As the school year wound down for me in the summer of 1966, I came home one day from school to find a trunk in the middle of the living room.
I asked my mother who was here and she told me no one was, but that someone was leaving. I asked her what that meant? She then informed me, “you are going to Israel for the summer with your grandparents.” I recall saying something like “the hell I am!” and she responded saying firmly, “the hell you aren’t!” It was a brilliant ploy of hers to get me out of the house for the summer, and as it was 1966, there was probably a good chance that I wouldn’t be returning.
It was a very dangerous time in Israel then, to be sure, but I had cousins there and aunts and uncles who had never met me, so off I went.
It was not a trip that took a few hours. My grandparents had decided to take a cruise ship to Israel, a trip that took four weeks. It was Greek vessel, full of Greek sailors and I had a great time with them. My Russian-born grandfather introduced me to ouzo, for which I never forgave him.
We arrived in Israel in June. I never saw anything like our arrival in this strange place. People were running down the plank of the ship and squatting on the ground to kiss it. Everyone was crying, laughing and shouting to relatives and seemed to be having a great time. I had never seen anyone kiss the ground before, but I made a mental note to do the same thing when I returned to Virginia, if I even lived that long.
I was told the first full day we were there that some of our relatives were coming to meet me. At least 200 people showed up to my cousins’ cramped apartment in the center of Tel Aviv to say “shalom” to my grandparents and to meet their sullen and homesick granddaughter. I met too many people to remember, with one notable exception. My cousin, Yehuda introduced me to a tall and spare man with a flourish as “his boss.” I did not understand this as I understood my cousin to be a businessman of some kind with his own business. I remember this because everyone started to laugh. The man was very kind, with the most solidly comforting and deepest of voices I had ever heard. His wife was sympathetic at my lack of Hebrew language skills and he made it a point to tell me that I would love it so much in Israel, so that I would never go back to the U.S. I assumed my mother had somehow bribed him to say that.
That same week, this kind man took my grandparents and me to the most dangerous section of Israel, the area near the Western Wall in Jerusalem. I remember talking after being told to be quiet by the deep-voiced Israeli. I got angry at his rebuke and asked why did I have to be quiet? He took my finger and pointed upward where I saw an Arab at a sentry post with a rifle pointed at my nose. My grandmother often later would point out to me that if I had gotten Yitzchak Rabin killed that day, I would have been in “big trouble.”
The following week, Rabin took us to a Bedouin village somewhere near the Negev. A group of Bedouins approached us and Rabin began to speak fluent Arabic to everyone there. One of the dirtiest men I had ever seen came over to him and started speaking in Arabic. The normal tone of voice between them gave way to yelling. Since I had learned my lesson not to speak, I just mutely stood there. The next thing I knew, Rabin started gesturing by waving his arms around wildly and pointing his fingers at me and raising his voice to match the Arab’s. This continued for awhile, then Rabin rejoined us. When I asked him what that display was all about, he told me that the Arab wanted to buy me and offered a very nice price for me at that — in camels, goats and even a prized horse. He looked at me mischievously and feigning seriousness said: “I told you to be quiet the other day, didn’t I? You are more trouble than you are worth!” I remember becoming hysterical. I decided then and there to return home. Apparently, I preferred my mother’s rantings to the Bedouin’s. To this day, I regret my not staying in Israel. At least by this time, I would have known how to properly discharge a weapon, not to mention having a less limiting Hebrew vocabulary.
Yitzchak Rabin wanted me to see Israel. He wanted me to form an appreciation of her that would last me a lifetime. He kept showing me places: kibbutzim, Tel Aviv, Caesarea, Jerusalem, the ancient world, all of her, and at every point, would emphasize who had built her and why. His pride and that of my family’s in the mere fact of the existence of Israel was to become a very powerful image, even for an eleven-year-old. He made me promise to return to “live like an Israeli girl.” Before I left for the States, he had presented me with a beautiful Star of David made from “Eilat stone” a turquoise cousin from the Negev Desert. I wear it still to this day.