Be like a banana, the instructors said
First personA mom in freefall

Be like a banana, the instructors said

My son's going into the army soon. Who knows what he'll be doing then? Jumping out of a plane at 12,000 feet was something crazy I could do with him now. So I did.

It was Wednesday morning and Mattan, Leah, Niv and I made our way to Hof Habonim, near Zichron Yaakov in northern Israel.

We set out early so that we would be there by 11. We drove past Zichron and Faradis onto a muddy road towards Hof Habonim and found the parking lot for “Paradive.” We walked by a hangar with a smallish red plane; there were lots of old Israeli army planes nearby. We went into a caravan. They told us there would be a delay, so we went to a nearby kibbutz for coffee and croissant. Leah and I kept going to the bathroom, just one more time. We paid. They gave us a discount for IDF conscripts, even me. I’m 47. A mother of three.

So now it was time to get started. We watched a short five-minute movie about skydiving and then it really hit home what we were getting ready to do. One woman came in with her boyfriend. Mattan had overheard her talking on the telephone to her friend. Apparently her boyfriend had surprised her; she had no idea until she got here what she was about to do. A guy named Phillip from Australia was also with us.

We then had to suit up in colored overalls. I had to put everything away in my bag — glasses, rings. I took two Advil as well as some homeopathic anti-nausea medication. A man called me over and said “Let’s get ready.” I didn’t realize that he, Shimon, was my guy. He was a small man in his 50s. It seems like they pair you up with someone who is your size.

Shimon asked me how old I was. It certainly made me feel old. A bit later someone else asked me my age again. Mattan, my eldest, had asked me if I wanted to come do this along with him, and I’d thought, “Why not? You only live once.” Evidently, however, middle-aged moms are a little unusual here.

My main concern now was what to do with my Burt’s Bees Lip stuff. I figured that I’d just keep it and then just leave it on the plane.

Over the overalls we had all sorts of belts and buckles that had to be tightened. These belts would later be attached to the instructor.

The next stage was learning what to do. Basically, arms crossed to jump, to the side when going down in freefall, and holding on to the belt when parachuting down. We then lay on our stomachs and put our legs back. They said to “be like a banana.” In other words, when we were freefalling, to have our arms at right-angles and our legs pulled back, banana-shaped; that’s the best way to let the air take you, apparently. That was it. Training over.

We were then given gloves, hats which buckled under our necks with goggles attached, and “hamsavarim” — a kind of neck-warmer. We then watched the group before us coming down one by one. First there were the photographers/filmers and then the skydivers. And now it was our turn….

The red plane had just landed and it was time for us to get on board. The plane had no seats; we were meant to sit on the floor. We went in according to the opposite order of how we would jump. I didn’t know till afterwards that Mattan had asked to be first.

There were five of us first-timers, our five instructors and one photographer for Phillip. It was so expensive to have it filmed that we didn’t go for it. (That’s why the video here is of a different group that jumped with the same company.)

We sat in two rows with each instructor behind each first-timer. Me and Leah in the back, then Niv and Mattan, then Phillip. Mattan and his instructor were in front of me. I sat between Shimon’s legs. He then started to hook me up to him, as did all the other instructors to their jumpers. We were super close!

We then took off. Tiny plane, zooms up the runway. Very noisy. We put our goggles on. Shimon was saying something to me about timing and I told him that I had no idea what he was talking about. He tried again, but I was clueless.

I then realized that Mattan would be jumping first and me second. I don’t know what is worse: Mattan jumping out of a plane at 12,000 feet, or me doing it.

I had put both of our lives in the hands of people we had met 15 minutes ago

Mattan is now sitting on his instructor’s lap. A small door — more like a shuttered window — slides up and it is time for Mattan to go. His instructor sits with his legs out of the plane. Mattan is leaning his head on the instructor’s chest and his legs are between the instructor’s legs and then they are off. Gone into thin air. I think it was more terrifying watching my baby jump than the fact that I was getting ready to do the same thing. I had put both of our lives in the hands of people we had met 15 minutes ago.

I now have to sit in my instructor’s lap and we move to the edge, my head on his chest, my arms across my chest, and my legs tucked through his while sitting on the ledge. And we’re off. It took a couple of seconds to realize what I had just done and what I was doing. I convinced myself to just go with it, and be in the moment. So here I was, falling weightlessly through the sky, and not panicking at all.

We were still in the freefall stage and Shimon gave me a tiny parachute to hold. I had no idea what to do with it because this was not mentioned in the five-minute course we’d had on the ground. I felt fine but the tiny turns made me fell a little nauseous. We were above the coast facing towards the sea. It was beautiful. We were still falling. This lasted about 50 seconds, not that I was counting.

Then it was time for the parachute. I was most worried how it would feel to be pulled back up. I got ready and then, it was kind of a tug and we went up. It didn’t hurt at all.

No turns, please

Now it was altogether different. We were just gently floating down. Absolute silence, bar the sound of wind in the parachute. Shimon tried to do some fancy turns but it made feel dizzy, so I told him “no turns!”

Shimon was pointing out Haifa, Zichron, Hadera. He kept checking that I was doing okay. We chatted. I saw a few others from my group dotted in the blue sky, but I had no idea who was who.

I could see the ground coming closer and Shimon was starting to prepare me for landing. Most important was to keep your feet high in front. He does the landing and I need to land on my butt. Everyone else had already landed and we were coming close. Perfect landing. I start to get up, forgetting that I am still attached to Shimon, and he falls on top of me!

All the kids are there. We walk back to our starting point and take off all of our gear. The instructors make lots of jokes. Niv’s instructor asks him why he screamed the whole time. Not true. Lots of laughing.

Phillip had come on his own, and he had to talk about it with someone, so we all listened. He had done other crazy stuff like bungee diving already, but he loved this. We all took a few seconds to just come down from it all.

We got our bags from the office. They asked us if we had fun. We saw the next group getting ready and we drove away.

I keep trying to recapture that exact feeling of jumping out of the plane. It is really just being in that moment and not thinking about anything else. The only thing that can barely even come close to the physical feeling is an extreme roller coaster. Like when you are at the top and then you drop but your stomach has been left behind.

We’d freefalled for about 50 seconds, and then floated back to earth for another seven-eight minutes. I would do it again for sure. I was never scared for my life; it was just having the guts to do it. I think the anticipation was scarier than actually doing it.

I have taken a bit of Mattan’s thunder away. When he tells his friends that he jumped, they think it is cool. But when he says he went with his mom, they can’t get over that I did it too. I loved doing something crazy like this with Mattan. I wanted to do this crazy thing with him because, in a few weeks, he’ll be in the army, probably in a front-line unit. I wanted to share this unique experience with him.

(Some of the names in this piece have been changed.)


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