Israel: Day One

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine myself studying in Jerusalem. But God is able to do abundantly more than we can ask or think. I do not know what (or who) will come my way in the next 4 weeks — and to be honest, this uncertainty is a bit unnerving — but I suppose that’s all the more reason to feel excited.

The excitement started even before I left London. The EL AL (Israeli airlines) security measures at Luton Airport was quite an experience. While queuing at the check-in counter, I was immediately singled out by an EL AL security officer for questioning. It seems that shaving my moustache and beard didn’t help. I shaved for nothing. 😦

The security officer asked a whole lot of questions, some of which were ludicrous, like ‘Why is your surname so strange?’ (I had to tell him that Goa used to be a Portuguese colony, and a lot of D’Souzas, De Silvas and D’Almeidas come from there). I also had to pull out multiple documents, remove the lock from my suitcase, and hand over my backpack to be searched thoroughly. In fact, I had to remove my bag and coat to use the toilet before boarding the plane. But I don’t really blame the EL AL crew. Even with my innocent and hairless face, I was still a young man travelling completely alone to Israel for the first time. I must have come across as a suspicious character.

Everything else from that point on was pretty uneventful. But I did meet some interesting people here at the Rothberg International School, including a few Jewish Americans, a Chinese American, an Ivorian, a Nigerian and an old Frenchman who must be at least 60 years old (that’s lifelong learning!). Also, the staff conducted a tour of the Hebrew University campus, which I found quite astounding, with its spectacular view of Jerusalem and well-equipped facilities.

After the general orientation, the staff took all the students to the only shopping mall in Jerusalem in the evening so that we could shop for some basic necessities. As we approached the entrance of the mall, I spotted an armed guard in front of a metal detector. As I sighed at the prospect of having to go through security checks every time I want to enter a building for the next month, I realised that I have no right to complain. Such security measures are part and parcel of day-to-day life in Israel. Tension is the norm, be it between Israelis and Arabs or the ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews. And yet, the people here carry on with their lives — undaunted, undeterred, undismayed.

As Day One comes to a close, the week has come to an end too. I think it will take me some time to get used to the idea of Thursday being the last day of the week.

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