Later, Dan announced the results of his investigation in the dining room. Mad panic cannot even describe the feeling in my stomach and, I’m sure, those of my co-conspirators. But to our complete and utter shock, Dan believed the find to be real and true!
No fucking way said the look on the faces of the Gang of Five as we sat with our mouths wide open, our disbelief written overcoming our guilt. It was impossibly surreal.
“How the fuck did he come to that conclusion?” whispered Andrew.
“Fuck knows,” was my response. A massive sigh of relief went off inside my stomach. Whatever had happened before was in the past, and the kibbutz, thanks to Dan from Jerusalem, began contemplating the prospect of fame even before the last rock had been cleared, the last antiquity dusted and the last shovel and brush put away. Rachelli hugged me while Shimon beamed from the elevated platform on which he now stood with his new friends from the archeological office in Jerusalem. Ronnie was ecstatic, and I could see in his eyes the he was close to pulling out his pistol and firing a few shots in celebration.
I was still dumbfounded that this so-called expert could have reached such a conclusion. As he began to speak again to about 400 of the residents, I slipped away toward my dorm. My brain was buzzing and my body limp with a foreboding that all was not what it seemed.
My foreboding was justified. About an hour after Dan made his momentous speech, a rumor began spreading like wildfire: the supposed penis of a Roman soldier, this miraculous find of the century, had all been a prank by some of the volunteers! “Who opened their mouth?” I wondered. How was it possible to go from elation to desperation within one hour, even after the top expert in the country had confirmed this as the “find of the year?”
Grabbing Andrew by his shirt sleeve as he tried to get out of Dodge for the evening, I shouted, “You’re going nowhere without me pal. In as a team, out as a team. Who crapped his pants and shopped us?” I asked.
“Don’t know, but I’m going to Tel Aviv tonight. I’m going to get a room at the YMCA and come back in two days when all this has died down. You coming?”
“Shit, I don’t know. I have no money.”
“Ask Rachelli, and let’s get out of here now.”
“No, I can’t do that. We need to stay and face the consequences. Who do you believe said something?”
“I already told you, I don’t know and I don’t care. I have to leave.”
Andrew vanished and I was left standing alone. It was puzzling. How could anyone in their right mind—let alone an archaeology expert—have deduced that penis to have come from a Roman warrior? It was pathetic. It was time for me to put things right. But how?
As night fell and we once again descended on the dining hall for dinner, my kibbutz mother, Hava, had decided I should eat at her home and not with everyone else. With seven children, she had become quite a proficient cook, and her home had become one of my preferred places to dine. Her kosher beef stew was excellent and it was that stew that she’d chosen to cook on this particular evening. As I walked in, the aroma of beef and vegetables was already filling the hallway of her modest home.
Hava was always pleased to see me, and I think she’d become quite attached to my politeness and quirky mannerisms. She couldn’t understand why anyone from a so-called “cold” climate would subject his body to a five -mile run in the heat of the day. She thought I was nuts, as did the rest of her family. She had also made it clear that she was so proud of the fact that I’d come to help on Hazorea and that it gave not only her but the rest of the kibbutz a feeling that they were not alone. Remember that Israel was (and still is) surrounded by governments who wanted to annihilate it, and so support from me and the rest of the volunteer force around the country was welcomed and much appreciated.
Once the food was ready, we sat down, just the two of us, for dinner. “Eli,” she began, “this artifact that they found on the dig, would you happen to know anything about it?”
So that was why she wanted to have me over for dinner. But in her eyes I glimpsed traces of humor and of sarcasm, and I knew immediately that she knew. “Well…”
She put her finger to her mouth. She knew she’d had me from the first word, and now all I could do was sit back and listen.
“For the last 24 hours, Eli, this whole place has had an air of excitement about it that I can rarely ever remember in the past, and I’ve been here for many years,” she said. “I have never seen so many people running around with such a sense of purpose. So whatever or whoever did this has created a completely different atmosphere for us all. Nothing much happens here, and each day blends into another, with the only change being the temperature from the sun. It’s not that we are bored, but we need something to pick us up now and then, and this has been it. How did you do it?”
“How did you know I did?”
“Eli, I have grown to know you over the past month, and it didn’t take much to put two and two together. Was it your idea?”
“Well, in any event, you should not say anything to anyone. Let the experts try and figure it out on their own.”
I was still dumbfounded as to how she knew, but as each mouthful of her stew hit my stomach, I was becoming less concerned about any retribution that might take place once everyone deduced that I had been part of the prank. Hava sat—smiling, eating, and enjoying what had been a wonderful day for her and her friends. They had all been thrown suddenly into the limelight, and even if it was a false alarm it provided an important lesson: life can change in a fraction of a second and all is never what it seems to be.
Within days, the rumor became confirmed fact: the “find of the century” had merely been the hoax of the summer. With the secret out of the bag and Dan from Jerusalem eating humble pie, Hazorea went back to normal. It had taken a few days for the place to calm down but it was evident that life would go on, the dig would be finished and construction would be completed on a new school for the kids that would eventually cover the dig site.
Our penis prank had been a success if you were looking for a laugh, but for Dan it had been one of the most dramatic failures of his career. His reputation was shot to pieces; the Jerusalem Post pummeled him for days on end, leading to his resignation and retirement. “Oh dear,” muttered Gideon one afternoon while we are all at the pool, “Dan just never took the bull by the horns!” As we laughed, we still couldn’t comprehend how Dan, a professional antiquities expert, had confused a bull’s dick for that of a Roman soldier. It would always remain a mystery.
However, our days at Hazorea were coming to an end. Our hard work killing chickens, screwing up plastic extruders and committing archaeological fraud was to be rewarded with a week’s tour around Israel. The whole group would reassemble and we would travel to Jerusalem, Haifa, the Dead Sea and Masada. All the best sights and all very accessible. Israel is such a small, compact country that you are never more than three hour’s drive from anywhere.
Andrew and I were in the midst of saying goodbye to our respective girlfriends—goodbyes that would last several days and nights—but our new focus was on what lay ahead in the “land of milk and honey” and what we would discover whilst being led out of bondage by our own personal Moses.
Goodbyes are never easy, no matter who you’re saying them to. These were probably the hardest I’d ever had to make. It was seven on a Wednesday morning, and there was a line of well wishers waiting with us at the front gate of the kibbutz. Rachelli and I had spent our last night together, filled with questions (“You’ll be back next year, won’t you?”) and promises (“Of course I’ll write”). But of course, time passes, other things in life take priority, and those promises become empty. But at 16 you’re unaware of that so you play the “I’m going to keep in touch” game well into that final kiss.
Hava and the rest of her family made me swear that I would come back. I would, only I didn’t know it on that particular day. She was so sincere in her appreciation of our efforts to come and assist on the kibbutz, so genuine with her love and respect for all we had done that I knew then and there that I would miss them all terribly. Such a great family!
Shimon gave me a bear hug and told me that I was the best bullshitter he’d ever met. A true compliment from a true gentleman. We laughed and joked about the six weeks I’d spent with him, and he even brought a chicken to the front gate to see me off. Ronnie was still pissed about our little prank, but he showed up, gun in holster, and he was actually sad to see us go. All in all, we’d been treated like kings and lived like kibbutzniks, and were all the better for having done so. I’d lost so much weight that I was as skinny as I’d ever be in my life, with an incredible “farmers tan” that would amaze back in the cold gray climate of Scotland.
It was sad to leave, but it was indeed time to go. The bus arrived, having already picked up some of our group at a kibbutz close by, and we boarded to the sounds of sadness—but also of gratitude. As I looked back from my front window seat, those two dusty but intact platform shoes hanging from my shoulder, I felt the sadness from our group as we drove away from the kibbutz. These were our people. We were related, if not directly, then through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. My own feeling was that I’d come, I’d seen and I certainly wanted to see more. I knew I’d be back, even if I didn’t know when. I also knew that no matter what happened anywhere else on the planet, this country was my birthright. At that time, I didn’t know how many other people, races, and religions felt the same way. When I discovered that, it would certainly be an eye opener.
We arrived in Haifa that evening and were entertained by Israeli dancers and musicians. For all the horny males in our company, the heat was on again. The dice were about to be thrown in the direction of who fancied who. There was no room for error: we had one week in close proximity of one another, and one week only. You made a move, and if successful, you had a week of pure bliss and much sex. One false move and you were an outcast with the ladies.
I decided not to move in any direction; so did Andrew. Many decided the opposite, and relationships sprang up at every turn. There were twosomes and threesomes and probably more-somes going on every night in every hotel we had the pleasure of occupying. From Haifa to the Golan and then on to Galilee and south—from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, Masada, and back to Tel Aviv, we saw it all and we saw it together. There were many stories to tell, and much to write home about, but the one thing I can never forget is that we all felt we belonged. This had been no Club Med. This had been tough, relentless, educational, and the greatest experience any 16-year-old boy could have asked for.
Back on board that 747, this time sitting next to Andrew, we took off from Ben Gurion Airport as men, not boys, propelled by an everlasting belief that fate had brought us here and that life was going to take us to our next destination. Andrew and I remain friends to this day, and we worked together for many years in the same company. We went back to Israel the following year to do it all again, but that turned out to be a bit of a letdown. We both still visit regularly, although never as kibbutzniks. Today, it’s five-star hotels for us. But that summer of 1975 was one to remember, one that changed me for the better. Hazorea remains part of my heart and blood—and yes, it’s still there, still part of the great state of Israel.