Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

Our customs..their customs!

Just listening to Guetta and Margot on Channel One radio, discussing the different customs of Jews from varying backgrounds at Pesach… Every story or legend differs depending on who is telling it. Call it pride call it bias it is one of the fascinating things about living in Israel.

I was born and raised in England where Jews were subject to varying shades or waves, of anti-semitism and where being “different” was not only colour of skin!
When I was I growing up there was hardly anyone of colour other than white, around! In my public school, North London Collegiate where I was a scholarship child, there were a few English-Jewish girls but mostly from Berlin in Germany, which I later learned had the highest standards of education per se. So of course Jews were different ,the stereotype, dark hair, dark skin, dietary fads and so on. Incidentally the German Jewish girls were all academically brilliant but,duffers at sport!

There was one girl who stood out she was Indian. Her name was Chaya Bhattacharya.

They said that she was a Princess.

Other friends who used to come to my “secret squirrel” group which took place in our garage as my father was forced to give up using his car during the War,had parents who were anti-semitic! “I must not tell my Dad I went to a Jewish home”…said one.

In 1950 I believe it was after Enoch Powell had been strident in not wanting to accept “coloured” people, the exit of the British from their colonies, changed the status quo in the UK.

\I think one of the fascinating but also annoying things about life in Israel is that as much as we attempt to be one nation with shared ideas and principles based on our religion or the ten commandments, we are in fact tribal.

It’s not easy for immigrants(olim) from possibly every corner of the globe, to feel totally accepted by other groups in Israel. Intermarriage helps but actually changes nothing. We are what we are. Lucy Mandelstam, my dearest friend in Israel was a survivor of the Holocaust she was born in Vienna. When we met on Moshav Habonim near Haifa,in the early fifties, I only wanted to share everything that I received from my family abroad, with her. Although she was two years older than I we had both survived World War Two, in opposite ways. I an objective of Hitler who wanted to conquer the Western World, and to bomb Europe into submission and destroy the Jewish people all over Europe. She a Jew from Vienna a survivor of HELL. Lucy was known as the most elegant woman on the Meshek(communal farm) she always looked perfect because she, as opposed to all the other chaverot(female members)ironed her clothes! She was the most elegant and cultured person I have ever known.

I was fortunate this year to celebrate Seder night in Egypt. For me it was almost a dream come true. I had been there only once prior, to signing of the peace agreement between Sadat and Begin. Then, we were a bus full of Westerners belonging to the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel. We slept under the stars and our food was prepared by the mother of the bus driver who, was also the tour guide!

This time we a large group of family members stayed in Egypt, at Barakei Camp.
We had taken Matzot with us and I had baked Pesach biscuits as I always do, but in fact almost no one in our group was interested. So much for the tradition! We were on holiday and pancakes were offered with our breakfast, although actually were available all day! Since the members of our family ranged from around six to…? Well I am a Safta Rabba, but the only one, to join this tour. In fact I think the only one in the family! It is not my place to give my opinion.

However since I was a newly-wed 19 year old when I first arrived in Israel and almost immediately plunged into the hardest rationing period of my life, I just cannot bear waste of food. My principle is eat as much as you want but do not take more than that. One can always take “seconds” as we used to call it.
We were one of two groups of Israelis who were determined to celebrate the first night of Seder. The Hotel was most accommodating.

In fact I have nothing but praise for the heartwarming attention from the all male staff to us all.

Tragically, on our return journey home we heard news of an appalling terror attack in Tel Aviv on Charles Clore Boulevard. That was my first “pang” I knew the Clore family who were dedicated supporters of Israel. Secondly the “terrorist” was from Kfar Kassem where I have very good friends. Added to that, some of the victims were from my country of birth!

So, yes we live in “difficult times” identifying both with perpetrators and victims and some holding beliefs which are left of center. What does it all mean?. We are all human beings…God given…and this land is central to us….or it it?

About the Author
Zelda Harris first came to Israel 1949, aged 18. After living through the hardships of the nascent state, she returned to England in 1966. She was a founding member of the Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry. In 1978, she returned with her family to Israel and has been active in various spheres of Israeli Society since. Together with the late Chaim Herzog, she founded CCC for Electoral Reform, was the Director of BIPAC in Israel, and a co-founder of Metuna, the Organisation for Road Safety, which received the Speaker of Knesset Quality of Life Award for saving lives on the roads and prevention of serious injury. She is now a peace activist, blogger for Times of Israel and is writing her life story.