Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

What is belonging?

I returned from a family visit to the UK only hours ago

England certainly isn’t Israel. This visit was more of a recuperative holiday. I had been confined to barracks as it were, for two months after fracturing my pelvis. My loved ones live in the idyllic, tranquil, lush Hertfordshire, countryside. My wonderful youngest son was at the airport to greet me and as a lady, I sat in his comfortable car on a heated seat.

I was treated and entertained by friends almost royally,  either in their homes or eating out in quaint and tastefully decorated tea houses and restaurants. My grandson who works for Transport for London made a great evening at his flat and my granddaughter who is a paramedic together with more young family members joined us.  I so wished that they all lived on my side of the ocean. I only went into London where I was born and still truly love, for a  few hours to visit my oldest friend who had invited her ailing sister to meet us for lunch not in her home, but in a restaurant.

Since I was unsteady on my legs I was afraid to travel on public transport which although quick and efficient is daunting, since it always involves lots of walking up and downstairs.  Although there are lifts available somewhere, it’s invariably a long “shlep” to get to them.

People were polite and as soon as they saw me with a stick someone usually asked, “can I help you?”

On the surface, everything is hunky dory but beneath? On one hand, a sector of society anxious about the future, Brexit on every tongue but most confused about the outcome of the Prime Minister’s decisions and where they will lead.

The only resemblance to Israel was the almost hedonistic lifestyle at this time of uncertainty of many with whom I came into contact.  Israel was a non-starter, hardly anyone asked me about what was going on at “home”.

None of those whom I met on this visit are politically active or involved in society beyond their personal lives.

The one bright spark was The Driver of the Year Charity Fund, of which my son is the VP. There, despite the ambiance of the event which I attended with members of my close family,  was the true spirit of caring. A unique mix of people from different sectors and levels of society, contributing to “remembering those less fortunate than ourselves” This was not ethnic or religious in any formal sense, just a great, warm fun crowd.

Due to my limitations, I had a different experience to the one I normally have when I visit.  No museums or theatres. Visually the grandeur of the buildings and the scenery was great for me even just from the car windows, but I soon realised how insular I have become. How prepossessed with pain and suffering. What a news junkie I am. I hardly saw a newspaper there or tuned into a TV show.

My experience at Luton Airport on my return was very unpleasant, whereas my experience at Ben Gurion on the way over had been fantastic. The Easy Jet drop bag idea is for people like me. A perfect solution to travelling unaided. It doesn’t exist there. The plane was half filled with ultra-orthodox families many accompanied by children even though it was a flight which took off in the early hours of the morning. I  could not help but be impressed by the patience of the stewards who had great difficulty trying to service the passenger’s needs while so many were praying Shachrit, in the aisles.

At Ben Gurion as usual, I was assailed by taxi drivers, something I hate. I went in the direction of the authorised taxi line but succumbed to one who approached me, softly.  I went outside to wait for him to bring his taxi and others cried out “he is a thief don’t go with him”. Eventually, I ended up on the second floor still struggling with my case and joined the organised queue where the taxis are slightly cheaper, I am not sure where the logic is, but still. My driver a proud Israeli of  Ethiopian descent told me that driving a taxi especially at night gave him the opportunity to study.  He was doing a BA in media and politics. So we entered into a deep and stimulating discussion all the way home.

Twenty-four hours later, I  joined my social worker granddaughter and her parents on a demonstration in Jaffa to protest the rising number of violent deaths of women. The banners read: “WOMEN’S BLOOD IS NOT CHEAP.” “WHEN SILENCE IS BETRAYAL RAISE YOUR VOICES”.  “Freedom for the  Israeli  Arab women”

They were written in Arabic, Hebrew and also English.

Friday evening, EREV SHABBAT is not the usual time to arrange a demonstration but it suited the Arab community and at least there were no opposing groups at hand and no need for police interference.

So back home and Shabbat morning on KAN ONE always interesting programmes. I wonder who listens, apart from old people like me?

MK Aida Touma-Suleiman

Those who produce these programmes should be commended for the in-depth and yet calm and essentially human content which reminds me of Israel in the days of yore. No shouting, no antagonism just the voices and choices of human beings in an organised and yet caring and responsive society. Israelis who did not know TV  who believed in their leaders because there did not seem to be a reason, not to.

So here I am again in the knowledge that I could never again live in any place outside of this unique and dynamic land, for all the good reasons. At the same time, to try to change negative attitudes into positive ones. For this is all that we have and we should treat our society with respect and trust which means equality,  freedom of expression and thinking, for everyone who lives here, that for me is Jewish and humanitarian at the same time.

May the Festival of Light, enlighten all the people who inhabit this unique and wonderful land.

Hag Sameach!

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.