Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

Getting Away From It All

Paphos Bay (painting by Dorothea Shefer-Vanson)

The only trouble is – you can’t get away from it all. Not if you’re Jewish. Not if you live in Israel. Not if you’re in any way connected to the world.

For the first time in my life I did not celebrate Passover in any shape or form. We did not have a Seder as we usually do because our children and grandchildren were with ‘the other side.’ We were not invited to anyone else’s Seder, and were not inclined to attach ourselves to any of those on offer in one form or another, whether for payment or as a charitable act. Although I grew up in an orthodox home in the UK but have ceased to subscribe to that aspect of my Jewishness, and my OH grew up in Israel, where the festivals are celebrated as a matter of course, we decided to take ourselves off to the neighbouring island of Cyprus for the eight days of the festival. I have no trouble breaking the rules, though my OH took along boxes of matza to avoid eating bread, but of course there was no question of getting food that was ‘kosher for Pesach,’ or kosher at all.

There wasn’t a single empty seat on the short flight from Israel to Cyprus, indicating that we were not alone in our desire to get away from the heavy atmosphere that descends on Israel each time there is a religious festival, and even more so since the fateful day last October, when yet another religious festival was the occasion for yet another violent assault on an unsuspecting and unprotected public. In the months since then the fate of those who were murdered, fell in battle or are still being held as hostages hangs like a heavy cloud over the daily life of everyone in Israel.

Our hotel on the beautiful seaside resort of Paphos was comfortable, the staff and the other people we encountered were friendly and the weather was fine. Altogether it was the perfect holiday for relaxing and enjoying the good things of life. But there was no getting away from the fact that just across the water daily life in Israel continued to be haunted by the spectre of what happened there just six months earlier as negotiations for a ceasefire and the release of the hostages continued. Even when the news is reported in Greek (though the TV in our room also showed one of the Israeli channels as well as the BBC), it’s impossible to avoid scenes of devastation, clips of pro-Palestinian demonstrations at universities across the USA or recognize the names of Israel’s prime minister and other politicians.

When one of the waiters in our hotel noticed that my OH was eating matza he started talking to us in Hebrew, and went on to insist that everyone in Cyprus loves Israelis, that they all speak Hebrew and that they are waiting eagerly for the return of tourists from Israel.

As we know, the Cypriots have their own problems, and the island is still divided (not amicably) between its Turkish and Greek population, with a militarised border between the two segments. The Turkish part in the north is still allied with Turkey and uses that country’s currency. The Greek segment is now in the European Union and uses the euro. The enmity towards Turkey, which sent troops to invade Cyprus in 1964, resulting in a conflict which ultimately caused the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Cypriots,  might help to explain the affinity the Greek Cypriots feel towards Israel.

The return flight to Israel carried a planeload of tired but relaxed Israelis who had benefited from the brief respite from the tense atmosphere of their homeland by being in a country which has managed to surmount an adverse situation and create a solution which, while not perfect, enables them to continue to live in some semblance of peace. We can only hope that somehow, some day we will find ourselves in a similar situation.

About the Author
I was born and brought up in England. I am a graduate of the LSE and the Hebrew University. I have lived in Israel since 1964. I am an experienced translator, editor and writer.
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