It was September 1984. A Levels were done, Tina Turner was asking what love had to do with it and I was leaving my home and family to go to Israel for a whole year. But, unlike Paul Simon, I was not in the company of strangers. I was part of a group from FZY (Federation of Zionist Youth) with three close friends and two others with whom I had shared a ‘getting to know you’ weekend. On this weekend one of the “others”, unbeknownst to the madrichim, had brought along a bottle of whiskey. All for team spirit, I happily joined in its consumption. (Well to be honest, I led it.) At seventeen I had drunk plenty of cider, I’d had Bacardi and coke, rum and blackcurrant, vodka and orange but whiskey had never been my tipple. A few swigs and I didn’t feel great. A few more and I went for a little lie down. The next thing I knew I was being rudely awoken by the madrichim, blindfolded and shoved, along with my soberer weekenders, into the back of a van. We were driven for what seemed like hours and finally dumped in the middle of a wide open space. With my blindfold off, my predicament was beginning to dawn on me. I was on Hampstead Heath at 3am somehow managing to be both drunk and hung-over. And, together with my team and our instructions, I still had to ‘orienteer’ my way to the finish line. It was not my finest hour, but I came through it and, for neither the first nor the last time, I vowed never to drink again.
My year away would be comprised of 4 parts: 5 months studying on the Machon Le’Madrichim Hutz L’Aretz at Kiryat Moriah in Jerusalem, 1 month on an FZY/Young Judea Kibbutz near Eilat, 1 month on a Moshav and the remainder of the time working on youth projects in Ashkelon. I had floated in and out of youth movements while growing up, been to a Jewish school until the age of 12, visited Israel quite a few times and always felt a strong sense of Jewishness. I was going to be fine…. ish.
I began to worry about my suitability for the first part of the year, the studying, when I purchased THE book off our reading list. The book was called “The Jew in the Modern World.” It sounded like my sort of thing, and would probably include stuff like making sure you find a nice Jewish partner and how to find kosher food when you are travelling abroad, you know the sort of thing. However, on struggling with the preface, I began to panic. I’d studied languages and English literature in school and didn’t really get involved in political discussions. I blame it on my mum. When a political candidate had knocked on our door when I was growing up, my dad would invite them in and chat happily about their policies. What did my mum do? She hid in the toilet. Now what kind of an example is that?
I would leave the preface and get on to the essays…hmm “The Harbingers of Political and Economic Change.” Well, that wasn’t really my thing so I’d skip those ones and see what the next section held, maybe there’d be something on Jewish humour or cooking for festivals. But alas, it only got worse. Who could understand this stuff? I was going to be with other 18 year olds, not crusty 60 year old professors.
So, I wasn’t going to be the most intellectual of participants but I could hold my own in other areas. My musical knowledge, for example, was extensive and I had followed the pop charts for as long as I could remember. I knew that there was no “the” before Eurythmics (a pet hate of Annie Lennox’es) And, I dared to be different. No Michael Jackson or Duran Duran for me – I liked Genesis and Hall & Oates. I was hard core.
And then there were my clothes. Well, actually I kind of fell between two stools there. I didn’t blindly follow fashion, which would’ve been a “cool” point had I have had my own sense of fashion. I was, am and always will be, a jeans and t-shirt kind of a gal. At the time I didn’t think that anyone on my year course would care about how they looked as they would be too busy finding themselves. Little did I know that it was all wrapped up together. How naive I was.
Nowadays a year out or “Gap Year” is no big deal. If you don’t go to somewhere as obscure as the Galapagos Islands or Burkina Faso you’re a bit of a lightweight. But in the eighties Israel was exotic, an adventure extraordinaire. I couldn’t wait for the freedom, to taste the untasted and to cross new roads. (That is not a metaphor, I really hadn’t been allowed to cross roads.)
It was September 1984. My bags were packed and I was ready to go.