I remember my father’s passion to bring his family to Israel in 1974 even though he had to take a bank loan to do so. Was it reckless or irresponsible for the sake of a trip to Israel? Could the money have been spent on something more necessary? Possibly. Maybe. But that was his dream and if we don’t at times, live for the moment and fulfill our dreams, then what’s our true purpose of existing? It was also his dream to see the land and show it to us, in the hope that one day we would all live there. He never made it, but we did. And somewhere in the process, he managed to instill in us the same passion and dreams of living in a Jewish Homeland.
He grew up in very different times. Born in Poland in 1932, his mother died when he was a baby and his father is the subject of much internal family discussion. He was brought to England by his Grandparents around 1934 and raised partly by them and partly by the Norwood Jewish Orphanage. The only other family that he had was his mother’s sister and her three children, his cousins. It was his mother’s sister Elka, who had seen the writing on the wall and had sensed the growing tension in Poland. She was the first to leave. After emigrating to Pontyprydd, Wales in the 1920’s, she had married a man named Sam and had three children; Sylvia, Barbara and Howard. Once Elka’s parents moved to London she brought her children frequently to visit where they formed a bond with their Polish cousin, Naphtali, my father.
Then, quite suddenly, Sam died around 1948. Elka made a decision to pack up everything and move her three children to the newly formed State of Israel. My father begged her to take him with but it was too much for her. From the moment they left for Israel, my father’s dream was that someday he would be reunited with them in Israel. A dream that wasn’t realized until our vacation in Israel in 1974.
As a four year old I remember the plane journey. Five hours that felt like forever. The airline stewardesses gave us cardboard travel games to play with — a far cry from in-flight entertainment. My parents, both smokers, had us all sitting in the smoking section of the plane. I think I may have thrown up on the flight, but it’s a little hazy. Then, suddenly, as if in a dream, we were there. I remember walking out of the airport and feeling the warm night air. It was the first time I’d ever felt that. I also remember the palm trees lining the path as we walked out into the night. And then, even before we saw them, we heard them. Sylvia, Barbara and Howard, who were now Sara, Leah and David, were standing waiting for us. A flood of emotions filled the air as everyone started to cry from the happiness of the reunion. Hugs, kisses and more hugs and kisses, followed by formal introductions. We were there. Finally after more than 25 years, my father was with the only people he had ever known as family.
Now he had his own family, my mother, my brother and me. Would we move here? Would we live with our cousins? Would I have to go back to school in England? I don’t remember thinking these thoughts at the time, but I’m sure they must have gone through my head.
The holiday lasted for three weeks and even though I was young I still remember snippets from this vacation. My father tried to drive a tractor, we picked fresh oranges, I went on a big monster slide in Jerusalem and we all visited the Kotel. We played with our new cousins every day and we were sad to leave.
The Israel of 1974 is certainly not the Israel of 2015 in so many ways. But I think that a deep imprint was left on me and this just happened to be the beginning of my tumultuous relationship with Israel. It wasn’t until 26 years later when I finally moved to Israel from London at the end of 1999. So much has happened in that time. A wedding, two children, a divorce, another wedding and another child.
My father passed away in 1982 when I was just 12 years old. He was just four years older than I am now. After all these years, not a day passes without thinking about him and wondering if he would also be living here. I also wonder how things would have been different if he would have been here with us, but that’s another story for another time.