Damn 10 years of growing up brings you a lot of perspective. Since Alan died that night in Washington DC my life has changed to the point whereby if Alan suddenly came back I’m not sure he’d even recognise me. I’m married now, I have a child, I write. A lot. I’m heavier than I was, have more lines on my face than I did, I’m a homeowner with a set of middle class priorities I would have laughed at 10 years ago. When he knew me.
Yet here I am. And here he is not.
Alan never got married or had any children and he was never especially interested in writing.
I remember when I first met the guy. On a BBYO event in my 15th year called DLTC. I forget what the initials stood for. It was the ultimate leadership training event the movement offered, places reserved only for the kids who were going to move forward into leadership positions, which back then seemed to make us feel very important.
I saw this guy get on the bus. He already had heavy black stubble, which annoyed me because I couldn’t even grow any wispy fluff on my baby face. I’d already been in the movement for two years and he was new to it, someone told me his name was Alan. He was wearing a black leather jacket and had a guitar. I saw a rival. This was MY youth movement dammit I knew straight away I didn’t like him.
So naturally by the end of the week we were friends. After a while it got so that when I wanted to know what my plans for the weekend were I’d call him and ask what we were doing. He always had something planned. That’s just how he was.
When he was the President of Pinner BBYO he changed it. He revived it. He made it cool for people to go. I don’t know how he did it. But he did and he made it look effortless. And that was it, that was him in a nutshell all the way on. The only difference between his Pinner BBYO and his UJS was the size and complexity of the work he was doing. The results were always the same. He worked at BICOM and he worked for the coexistence trust. By his mid 20s he had the phone numbers of world leaders and diplomats saved in his mobile phone.
But these are just achievements and while it’s nice to know that he was successful they make any account of the man read like a CV. Now he’s a bit of a legend in the Jewish community in the UK but he was a real person, with real human traits and a real personality not just a list of accomplishments.
When he died it was the weirdest feeling. I didn’t feel angry or even upset, just like there was a hole opened up in my life. My first thought was who am I going to call up on a Friday night? Afterwards I pondered the bizarre fact that I had completed my army service without a scratch whereas he was killed in one of the most affluent neighbourhoods in the entire world.
There’s a lesson right there in the way this world works. But I don’t know what it is.
When we were 18 and spending our gap year with BBYO in Israel he told me (and everyone else) that he was going to be the President of UJS. He even told the President of UJS when he came out to visit us.
And it was the same there as BBYO. He worked his way up to it starting with the Birmingham Jewish Society. Making it bigger, making it better, organising things there. You have to understand that with Alan he just set himself goals and then went about achieving them. He never considered the possibility that he wouldn’t hit them.
That’s a lesson he taught me. The real battle is knowing what you want, once you know that getting it is just a matter of making the right moves. He set his sights on being a politician, I set mine on being a soldier in the IDF. We both got what we wanted but after my discharge from the army I was adrift, bereft of goals. Alan was never bereft of goals, he was always thinking of the next one and going after it.
In pursuance of his latest goal I remember wandering around a council estate in London with him and Lightman giving out Labour Party leaflets. The leaflets bore his name and called on people to vote for him to be on the council. I wasn’t even a Labour supporter, I just went because he asked me to. When we returned to his car he had a flat tire and no spare (which was typical). We spent hours sitting in his car waiting for the AA. I had some choice words for him about his flourishing political career at that moment…
Did he really have to stand for council when he knew he wasn’t going to win?
Did he really have schlap us out there to give out leaflets for a campaign even the local Labour Party knew was going to be unsuccessful?
While we sat there in his car waiting, him the ever cheerful politician and me the cynical wordsmith he explained that once he had lost this campaign he could expect to be given another opportunity, one he was more likely to win. And then be closer to becoming an MP. And that was him, always plotting the next step on the journey.
But that was then and this is now and what I do know but didn’t really understand until his funeral was that as much as he was a great friend to me he managed to be a great friend to everybody else as well. And one thing I can be certain of is that I’m not the only one spending this anniversary reminiscing about times had with Alan Senitt.
I don’t know how he managed it but I do know that as much as I wish he was still around (probably with an office pretty close to Downing St) there are so many other people wishing exactly the same thing.
A part of me can’t escape the feeling of embarrassment that comes from knowing he’s been gone a long time and I shouldn’t really still be missing him. But the thing is that on this Friday night 10 years after he died I still find myself sitting here wishing I could pick up the phone and call my friend and say “what are we doing tomorrow?”