Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

Prince Edward, the Great Gatsby and me! Zelda Harris

Having just returned in high spirits from a trip to my birthplace London, I feel that I must share some of my experiences. As an Israeli travelling abroad, who is also battered daily with email from all and sundry about anti-Semitism and the Muslim threat to Jewish life overseas, I have to admit that I did not experience even one trace of anti-Semitism where I was…

The shocking attack in London by crazed Muslem converts who literally slaughtered a young English military drummer Lee Rigby in broad daylight heightened my senses to the present political climate in Great Britain.

Although their daily lives seemingly consist of worries about the economic situation, the stagnant attitudes of their leaders, the football and the weather which is inclement by any standards, there’s an ambivalence about the influx of muslims and eastern Europeans. One only finds rising passion amongst Jews who are paranoid or gentiles who declare that “all these people are sponging on the state.” Or conversely ”they are doing the jobs that Brits refuse to do”

The PM  David Cameron however, undeterred by the  horrific killing and  the immediate attack on a mosque, plus demonstrations by the right wing EDL took himself off to Italy. On the day of the memorial to the young soldier who left a wife and two year old, he and his family were observed sunbathing on the Italian Riviera.

The royal princes were seemingly quiet over the affair but I discovered to my delight that the mentor to the future king of England Prince William, is none other than the popular former Ambassador to Israel, Sir David Manning.

My son and his family live in the midst of Hertfordshire which is north of London and there one does feel as though the smiling, well behaved, totally white skinned if not rosy pink, residents are living in a time warp.

Together, we attended a bar mitzvah last Shabbat at the Masorti synagogue  in St Albans. We were informed  by members of the CST who are responsible for the security and safety of British Jews wherever they may gather, that there was a high alert all over the country especially in areas where immigrants and natives live in close proximity.

On the Sunday we went to the   local church “open garden” as my daughter in law who is a horticulturist, insisted. The mostly middle aged crowd, mulling around the exquisite plants and foliage or sitting on the lawns sipping tea…of course and eating homemade creamy sponge cakes and scones, were talking in hushed voices. A few well behaved if bored, children reminded me that there is a future generation. One does not see a predominance of pregnant women or parents with small children at every event as we do here.

England with its flashes of sun, grey clouds and rain spots that soon turned into torrents, is always nostalgic for me. Having sojourned in Israel most of my life I admit to being excited and enchanted by the greenery, varied and beautiful architecture and the general  air of politeness and order, which after Israel is refreshing.

I take leave of my family and go up to London by train to stay with friends in Hampstead. Only when we get to Watford Station do I meet multi ethnic Britain. All the passengers who get on the train beforehand, are seemingly native brits.

Valerie is my oldest friend, in fact the only person in the world who knew not only my parents but also my grandparents and has recently visited me in Israel. Her life could not be more different, from mine.

She and her husband Alan have lived in the same house for over 50 years. Her interests are women’s clubs, art and theatre. She also is a keen bridge player and has some involvement with children and grandchildren but not close to that, which we have in Israel.

Her planning of my time with her is meticulous and she greets me with a frown.” I have a problem, I had pre booked to go to the ballet without taking you into account. As it’s sold out, you are to go instead of me, with my friend”

“No you must go as planned” I said, reverting to my English self, at that moment.

After persuading her to “have another go” at securing a returned ticket , she convinces someone at the end of a phone, who finds one..

We drive towards Sadlers Wells in Islington. I peering out of the window trying to make out despite the heavy rain, the passing scenes. I know the area so well   having run a B and B in Kings Cross, after returning to UK in the seventies, with 3 kids and starting life anew .Approaching the theatre we see   a row of policemen in their yellow road safety vests, blocking any attempt to park or download outside.

Slightly damp from the walk from the car park we enter the wine bar in the   theatre foyer.There is an air of excitement  and a bit of pushing and jostling but everyone receives their glass of wine or hot coffee, with a please and thank you. Again I was in the England of my child hood. No multi culturism here.

Still blissfully ignorant   we took our seats and then the national anthem “God Save the Queen” was played. Now everyone was on their feet, whispers “Prince Edward and his wife are here”. Indeed they were sitting in the balcony just above our heads and where by chance Valerie had secured the extra seat.

The curtains opened on to an exquisite set on Long Island, to music of the 20’s   and one of the most delightful, stylish of all ballets I have seen, was played out.

We were transported into another age. From Charleston to classics, the art nouveau of the sets, the gowns which draped the bodies of the female dancers the glitter of the sparkling beads, wafting of ribbons. The windows in the background were also  mirrors which reflected the dancers, so an effect which resembled that of fairground mirrors which distort the image, was created, adding to the magic.

The Northern Ballet Company which boasts the best dance actors in  the world was only performing there for a few days. Where it went after that I know not but, if it’s on anywhere I suggest you catch it. Who knows maybe it will even come to Israel?Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel the Great Gatsby had been brought back to life in an inimitable way and it’s ironic that the film of the book, which opened in London the same week was panned by all and sundry.

I returned home on an ELAL flight, I had purchased the ticket on a low season deal. I could not fault the service which I believe is their attempt to salvage their image.

My first”Israeli disappointment” was when waiting to board the plane 10 passengers were sought, to  volunteer to put their hand luggage in the hold, otherwise the  hand luggage of the last ten people checking in,would have to be forcibly taken before the flight would take off.For at least 20 minutes no one responded and I looked around to try to understand the selfishness of those around me.

Also on landing I notice that we don’t clap hands as we did in the early years, to thank the pilot for getting us home safely!

We have changed as a people, I am sorry to say.

This morning the hustle and bustle of preparing for Shabbat, I am home. I would not change my life for one anywhere else in the world.

I speak to a young woman from whom I am buying some decorations for the birthdays we are celebrating tonight. She looks at me sadly….frightened.  ”We are in terrible trouble here you know”

I imagine she is referring to the coming recession.

“There’s going to be a war” she says.

Maybe that’s the reason we have changed,as a people?.

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.