A Tale of Three Airports.
December, 1992 – I will never forget the first time I saw Eretz Yisrael. After a long journey flying over the Atlantic, there was a break in the clouds that revealed bright green, verdant fields dappled in sunshine, looking for all it was worth like the proverbial land of milk and honey. I had never been particularly connected to Judaism, my Jewish identity or Israel, but my heart welled up as I peered out the window. I am not sure what I was expecting, but it truly looked magical.
As we landed and taxied up to the terminal, it was as if we had stepped back in time to the 50’s. There were no jetways at all. Instead, we walked down a portable stairway and got on a bus that took us to the terminal. In some ways, it seemed appropriate — harking back to the Israel of the War of Independence. This was country that had pulled itself up by its bootstraps and wanted to retain that memory.
April, 2005 – Reaching landfall over Israel was still exciting. Looking through the window, it seemed that there was a large superhighway that hadn’t been there the last time. This time when we landed, there was no portable staircase, but instead, a typical jetway as seen in any modern airport. We had arrived at Terminal 3 – Ben Gurion’s brand new showcase. We walked off into a sparkling state of the art airport. I was awed as we walked down The Connector (the long corridor from the Airside building to the Landside building) greeted in royal fashion with sparkling ceiling-to-floor glass windows on one side and beautiful granite and Jerusalem stone on the other. It was a (literal) shining example of the progress and success of this little nation. Israel was now a first-world country.
February, 2013 – Flying in over the Mediterranean has become old hat. Highway 1 running past the airport to Tel Aviv looks crowded with cars streaming in and out of this city, just like any other in the Western world. But this time, as I disembark from the plane and get through the jetway, the first thing I notice is that the gray carpet looks worn and dirty. Not quite shabby, but close. And as we walk through the corridors, I can’t help but observe that all of the windows are dirty. They look as though they haven’t been washed since the last time I was here. Perhaps, this too is a symbol of being a first-world country in this decade: government has no money to spend to maintain its infrastructure. Whatever the reason for it, it makes Israel now seem like a country in decline – or perhaps one that just doesn’t care what impression it made on those coming to visit it. Frankly, it was strikingly disappointing and depressing.