It was two years after the ’67 war. I was visiting my widowed paternal grandmother, aunt and her family in Haifa, Israel during summer break from college. They had been living in Israel since 1948. My immediate family immigrated to America a year later. I was never sure what prompted them to go West and not East. Perhaps it was my mother’s desire to be with her surviving sisters who had moved to Brooklyn.
The moment our El Al plane approached Ben Gurion airport and the sun-filled Israeli shoreline appeared, I felt a sense of awe. Even in Brooklyn where it was said nearly a million Jews resided we lived reserved lives, keeping our identity to ourselves. Here, in Israel, it seemed, everyone was Jewish. There were Jewish airline workers, Jewish custom officials, Jewish policeman.
I stayed with my family in Haifa. My grandmother who had survived World War One, World War Two and several Israeli wars, was prematurely aged. I would hear her walking around the apartment in the middle of the night, agitated. My aunt comforted her with sweet murmurings and caresses until she was able to return to bed, but she would soon rise again. I tried to imagine her as the beautiful blonde, green-eyed wit that my father had described. She had been independent, far-seeing, wise.
A cousin soon arrived from the Untied States to join me and my aunt put us on daily buses heading toward Jerusalem and Masada and other places. We began to learn about Israel.
One day, I met my aunt’s neighbor’s son. He was 20, about 6’3″ and looked like a figure in an Egyptian wall painting. He had blue-black hair and black eyebrows arching over warm, almond shaped brown eyes. He spoke no English and my Hebrew was limited. Somehow, we managed to communicate.
He took me for a ride on his scooter. It was something I would never have done in the United States. One night, we swam in a bay near Haifa. A silken moon reflected on the ebony waters.
The next day, I telephoned my parents and said “I’m not coming back.’ They listened and then they said “We don’t think so.”
I argued. I said I could finish college in Israel.
They said “No.”
Years later, my Israeli cousin told me that that the young man had fallen in the ’73 Yom Kippur war.