As it turns out, he is Shmuel A., the cousin of our friend Malkie A. who sold us our house in Englewood 9 years ago. Small world Jewish Geography strikes again. He is a volunteer for Americans and Canadians in Israel where he meets the new olim (immigrants) on morning flights into Ben Gurion airport. His father did this for many years before him and he has taken over the job since his father's passing.
I am worried about Spot now, and ask Shmuel if we can retrieve the dog before we proceed with our paperwork. He says No, we can't go down to the baggage area until we complete our paperwork, and besides, he assures us from his many years of experience that the dog is being taken care of and is fine. He says about 60 percent of new olim from the United States bring dogs and many get hysterical when told they can't see their dog immediately. Fortunately, I am above this and am mostly worried what I might have to do if Spot has messed in his kennel. But, 'Que Sera Sera', remember?
We are taken down to passport processing where instead of going through the usual line we are expedited through the airline crew windows. While we are waiting for our passports to be processed and stamped Shmuel points out the ATM-like machines on the side of the hall. People who carry Israeli passports can register for biometric processing and not have to wait online when going through passport control. This reminds me that Israel has more high-tech start-ups than all other countries in the world combined, except for the US, many in the area of security.
After our US passports are stamped we are on our way to the Ministry of Absorption to get our initial papers. I am delighted when I find we have a direct line to the Ministry to let them know we are coming. The only thing better than a direct line to an Israeli Ministry is a direct line to G-d!
The only thing better than a direct line to an Israeli Ministry is a direct line to G-d
A short elevator ride and walk later, we are seated in front of the Absorption Ministry agent who guides us through our paper work. He issues us our Certificate of Immigration, which makes us official Olim Chadashim, New Immigrants, a term that always elicits a "B'ruchim Ha'baim" (Blessed are those who come) when announced to Israelis. As it turns out, he himself immigrated to Israel from France in the early 1990s. He tells us that during the height of the Russian immigration in the '90s and '00s the office processed over 3,000 new immigrants a week. The numbers are now only a fraction of that but the Ministry of Absorption office is always open at the airport 24 hours a day, 6 days a week, closing 1 hour before Shabbat and opening an hour after (Jewish holidays excepted, too, of course). So, you can make Aliyah any time of the day or night, any day of the week you can get to Israel.
We receive 2500 shekels in cash (about $500), the first of our immigration benefits, which continue throughout the first seven months and then at a reduced rate for the next year. We will also get a free taxi ride to our destination in Mitzpe Ramon, a long two hours from the airport. The agent says that some cab driver will be made very happy today. (My daughter tells us that in the old days they used to just give you a bus token and send you on your way. I'm glad the old days are gone. That would be tough with seven suitcases, one dog with kennel, wife, and many carry-ons.)
The agent and Shmuel accompany us down stairs to the baggage claim. This is the best time to be there. Everyone has long since claimed their bags and left. The only bags circulating are ours, and we quickly claim them and place them on carts. But first our attention turns to Spot whom we see in his kennel at the end of the baggage hall. I expected to have to seek him out, so I am massively relieved when I see him waiting for us. He is dry and clean and no worse for the wear. We go outside, walk the dog, and wait for the taxi that will take us to Mitzpe Ramon.