The summer of 1975 in Glasgow, Scotland, was only consistent in its inconsistency. One day the sun was there, the next, gone. There seemed to be no end in sight to my work or the rain. My feet ached from pounding the pavement—marching from one town to another, trying to sell anything I could, and running three to six miles every night to keep fit. I was sixteen years old, ambitious and bored.
However, things were looking up. Earlier in the year my parents had contacted a London organization called Kibbutz Representatives, and after the completion of much paperwork and the exchange of substantial funds, my sister, Ruth, and I were about to be packed off for an eight-week stay on a kibbutz in the Holy Land. From the day they told us they’d arranged this trip I was unsure what to expect, but as the time to pack my bags grew closer, I was really quite excited. I was certain it was going to be a fun, eventful trip, and I thought the experience would shape how I would live the rest of my life. I was right on both counts.
In 1975 Glasgow Airport was small compared to other airports around Britain. You could arrive 30 minutes before your flight and still be early. We would fly to London, where we would meet the rest of the group from the UK and Ireland, and then on to Tel Aviv. We spent a bumpy hour on a British Airways Trident aircraft—it was only the third or fourth time I had flown and I disliked the experience intensely—and before long were on the ground at Heathrow, where we would transfer to El Al for the five-hour flight to Tel Aviv.
I stood at the El Al counter with my platform shoes tied round my neck for safety. There was no way I was losing them; it was the 1970s and I was sure that every Israeli would want to see my impersonation of Gary Glitter. After Ruth and I checked in, we met some of the people who would join us on the way to Israel. Ruth was going to stay with one of my uncles who had lived on a kibbutz for many years, so she wasn’t on the same program as I was. My program dictated that I spend six weeks on a kibbutz and then two weeks touring with the group. According to the tour leader from Kibbutz Representatives, the group would split into ten groups of three to four once we landed; each of these smaller groups would then go to its own kibbutz. After six weeks on the farm (which is basically what a kibbutz is), we would be reunited for the tour.
I looked around and saw a young guy wandering back and forth between the check-in counter and the tour leader. He looked as lost as Ruth and I felt. Not being the shy sort (sales cures you of that rather quickly) I took my boarding card, walked up and introduced myself.
“Alan Zoltie,” I said, offering my hand.
“Andrew Henry,” he said, taking it.
“You excited?” I asked.
“Maybe,” he replied, taking a drag from a freshly lit cigarette.
“What Kibbutz are you on?”
“Dunno, I need to find out.” I went off, with Ruth in tow, to find our leader. Then I noticed the looks on everyone’s face. I had become—or rather, my feet had become—the center of unwanted attention. My platform shoes were making quite a splash, and not for the right reasons. This was obviously going to be a shorts, T-shirt and sandals situation, and it was clear that my shoes were turning into this expedition’s first running joke. But I couldn’t dump them or give them to someone to take home, so I was stuck with them.
I saw our fearless tour leader heading for the exit. “Yo! Jimmy!”
“Alan Zoltie. What Kibbutz am I on?”
He looked down a long list. “Hazorea.”
So Andrew, my first contact, and his tobacco habit, would be my best mate. Suddenly, Jimmy informed us that boarding and security checks would take an hour, and we departed for passport control, then security, then security again, and then, at last, the plane. It was a huge 747. I’d read about them and seen them on TV, but this was my first time on board such a monster aircraft. It looked big enough to house a disco and a bowling alley.
Ruth and I ended up in the very last row on the right side of the plane. I had a pamphlet explaining all the details of this marvelous aircraft in my hand—and was right in the middle of reading that a jumbo jet could fly above all known weather patterns, which was a comfort—when without warning we were hurtling down the runway at 250 kilometers per hour on our way to Israel. On our way to a new and different life, if only for eight weeks. This was the trip that would turn the boy I still was into a man. It was the beginning of my beginning. I was certain that it would be an emotional roller coaster, but while taking off from Heathrow I had no idea how fast that roller coaster was or how high (and low) it would go. When I returned, I would be fully aware how hard this planet was to live on, and how different the rest of the world was from Glasgow.