel. It’s an unnamed feeling, and I have nothing to compare it to — something having to do with violation of what makes me, and all of us, human. I would prefer to put my daughter on a hundred flights that involved no security check at all to even dreaming about a stranger patting her down for explosives again.”

The next time the family flew, they passed through the metal detectors unmolested. But my colleague will never forget watching the family in front of them: “I watched the passive father, who was watching his 14-year-old daughter with her arms extended and her feet shoulders width apart while a TSA agent, a woman, with disposable plastic gloves felt around the young girl’s waistband. Needless to say, I wish I hadn’t seen it, and I’m glad I didn’t make eye contact with that father.”

It occurs to me that it is one thing to allow one’s own dignity to be violated. It is quite another to watch that dignity being stripped from our children. My friend cannot stop saying to himself: It’s not just another policy. He continues: “I disagree with 90 percent of what the American government turns into law, but I always felt myself emotionally tied to my country — that was never a question for me. Until the thing with Hazel. Now I’m indifferent. I’m a husband, a father, a pseudo-Buddhist-Gnostic-Christian — but the America that my grandpas fought for in World War II — that’s a thing of the past, to me. I’m over it. When the revolutionaries come looking for support, they can count me in.”

I recently taught a class on post-9/11 fiction at Loyola Marymount University, and I took the opportunity to initiate a dialogue about terrorism, security, fear, human rights and ethical responsibility. I recounted my own experience as a starting point. One student, an Orthodox Jewish woman from the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, explained that, because of her modest clothing, each time she flies, she and her children must go through the body-scanner as well as receive pat-downs. She was told once that her skirt was not tight enough. As I listened to her story of being penalized for modesty, my distress was reignited. I realized that with regard to the level of indecency of which the TSA is capable, I had only touched the surface.

Ouriel and Gabrielle Hassan (a Canadian citizen with a green card) are Orthodox Jews living in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. Ouriel’s family is from Egypt. Years ago, Ouriel’s grandfather changed the family’s name from “Hazan” to “Hassan” in an effort to avoid persecution in Egypt. In 2002, Ouriel arrived at LAX on a flight from New York. To his surprise, he was met by two machine-gun-toting soldiers who instructed Ouriel to accompany them. Once in a private room, Ouriel was strip-searched and held for three hours. The items he carried — clothing, Hebrew books, tefillin — were searched meticulously, and he was asked to open his tefillin, which would have destroyed them. When he explained that to the officers, they retracted the order, and, finding no reason to detain him, they released Ouriel with neither apologies nor explanation. He is subjected to scrutiny each time he travels.

Last year before Pesach, he and his wife and their 3-year-old son traveled from Los Angeles to Vancouver. As Ouriel prepared to enter the body-scanner, TSA agents approached Gabrielle and told her that her son, Eliyahu Yosef Hassan, would need to undergo additional screening procedures. She was told to point out Eliyahu’s bags and personal items; being only 3 years old, however, he had no personal items. Eliyahu was then taken from his mother and brought to a special screening area where a large woman roughly “patted” him down, grasping at his genitals and demonstrating indifference to his fearful and hysterical sobs. Gabrielle was prohibited from holding her son’s little hand. Despite TSA regulations that do not permit children to be separated from parents, she was forbidden from standing near him because he might “pass” something to her.

The TSA claimed that “Eliyahu Yosef Hassan” was on a no-fly list. It turns out that the name of the person on the no-fly list is “Yusef Hasan.” Yet little Eliyahu has experienced the traumatizing security screening two additional times. Although the TSA allows people with names similar to those on no-fly lists to apply for special numbers that will alert agents to these similarities and simplify screening processes, Eliyahu is not eligible for this number because he is under 16 years old. Instead, they must be prepared to submit their son to this humiliation. Additionally, TSA agents have withheld from Gabrielle the offer of a private screening room and patted her down in public by putting their hands underneath her skirt and against her legs, as well as lifting her clothing and running their hands underneath the underwire of her bra. Women, particularly those who dress modestly for religious reasons, are being publically humiliated, and their fathers, husbands and brothers must often deal with guilt stemming from their inability to protect their loved ones from degradation.

These are not the experiences of all travelers. But it is difficult to justify even one small child being violated by procedures implemented on the basis of their capacity to protect us from acts of terrorism. Children are being touched in a way that would be illegal anywhere outside of the gray zone of the TSA screening area. In a society that has, given the countless sexual abuse scandals involving priests, coaches and others in positions of authority, we are obsessed with protecting our children from physical and sexual abuse. Yet we give random people in TSA uniforms the authority to touch our children in any way they see fit — all in the name of safer skies. The past years have shown us that people in positions of power often violate children. But our fear of terrorism has become greater than our fear of child abuse, and we have offered up the dignity of our children in exchange for the illusion that we are safer because of it.

Some suggest that if one finds pat-downs to be inappropriate, he or she should not resist the technology that is designed to detect the materials sought through pat-downs. But a number of experts in the field remind us that these machines make mistakes. Agents testing the system have successfully passed through body-scanners with weapons. And they have warned of the possibility of overdose. One glitch could cause a body-scanner to emit an overdose of radiation. But just how common are errors? Apparently the TSA screeners at LAX have grown accustomed to them.

Jaime Eliezer Karas recently declined the body-scan at LAX, chose the pat-down, and watched the agent insert the piece of fabric into the machine that detects traces of explosive material. According to Karas: “We stood there in silence, both knowing everything was almost over. Suddenly, the machine displayed a message: ‘EXPLOSIVES DETECTED.’  The TSA agent did not flinch. As if in a previously choreographed sequence, he glided over to the next machine and was replaced by another agent.” Karas decided to inquire about what was wrong, and the second TSA employee replied that the cloth came up as having detected explosives, and that he was scanning it again at the next machine. The agent — who works for the same organization that terrorizes little Eliyahu Hassan every time he flies — was unconcerned by this information. The second machine did not think that Karas was carrying explosives, and he was given clearance to proceed toward the gates. Indeed, Karas carried no explosives. But the point is the inability of the technology to accurately assess the situation 100 percent of the time.

Many of us have forgotten how to be mindful. Are the deep costs to human dignity worth the ambiguous outcomes — piles of confiscated toothpaste and cupcakes amid optimistic claims that we are now safer? I continue to ask myself what, exactly, is my responsibility? How can I contribute to making a positive and meaningful change?

Much like the inconsistency in how TSA regulations are carried out, the attitudes of TSA members vary. Some TSA agents are snide and aggressive.  One woman, who recently conducted my pat-down in Seattle, was different. As she asked me if I had ever experienced the procedure, the look on my face told her I had. I opened my mouth to speak, but I had no words and I knew somehow that my face was telling the stories I could not speak in that moment. She looked at me intently, lowered her gaze and said, “I know. I’m sorry. It’s awful. You shouldn’t have to …  “ Her voice trailed off and she looked back up at me, as if asking for a pardon for what she was about to do.

Perhaps I was more of a revolutionary in this moment, when I smiled and said, “Thank you. Thank you for saying that.” There was something in her acknowledgment of her complicity in something indecent and undeserved that moved me. Her acknowledgment of how we were both, in that moment, being shamed as women, as citizens, and as human beings was an opening: an unspoken dialogue.

Responsibility begins with awareness and, one day, hopefully, ends with action.

The TSA claims that “since imaging technology has been deployed at airports, more than 99 percent of passengers choose to be screened by this technology over alternative screening procedures.” Perhaps we should think carefully about why people “choose” radiation over public humiliation — or perhaps there’s not much to think about there.

Monica Osborne is a professor of Jewish literature and culture and has written for The New Republic, Tikkun, Jewcy.com and other publications.

Winter brings out Israel’s unique charms


Despite being about the size of New Jersey, Israel has a winter season that offers tourists a unique opportunity to experience the country’s mystical meteorological rollercoaster in different urban and suburban settings.

During the winter months, you can ski on the snow-clad slopes of Mount Hermon in Northern Israel in the early morning hours, hop a midday flight to Tel Aviv, where you can enjoy a delicious outdoor lunch along the Mediterranean beachfront in near-70 degree temperatures, then leisurely board an afternoon Jerusalem-bound train or bus in order to imbibe the crisp and mystifying evening air that envelops the holy city.

“Jerusalem is much more mysterious during the winter months, because most of the time the city is surrounded by fascinating clouds. But you won’t see more than one or two days of consecutive rain, or feel an icy chill running through your bones during the winter,” said Ilan Brenner, the Inbal Laromme Hotel’s executive assistant manager of marketing and sales. 

Jerusalem is also a mecca for thousands of families who jet over during the annual January winter break, in order to reconnect with siblings who attend the various post-high school yeshivot and universities in the metro region. 

“Celebrating Shabbat at a luxurious hotel and partaking in the lavish Mediterranean-themed buffet meals prepared by award- winning chefs, has in recent years become an annual rite for many visiting families and their friends,” Brenner said.

In trendy Tel Aviv, one hotel marketing executive remarked that she actually looks forward to the winter vacation period when “snowbirds” from the United States, United Kingdom and Canada quickly discard their puffy winter coats, change into summer shorts and sandals and make a beeline to the beachfront.

“I’ll be sitting at my desk, trying to warm myself up with a glass of hot tea, but for many of our guests 70-degree weather is warm enough for them to change into summer gear and head straight to the beach or nearby Dizengoff Street in order to do some serious shopping,” she said.

Almost all of the major five-star hotels highlight first-class spas and health clubs, where winter-themed treatments have also become a popular attraction.

Here’s a brief rundown of what some of the better-known hotels are offering tourists during the winter respite:

JERUSALEM

Inbal Laromme Hotel

The family-oriented hotel is promoting its “Triple Free” program, which includes a free Hertz rental car for each night’s stay, free parking at the hotel and free WiFi. The package requires a minimum three-night stay. The Inbal Jerusalem Hotel features a heated indoor pool as well as a renowned spa that rotates its menu of body and facial treatments for men and women. Inbal Jerusalem’s executive chef Moti Buchbut recently upgraded the menu in the hotel’s Sofia Restaurant, a fish, pasta and patisserie bistro. And the Inbal is the first hotel chain in Israel to offer tech-savvy guests a wide range of services via its online Digital Concierge application. inbalhotel.com.

Atrium lobby of Tel Aviv’s David InterContinental Hotel.

Dan Boutique Hotel

The impeccably designed facility highlights “Go Dan” five- and seven-night special packages through the end of February that are based on a bed and breakfast program. As the Dan Boutique is part of the large Dan hotel chain, which features impressive facilities across Israel, tourists can combine the “Go Dan” packages among various danhotels.com.

Mamilla Hotel

The city’s newest upscale hotel, located within the chic Mamilla shopping mall, is promoting a “Discover Jerusalem” winter program. Guests who book a double studio room will be entitled to dinner at the Mamilla Cafe during weekdays (fixed dairy menu) and/or dinner on weekends in the main dining room, plus a complimentary drink in the ultra-cool Mirror Bar. The package, which also includes free use of the gym or steam room, requires a minimum three-night stay and will not be available Dec. 19-27. mamillahotel.com.

TEL AVIV

David InterContinental Hotel

Extremely popular among business travelers, this hotel is located in Tel Aviv’s revitalized Neve Tzedek neighborhood. The city’s bustling Shuk HaCarmel outdoor market, trendy Sheinkin Street fashion stores and the historical Jaffa Port are all within walking distance. The beach is located directly across the street. The hotel boasts a remodeled business lounge and atrium lobby as well as several swanky bars and restaurants. intercontinental.com.

Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel and Towers

The newly renovated Sheraton Towers — a hotel within a hotel — offers a private reception area; a new lounge, including a private boardroom facility for meetings of up to eight participants; butler service; and other extra amenities. The hotel’s Olive Leaf signature restaurant, helmed by chef Charlie Fadida, is touted as one of the finest kosher restaurants in Tel Aviv. starwoodhotels.com.

Dan Tel Aviv

The legendary luxury hotel, which plays host to many prominent business moguls, celebrities and politicians, is also offering its regular customers a four-night winter package that runs through the end of February. The package is based on a standard bed and breakfast program. The hotel features a high standard of service, plush rooms and suites, an indoor pool and several dining experiences, including the chic Hayarkon 99 restaurant. danhotels.com.

DEAD SEA

Prima Spa Club indoor pool.

Prima Spa Club

For couples who endeavor to get away from it all and enjoy a reinvigorating body-and-soul winter experience, the Prima Spa Club boutique luxury hotel highlights a Moroccan spa, wellness programs, spa parties and VIP services. There are discounted rates available for vacationers who wish to spend seven consecutive nights in the hotel. prima-hotels-israel.com.

Rimonim Royal Dead Sea

The Rimonim chain, which recently assumed control over this five-star facility, has upgraded the Dead Sea region’s largest hotel. The Royal highlights 46 private treatment rooms, an indoor saltwater pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and gymnasium. There’s also an outdoor pool and kids’ pool. During the winter season, the hotel is featuring “Royal Serenity Indulgence,” two- and three-night packages aimed at couples who wish to enjoy a romantic getaway. The midweek and weekend packages include various perks, including a bountiful breakfast and dinner (half-board). rimonim.com.

Defy Gravity


Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld and I shook hands 20 minutes before we were to jump out of an airplane together at 12,500 feet. It would be my first solo jump. Dan has made some 23,000 — he’s stopped counting except by the thousands.

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Brodsky-Chenfeld smiling as the author falls to earth.

 

I came to the Perris Skydiving Center, at the eastern end of Riverside County, for two reasons. A publicist for the center had contacted me to promote the National Skydiving Championships, to be held there over Labor Day.

“What,” I asked, “does that have to do with The Jewish Journal?”

“Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld,” the publicist said.

The other reason I came to the skydiving center was to do something I’d always wanted to do: jump.

The chance to make my first jump under the guidance of Brodsky-Chenfeld, who happens to be Jewish, was worth challenging my wife’s strict no-skydiving-while-still-a-father rule. Brodsky-Chenfeld has won 16 national and eight international championships. In a sport that demands athleticism and death-defying cool, Brodsky-Chenfeld is world-renowned. In the skydiving world, he’s known as Dan B.C.

“He draws the best competitors from all over the world,” said Larry Bagley, who oversees competition for the United States Parachutist Association. “You think: Dan B.C. is the person I want to be when I grow up, if I ever grow up.”

That Dan B.C. is Jewish has to be counterintuitive. Take away the short, illustrious history of Israeli combat paratroopers, and you won’t find many Jews jumping out of airplanes. History has taught us that danger will find us soon enough without our having to chase it.

“My parents,” he told me as we walked toward the small, waiting airplane, “yeah, they probably prefer I did something else.”

Family lore has it that Brodsky-Chenfeld, who is 43, was jumping off his bunk bed as a 5-year-old growing up in Columbus, Ohio, using his pillowcase as a parachute. He got his first real opportunity at 18, at Ohio State University, and he was hooked. Soon he was running a nearby drop zone, working his way up the ranks of divers in the nascent sport of skydiving.

Competitive skydiving looks like daredevilry, but Brodsky-Chenfeld and others are out to prove it is a demanding competition, as deserving of Olympic status as skiing or gymnastics.

“All people usually see are the stunts,” Brodsky-Chenfeld said. “They never see the sport.”

Divers exit the plane going 90-100 m.p.h. at 12,000 feet. As their bodies reach terminal velocity, 120 m.p.h., they begin a series of timed maneuvers, building human formations of four to 16 divers in a required sequence. Plummeting toward the ground at 200 feet per second, they guide their bodies into place with tremendous delicacy and discipline. They must do all this in 35-50 seconds — then separate, pull their ripcords and land.

A photographer, who is part of the jump team, records the formation for the judges, who determine winners on a point system. At the Labor Day weekend competition at Perris Valley Skydiving, visitors can watch 750 skydivers compete in 26 events — the largest national event in history.

“You can fly up there,” Brodsky-Chenfeld said. “You can go forward, backward, spin around. You surf the air like you surf water.”

The sport involves rigorous physical conditioning combined with meditation. Since divers get very little actual airtime to practice, they rehearse on the ground and push themselves to visualize linking sequences in their minds. Brodsky-Chenfeld, who is general manager of the skydiving center, also trains teams from around the world, including Israel.

He’s proud of that, and of the Star of David configuration he organized at the Los Angeles Jewish Festival in 1996 — 48 skydivers jumping from three planes. Until last year, he also held the record for organizing the world’s largest link-up: 300 divers from 14 planes.

But the challenge of the sport itself is his primary passion, and Brodsky-Chenfeld combines an athlete’s well-muscled frame with a calm, confident Zen-master demeanor.

As he walks me toward the waiting airplane, I look down and notice he is wearing sandals.

My skydiving instruction — which the skydiving center paid for — began in front of a video monitor in a small room. On screen, a lawyer with no discernable personality –“I represent the skydiving school. I am not your lawyer” — informed me that skydiving can lead to serious injury or death. By signing the eight-page waiver, he said, I cannot sue, and if I do sue, I most likely will not recover damages, and that, if I am able to win damages, I must understand the school is not insured.

“Now that I’ve covered all the grim legal aspects,” the lawyer concludes, “why don’t you go and have some fun and be safe.”

You can do a tandem dive harnessed to an instructor, or you can take a four-hour course, then jump accompanied by, but not attached to, two jumpmasters. I chose the latter, and paid very, very careful attention.

“The ground can come up on you very fast,” instructor Josh Hall said. “Skydivers think a lot about the ground.”

Landings, though, are soft, thanks to a new generation of glider-like parachutes. Those old mushroom shaped ones, Hall explained, created nothing but “human lawn darts.”

Brodsky-Chenfeld and my other jumpmaster, Kai Wolf, told me the key is to breathe and relax. They smiled a lot and took deep, exaggerated breaths. Other than the fact that I was wearing a jumpsuit and a parachute pack in an airplane whose side door slid wide open at 8,000 feet, it was just like a Pilates class.

I’d done my research and knew, rationally, that skydiving was somewhat safer than general aviation, but certainly less safe than not skydiving.

“Think about it,” Larry Bagley said later. “There’s a slim chance that it’s his turn and your turn to go at the same time.”

On April 22, 1992, Brodsky-Chenfeld and 22 other skydivers climbed into a de Havilland Twin Otter at Perris Valley, ready for another round of practice. At 700 feet, water in the fuel supply stalled the engine and the plane plummeted nose first into the ground. The pilot and 15 skydivers died — one of the worst aircraft accidents in skydiving history.

Brodsky-Chenfeld was pulled from the wreckage. He suffered a broken neck, a collapsed lung, numerous broken bones and internal injuries. His close friend James Layne, sitting across from him in the airplane, died instantly.

Brodsky-Chenfeld spent six weeks in a coma, and has no recollection of the crash.

In the hospital he’d lost 40 pounds, and wore a halo screwed into his skull to limit his movements while his broken back tried to heal. A wrong move or a fall could have paralyzed him for life, let alone jumping again out of an airplane.

“There was never any doubt in my mind that if I could physically do it, I would,” he said. “It’s the job I love.”

Just months later, Brodsky-Chenfeld, still in a neck brace, began competing. His team, Arizona Airspeed, took the bronze in the November 1992 Nationals. In 1995, Airspeed beat its trans-Atlantic archrivals, the French Excaliburs, to win an international gold medal.

If it sounds like the movie “Rocky,” it reads like it, too — a screenplay of Brodsky-Chenfeld’s ordeal has begun circulating through town.

Brodsky-Chenfeld said the accident didn’t change his view of skydiving, but of living.

“I understood how fragile it all is,” he said. “I woke up in a different world than the one I passed out in. There were people gone whom I was close to. So you learn to make sure you get the most out of each moment, and make sure the people who mean the most to you know they do.”

Brodsky-Chenfeld met his wife, Kristi, when she came to him for skydiving lessons She went on to make more than 300 jumps, but left the sport when she became pregnant with their first child. He carts around his two children, ages 10 and 6, in a white Volvo station wagon.

“It’s a safe car,” he explained.

I have two children, too, and they’re the last images in my mind before I leap out between Brodsky-Chenfeld and Wolf, into the air.

The feeling is indescribable — a sensation of flying, not falling. My mind frizzes between sensory overload, sheer terror, and wonder.

A videographer, Mike Kindsvater, is circling me with a camera. When I watch later, I’ll see my lips frozen in fear, and Brodsky-Chenfeld, smiling broadly.

At 5,000 feet I wave the instructors away, pull my cord and swing upward, suspended by my thankfully perfect chute. I spend the five-minute float down uttering prayers of thanksgiving, curses and exultations.

When I land, I want to take the next plane up and do it again.

I told this to Dan B.C.

“Yeah,” he said. “You have to get up there to understand.”

The USPA National Skydiving Championships will be held Aug. 23-Sept. 11. For more information, visit www.skydiveperris.com or call (800) 759-3483.

 

Ex-treme Takeoff


You always see him one more time. It’s inevitable. And it’s always on a bad hair day.

I’m flying home from a Chi-town visit with the Davis fam. Sporting yoga pants, glasses and a tired green hoodie, I grab my backpack, my book, “Midlife Crisis at 30” (required airplane reading), and board the plane.

I spot him immediately. Or at least the back of his head. He’s 25 feet ahead of me, but it’s a whole “back of his head like the back of my hand” thing. I know it’s him. I just don’t know how to react.

Ben and I had an on again, off again, on (me) again five-month stint about four years ago. Haven’t seen him since. There was no heated argument or “we need to talk.” The relationship just ran out of ink, faded away. OK, fine — he stopped calling. After he pulled the Elijah, I kept hoping for one more chance, one more call, one more date, when he’d see me and realize he’d made a huge mistake.

But this was not the moment I imagined. This was not the outfit I saw myself wearing. This was not the book I wanted to be caught reading.

With Ben’s noggin in clear view, I analyze my options and do what any self-sufficient woman would do. I duck behind the tall dude in front of me. Chances are, I’ll be seated rows in front of Ben and he’ll never know I’m here. I’m short. I’m blonde. I can blend.

As I inch down the aisle, I realize blending’s not an option. Because sitting right next to me, assigned to the aisle seat across from mine, is my ex, Ben. The stewardess asks that I return my jaw to the upright position, because we’re ready for takeoff.

I throw my frozen deep dish in the overhead, my JanSport under the seat, and hear, “Carin?”

“Ben, hey…. Wow. How funny is this? How are you?”

This should make for good in-flight entertainment. I frantically sit on my book, pull the scrunchie from my hair, and pray my glasses scream sexy librarian. In the movies, the ex run-in always occurs in a great dress on a fun date with a new guy. In real life, no such thing.

My friend, Angel, ran into her ex while walking home from pottery class covered in clay. My friend Jen saw her former beau at the gym. I bumped into an ex at the Pavilions checkout. I was buying wine, ice cream and a 12 pack — of toilet paper. Not exactly the stuff of a Meg Ryan rom-com. And now I’m trapped on a 4 1/2 hour, 1,749-mile friendly skies reunion with no place to go but aisle. And I thought the worst thing about this flight was going to be my kosher meal.

“This is so great, Carin. What’s going on with you? What are you up to?”

Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has turned on the fasten your seat belt sign, we are about to experience turbulence.

It’s not that I didn’t want to see Ben; I just didn’t want to see him like this. Ben’s supposed to think I’m cute and successful and happy. I’m supposed to wow him with my impossible beauty and enviable career. I want him to think I’m stunning and funny and the one that got away. But with the way I look right now, he’s probably thinking, thank God he got away.

I know, I know — why do I care what a boyfriend from six boyfriends ago thinks? I guess it’s an ego thing. A whole “I Want You to Want Me,” “I Will Survive,” “Ain’t Nothing Gonna Break My Stride” remix. The look on his face when he grasps that he was right — it wasn’t me, it was him — is the ultimate “I told you so, your loss buddy, I still got it” confidence booster.

Two bags of free pretzels later, Ben and I move beyond “what’s a five-letter word for awkward” and talk careers, life, even current dating sitches. I don’t feel a thing. And not just because I pounded two mid-flight mini-vodkas. I no longer have feelings for Ben. Not a yearning, a pulled heartstring or a mile-high urge. Guess my emotional baggage shifted during flight. Ben’s a great guy, a smart guy, but not everything I built him up to be. This run-in made me realize his opinion doesn’t matter. Bad travel clothes aside, I’m doing just fine on my own.

Besides it’s not like he’s doing that well. He is flying coach.

Carin Davis, a freelance writer, can be reached at sports@jewishjournal.com.

Angelenos Make Aliyah Dream Reality


 

It’s 4 p.m. “Erev Christmas,” and 21-year-old Adam Bodenstein is still rushing around his home in the Pico-Robertson area. He has yet to take a shower before Shabbat comes. In four days time, the Modern Orthodox UC Berkley graduate, who grew up in a Conservative household, will board a flight at New York’s JFK Airport that will take him to his new home — Israel.

But this is no ordinary El Al flight. This is Nefesh B’Nefesh’s (NBN) eighth flight (and first-ever winter flight) in three years.

NBN — co-founded by Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, a dynamic, vibrant redhead from Florida who made aliyah, and fellow Floridian Tony Gelbart, president and CEO of CPM Worldwide Group investment company — started out as a blip on American Jewry’s radar screens back in 2002. The two set out to boost North American and Canadian emigration by providing financial support and helping alleviate the obstacles and burdens inherent in making aliyah. To date, the organization has brought almost 4,000 new immigrants to the country; more than 100 have been from the Los Angeles area.

Bodenstein will have to wade through ulpan and the Israeli army but will have the additional support of his Israeli wife (whom he incidentally met in Los Angeles) when they marry this summer.

Four days later, at JFK, 45-year-old Modern Orthodox convert Howard Posner, from the Beverly-Fairfax area, is wandering around slightly dazed, having taken a red-eye the night before. Orlie Dekel a 26-year-old from Culver City has spent the last five days with cousins in New York, but is still one of the last to arrive at the airport and hasn’t finished packing. Two other Southern Californians are also taking the aliyah plunge: 62-year-old Modern Orthodox divorcée Danielle Schonbrunn of Valley Village and 22-year-old newly religious Dvora Nir.

The very fact that there are five Angelenos on this flight is a sharp change from previous flights, in which the majority of the new immigrants tended to hail from the East Coast. And unlike NBN’s previous seven flights, this particular planeload boasts a significantly high proportion of singles.

At 62, Schonbrunn is retired and is finally realizing her aliyah dream by following in the footsteps of her sons and daughter-in-law who made aliyah with NBN in 2002. She’ll live out her retirement near them and their six children in Ramat Beit Shemesh, just outside Jerusalem.

All the Angelenos speak of how much easier they feel it is to be taking the plunge without the burden of having to support and raise a family, and all believe that as singles they have the opportunity to reinvent themselves. Schonbrunn said she is looking forward to “going to ulpan and becoming a schoolgirl again.”

Posner, who underwent an Orthodox conversion in 2002, made his way out to Los Angeles in 1997, clutching a feature film he had written, directed and produced, in search of the elusive Hollywood dream. But that quickly turned into “a Hollywood nightmare” and Posner became a mild-mannered paralegal. He said NBN has afforded him the opportunity to rekindle his artistic dreams.

Converted, married and divorced within the last three years, Posner made his first ever trip to Israel in April 2004, and after only two weeks was hooked on the country. When he returned to Los Angeles he worked feverishly every night to produce a book complete with photographs documenting his extraordinary experiences in Israel, which he hopes to publish.

“I want to use the tools Hashem gave me as a writer and a filmmaker to show how our people are living and doing good things in Israel,” he said.

Oddly enough, during Posner’s 13 months of marriage, aliyah became a major topic between him and his then wife. Financial constraints, including the couples’ attempts to have a child, put those dreams on hold. The marriage didn’t last — but Posner’s dream did. He is the first to admit that it’s his newly single status that has allowed him to follow his heart to Israel, where he said his first job is to try and master Hebrew.

Dekel and Nir do not face such language barriers. Nir is a k’tina hozeret — a returning minor, born in Israel who moved to Sherman Oaks with her Israeli father and American mother at age 8. And Dekel, although born and raised in Los Angeles, grew up in a Hebrew-speaking household, the child of Israeli parents, both of whom, along with her married sister, now live in Israel.

For Dekel, her life in Los Angeles has been anything but easy. Her entire family returned to Israel six years ago, and Dekel has been living in her own apartment, paying her own bills as a preschool teacher at Conservative Temple Isaiah and putting herself through college. Still, her independent spirit has prevailed. Instead of moving in with her mother in Neve Zedek or her sister in Givatayim, Dekel, who dreams of getting married and starting her life anew, has chosen to live at Kibbutz Be’erot Yitzhak near Ben-Gurion Airport.

She’s also thinking of changing careers. She’s interested in gourmet cooking and is considering studying culinary arts. The move, Dekel said, is an opportunity for “an extreme makeover,” starting with an appointment at her sister’s hair dressing salon the day after she lands, where she will bid farewell to her jet-black curls and become a brunette. She also loves Israeli clothes and can’t wait to buy a new wardrobe.

At 22, Nir, who grew up in a secular household, became newly religious two years ago — six years after her parents did.

“I just couldn’t give up my secular lifestyle back then,” she said.

Now, Nir is making her way to a Lubavitch seminary in Tsfat with a religious fervor that seeps out of her every pore.

“Tsfat is the place where you can hear your soul,” she said, without a trace of irony.

A Birthright graduate who spent a year at the Neve seminary in Jerusalem, Nir said the catalyst for her took place two years ago when she put a note into the Kotel stating, “‘God, I want to be with you.’ And he said, ‘OK,'” she said with a smile.

Yet despite her rose-colored visions, Nir said she has also been practical in her decision. For her, now is the time to leave Los Angeles, while she can still do all the things she wants to do and experience Israel before she is married with a family — which she expects to be sometime in the near future.

“Jews in America talk about wanting to have their bodies shipped to Israel when they die,” she said. “I say, why come to Israel just to be buried when you can live here?”

It is perhaps the most eloquent summation of the energy, fervor and commitment that all of these former Angelenos have to their new home in Israel. They all acknowledge the financial and economic hardships that await them, but refuse to let that dampen their spirits. They all have a philosophical attitude toward terrorism — citing incidents of drive-by shootings in Los Angeles and the Western media’s over hyping of the “matzav” or situation — and said they need to just “live their lives” and hope they will be safe in Israel.

But most of all they acknowledge they couldn’t have done it without NBN. Posner didn’t tell anyone that he was leaving until his NBN grant came through six weeks before his departure. Schonbrunn becomes overwhelmed with emotion as she talks of the organization’s generosity. Nir said NBN is “heaven sent”; Dekel is thrilled that after attempting the aliyah paperwork in Israel two years ago, NBN was there to help her through the difficult steps. Bodenstein — who has a degree in religious studies — pays the organization the ultimate compliment, hoping to eventually work for NBN or a similar organization “to do Zionist educational work for the Diaspora.”

And that is why, in spite of jet lag and sheer exhaustion, when Fass ascends the podium at the hangar Ben-Gurion and tells everyone to phone home immediately and tell their friends, family and loved ones that it is “a precious gift to live in artzenu [our homeland], and you should all consider coming, because we’ll have the planes ready,” a deafening roar goes up from the latest group of “Jewish souls” who now call Israel home.

For information on Nefesh B’Nefesh, visit

How to Fly if you look Middle Eastern


Sam Kermanian has drawn our attention to a list of travel tips for Iranian Jews and others of “Middle Eastern” appearance, who might be fingered as potential Arab hijackers by nervous airline passengers.

Short of “bleaching our faces and dyeing our hair blond,” the president of the Iranian American Jewish Federation advises:

  • Get your seat as far back as you can on the airplane. Being close to the cockpit is a bad sign. This means forget about first and business class. You can’t impress them by your money anymore.

  • When you go to the washroom, always go toward the rear toilets. Moving forward toward the cockpit can be misinterpreted.

  • Do not travel with other Middle Eastern-looking people on the same flight. Any assembly of more than one person can be misinterpreted by other passengers.

  • Forget about stretching and walking the aisles on long flights. Just sit down and do not get up, unless it’s urgent.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman, Jerry Snyder, said that his agency has not issued advisories for any special ethnic group. However, general tips for airline passengers are available at the FAA Web site

www.faa.gov/apa/traveler.htm.

Friendly Skies


I’d like to register a complaint against the airline industry. I know that I’m not alone, that there has been quite a bit of public outcry lately about flight delays and cancellations, but that’s not my issue.

My problem is that my friend Greg Stern met his beautiful wife on a plane, and I’ve never sat next to an attractive woman on a plane unless I brought her with me. I know that smart, funny and attractive women must get to New York and back to Los Angeles somehow. They can’t all be flying private. I saw Rachel Hunter get off a flight at LAX once, so it is possible. My issue with the airlines is that someone sat next to her, and it wasn’t me. It’s just not fair.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I’ve been fortunate enough to fly nearly 1,000 times in my life. And let’s also say that only 1 percent of the people in the universe answer to the title “attractive women” — and I’m not insisting on Rachel Hunter; just a charming unmarried female person. Given the random nature of seat selection, the law of averages says I should have sat next to at least 10 of them by now.

Alas, no. Nothing. Nada. Zip. I am 0-for-ever. I usually sit between a screaming baby and a fat man who took his last meal at an Indian restaurant. So now, when I’m booking my flight and the ticket agent asks, “Window or aisle?” I say: “What do you have next to an attractive woman?”

Imagine if such a thing as Good-Looking Class existed. You could forget about Business Class. Everyone I know would be trying to cash in some of their frequent flyer mileage for an upgrade. And imagine the disappointment when they tell you, “I’m sorry, sir, that section is completely sold out, but we do have a nice seat for you in Good Personality Class.”

I used to think the problem lay in spending too much time flying coach with the tired, the poor, the huddled masses; or that I was using mileage to save a few bucks. Scrimping when I could have been pimping, so to speak.

I finally decided to splurge on a First Class seat on American No. 3 to JFK, the sexiest flight going. I specifically requested a charming seat partner.

There are several reasons why First Class is better than Coach, one of which is that you board the flight before the other passengers. I marched past the people in steerage, untroubled by their envious gaze, took my seat in 3A and awaiting my dream date. Another perk is that the flight attendants treat you with the respect afforded to someone with a lot of money to blow. They call me “Mr. Smith,” and I let them.

A moment before they closed the door, a lithe, fashionably dressed blonde woman wearing sunglasses entered the cabin and walked like a runway model on the way to her seat two rows ahead of me. I pretended not to notice that it was Gwyneth Paltrow, leaving trace elements of perfume in her wake.

The Oscar-winner (who’s half-Jewish, you know) was followed by a cloud of smoke, in the middle of which was a woman who sat down next to me in 3B. She had, evidently, paid a visit to the smoking room in the terminal, a room which is basically a giant ashtray. I’ve seen fires with less smoke. This creature must have smoked half a pack of Kools getting ready for her transcontinental nicotine fit. Charming.

If the Elephant Man had a sister, I sat next to her for six hours. It turned out that she was pretty good company, and we shared a cab into the city. Then we ran into each other at the theater the following night and went out for a drink. This is exactly how the plan was supposed to work, but Gwyneth was up there, giggling like a schoolgirl with the Pinstriped Suit in 1A, while I was stuck back in Row 3, breathing second-hand smoke from the vapors still rising off the Marlboro woman’s clothes. What happened? I thought we had a deal!

I’m not asking for much. I’m not asking for membership in the Mile-High club. I just want to get the chance for a romance to blossom at 35,000 feet over a bag of peanuts and a ginger ale. If it ever happens, if the vengeful airplane gods should shine their countenance upon me, I know what I’m going to say to the attractive woman in the window seat next to mine. I’m going to say, “I’ve been waiting for you all my life.”



J.D. Smith is cultivating relationships with people who have their own
planes @ www.lifesentence.net

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