When Pastor Ribamar Araujo Ladislau arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport this afternoon, Israel’s tourism VIPs turned out to welcome him with flowers and fanfare. Ladislau, who is leading a group of Evangelical pilgrims from Sao Paolo, was Israel’s tourist No. 3,000,000 of the year (or No. 3,000,001 depending on which you believe: the certificate Ladislau received or the sign at the airport).
Our tourism minister with the unpronounceable last name may not be able to coordinate signs and certificates, but he clearly believes that size matters: For months Stas Misezhnikov had been predicting a bumper crop of tourists in 2010, and Ladislau was his man, breaking the record set in 2008.
I like to think that coming to Israel fulfills a dream not only for the minister but for the pastor and his flock. For what is travel if it is not the fulfillment of a dream?
Last night my husband, Shraga, and I listened to a recording we made of our dream in 1970, when we used to communicate with his sister and brother-in-law in the United States by sending cassette tapes. The quality of most of the recording was very poor, but one part was loud and clear.
“If I finish my thesis,” I heard myself saying, “Shraga says we can take a year off and travel around the world.”
“Yes,” Shraga interjected, “we can bum around the world.”
“We don’t have to sleep in the streets,” I retorted. “We can rent out our apartment and we can buy a van and travel from country to country.”
Then I added, “If we run out of money we can wait on tables or wash dishes, or I can teach Hebrew or English, depending on the country, and Shraga can fix cars.”
All of this would have aroused mere nostalgia for a youthful dream, if we weren’t struck by the irony of it. The thesis never got finished, and we never took a year off to travel, but we did go on long trips around the US, seeing more national parks than most people ever do, and we were also lucky enough to make shorter trips to many other countries. Yet it never seemed enough.
On our last long trip to the US, this fall, as if we had not come up with the idea 40 years ago, we talked endlessly about how we would buy a van and fix it up and travel, not around the world, but from state to state.
But even all that going and coming would not be enough to fulfill my dreams. There would have to be a story, too. For what is travel if one doesn’t return with a story and an insight, like the traveler “from an antique land” in Shelley’s sonnet “Ozymandias”?
Stas Misezhnikov has his story. But will Pastor Ladislau go home with a story beyond his being Israel’s record-breaking tourist No. 3,000,000 or 3,000,001?
Text copyright 2010 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.