In the spring of 1966, I was planning my summer vacation when I was unceremoniously informed by my mother that I was going to go with my grandparents to Israel for the entire summer via a cruise ship. I was instantly scandalized that a decision I had no part in making and which affected me so directly was made without even the levelheadedness of my father’s intervention. Relations between my mother and myself were poor — to put it mildly — but to send me off to a foreign land that would take a month of travel in order to arrive there? Outrageous!
After pleading my case before my father who reminded me that our household was a “benevolent dictatorship” and thus I had no say in the matter, I was packed off to Israel in May. The images of me standing on the deck of the ship looking sullen and indignant and my mother looking triumphant are still with me.
After a several-week cruise on a Greek oceanliner that meant Greek sailors oggled (pinched) me for weeks, we landed in Haifa. I remember thinking that the sun hurt my eyes it was so bright and the landscape was nothing like that of Virginia and I decided to hate it. My grandfather told me that we were going to stay in Tel Aviv and reassured me that the city had beaches, which I loved — as long as they were adjacent to the Chesapeake Bay.
Then he told me that when we arrived in the city, “some of your relatives are coming by to meet you.” He wasn’t kidding. At least two hundred people showed up at my cousin’s tidy but small apartment building to say shalom and to wish us a good trip. I met my legendary cousin Yehuda, referred to endearingly by the family as “the troublemaker”. I had no idea why this made my family members laugh so much. I found out why many years later.
During our welcoming party, I was introduced to a man whom my cousin Yehuda called his “boss” where he worked. This also made everyone highly amused. I did not have to wait several years to find out why. Yehuda’s boss was Yitzhak Rabin. It seems my cousin Yehuda was one of his favorite officers. It only partially explained his “troublemaker” status. There was also something to do with the “Amir Farouk,” the “Maoz,” and the fact that at Rabin’s order, my cousin and his buddies blew up the flagship of the Egyptian navy, which had commenced the hostilities between the mortal enemies ten years hence.
One day, we traveled to Jerusalem, then still a rather dangerous place for a tour, with “Yitzhak” who had taken a shine to my grandmother and offered to act as our tour guide. At that time, the Jordanians had a sentry post which was level with the top of HaKotel. Every so often, they would shoot an unarmed tourist. Rabin told us to be quiet so as not to anger the Jordanian soldier. For some odd reason, this made me angry and I started to object loudly. The next thing I knew, the Jordanian pointed his rifle directly at my nose. I was incensed. Rabin then had to physically drag me away from the rifle’s range. In his booming voice he exclaimed: “I told you that you had to be quiet here! You almost got us all shot!”
A few weeks later, Rabin was showing us the Negev when he noticed a Bedouin camp nearby. I had never before seen people living in such abject poverty who maintained their sense of pride and dignity. Rabin approached the sheikh and they had a friendly chat in Arabic. The next thing I knew, the conversation got highly animated with gestures flying between them and both of them yelling. All of a sudden, the sheikh pointed his silver-ringed finger at me and I saw Rabin nodding his head. He then came over to us and said: “You are a very lucky girl! That man over there wants to buy you. He is offering me a very good price in camels, horses and goats so I am leaving you here!”
I started to cry hysterically and he then boomed his amusement by saying: “Spoiled American girl, didn’t I tell you to be quiet at HaKotel!”
I still think of that terrible day in November of 1995 when I had to call my grandmother and tell her the news of her “favorite tour guide.” Thankfully, CNN had beaten me to it and she was already crying by the time I reached her. After she died the following year, I found a photograph of Rabin among her possessions in his four-star Army Chief of Staff “Rav-Aluf” uniform.