A year can be a long time when you’re 16. Andrew and I went our separate ways when we arrived back in London. I disappeared into Heathrow Terminal One to catch my flight to Glasgow, and he was met by his parents at the exit for Terminal Three. He believed he would never set eyes on me again (as I’m sure he would admit if you asked him today). Of course, he would be proven wrong. With a quick handshake and a promise to keep in touch, we bid farewell to one another and that is where my kibbutz experience seemed to end. However, things were about to get interesting.
The morning we’d left the kibbutz, Rachelli had asked if she could come and visit me in Scotland. She’d also promised to write to me every week. She was very nice, but after six weeks of feeling trapped on Hazorea it was a blessing to be loose and fancy free once again. The sad look on her face when we said goodbye has haunted me for more 40 years, but underneath I really believed that she had a new beau lined up and was waiting for me to vanish and clear the path. I was on my way to a different country, and surely what had happened over the summer was unimportant in the grand scheme of her life. Her memory lingered, though, as my plane landed at Glasgow airport on the sunniest and warmest day I could remember.
I stood outside in my slimmer, more athletic body, my jeans, half-buttoned cheesecloth shirt (remember those?) and my suntan. I had changed, and I had the experience to prove it. As my grandfather approached in his brown Ford Escort, he was surprised at how different I looked; he actually drove past me twice before stopping and realizing that it actually me! He was delighted to see me and on the way home he grilled me for all the details of my eight weeks away from Scotland. (He’d never been to Israel and wanted to go, but unfortunately he never made it.) He dropped me off at my house on Lonsdale Ave., where my sisters waited with bated breath alongside my mother, desperate to interrogate me about where I’d been and who I’d been with!
With a week left before school started, I decided to spend my time composing letters to the people I wanted to stay in touch with from Israel and to re-acquaint myself with my friends in Glasgow. After meeting Howard and Charles and being told once again that I’d “changed” (perhaps, to them, not for the better), I sat and put pen to paper. I wrote to Andrew, giving him all my home details and asking him if I could come to London to spend a weekend with him sometime soon. I’d been bitten by the travel bug, and as I’d also had the experience of traveling alone, I had no more fear about wandering the world on my own—or about much else, as a matter of fact.
My door bell rang. It was Charles, June and Suzanne, three friends who’d come to see how I was and what I’d been up to. The Jewish community in Glasgow was very small, and everyone knew what everyone else was doing. I had been one of the first to venture to Israel and curiosity was rampant amongst my friends. We talked for hours about my experiences and my desires for the future, and while this was happening I noticed that June and Suzanne were looking at me with an “I’d like to go out with you” stare that I’d not seen before. This was something I’d not really experienced, and as the afternoon wore on (including their invitation to a dance the following next weekend) I was sure that my new life in Glasgow, post-Hazorea, would be completely different from the one I’d known.
Letters took about a week to arrive by first class GPO (General Post Office), but six weeks after I’d mailed my note to Andrew, the bastard hadn’t bothered to reply. Time for a phone call.
“Fucker, how are you?”
“Well—“ he began, and before he’d had a chance to get going I was on him like a dog in heat.
“Listen, if you don’t want to stay in touch, just say so, I won’t be offended, but I want to come to London, so, if you don’t mind, I’d like to come at Christmas and stay with you. Okay?”
Andrew had no choice but to accept, because the new and improved Alan wasn’t going to take no for an answer.
I was bitterly disappointed that there had been no replies from any letters I’d sent to Rachelli, Shimon or Hava. My school year had begun, as had my relationship with June, so everything was going nicely and without complaint. Andrew agreed to let me come to London for Christmas—and I learned that he, too, had been disappointed with the lack of response from his young lady on Hazorea. We both agreed that distance meant nothing to love, our relationships had been about convenience, not love.
My trip to London was monumental. Andrew got drunk in Wimbledon the very first night we went out. We’d gone to a pub called The Swan, and as I didn’t drink, I became the designated puke cleaner-upper on the train coming back to Worcester Park, where Andrew lived. Andrew’s mother went ape, telling him that he’d treated me shabbily, and his dad Michael agreed. The next day we all went for a great lunch and a walk in Richmond park, and it was during that walk that Michael, Andrew’s dad, blurted out “You should go back to Israel next summer, lads.” I’ve no recollection of why he said that (it may have been related to Andrew’s behavior the previous night), but his words had the desired effect. The planning began.
Andrew came to Scotland for New Year’s and over the course of the next few months we put together a plan that would take us both back to the Promised Land, but this time to a different kibbutz with another friend of mine, John McVey. John was a good guy who’d heard all about our exploits from the previous summer and decided he wanted in. Andrew didn’t mind and neither did I, but it turned out to be a huge mistake!
With cash saved from walking the streets selling plastic bags, working on the printing machine at my father’s office and doing other odd jobs, we were set. Summer came, flights were booked and off we went. This time, my platform shoes were safely tucked away in a drawer. Jeans, open sandals and cheesecloth were the order of the day. We were on our way to a kibbutz called Ein Carmel (pronounced “einacarmel”) and boy, were we excited. I was a year older and a year wiser and I planned to shag my way from dorm to dorm until my penis was blue.
But when we arrived, oh how things changed.
In my life, I’ve learnt that the first time is very often the best. In this case, it certainly was. Ein Carmel was no Hazorea. We hated it. We spent our days picking pears, olives and bananas, and the people on the kibbutz were rude and unfriendly. Andrew and I fell out with John within two days of getting there and longed to go back to Hazorea, if only to see the friendly faces we’d missed for the past year. With some time to spare, we made haste for Hazorea, hoping to spend a weekend where we believed paradise lay.
We arrived unannounced. It was a Friday afternoon and everyone was getting ready to celebrate the Sabbath, but we knew our way around and entered Hazorea certain that someone would welcome us with open arms. Fortunately, they did! Hava was the first smiling face I saw as I sauntered up towards the dining room. I will never forget the look on her face. She opened her arms to offer me a huge hug, and shouted out at the top of her lungs and with a tear running from her left eye, “Eli, you came back!” As we ate dinner that evening she explained that it was a huge deal for them if volunteers came back. It meant that they’d done what they were supposed to do: made us feel welcome and showed us that we belonged here. And we did.
Hava called everyone to come round to her place. We sat up all night talking about the previous year. The dig had finally finished and construction of the school had commenced. Ronnie, who’d always been involved with the dig, had packed up everything they’d uncovered and shipped it off to Jerusalem, where an exhibition displaying the artifacts had been in progress for months. They’d uncovered some incredible items (excluding the penis we’d planted) but Hava told us that everyone still spoke of that unbelievable find! We had become part of Hazorea folklore!
She also told me that Rachelli had fallen in love with a man from another kibbutz and moved away. Even though I’d never heard from her in the year since we parted, my heart gave a small pang of regret when I heard the news. But not being one for regrets—not even then—I pressed on and asked Hava if Andrew and I could come back to Hazorea to work for the rest of our time in Israel. She was beside herself with excitement at the thought of us coming back, but, just as I mentioned before, the first time is sometimes the best. After giving it second thoughts and spending the weekend at the poolside reminiscing, Andrew and I left, determined to stick it out on Ein Carmel, even if it meant suffering for the next six weeks.
We both agreed that once you were out you were out. This trip called for new challenges and new experiences, all of which we would find, but that’s a story for another time.
Even today, in 2013, I can vividly recall the details of my time in Hazorea. It left an indelible mark on my soul and my heart. It’s something that can never be repeated but definitely something that I cherish. Two years later, I found out that Rachelli got married and then went into the army, as all Israelis must do. Ronnie passed away about three years after our trip to Hazorea. I lost touch with Hava in the mid 1980s, but I am sure she’s no longer with us. She was old back then, and odds are that she’s now with God.
Andrew and I have remained best mates for 35 years, traveling together, working together and talking to one another at least once a week even though I left the UK to live in California 20 years ago. Our bond was made in Israel and can never be broken. His family and mine became very close, and like brothers, we have prospered. We have revisited Israel more than 50 times, but have never gone back to Hazorea. Hazorea is still there and always will be, along with all our memories of 1975, and that’s where they belong.