It is now almost exactly fifty years since I came to Israel to live. So I suppose you could say that I came on aliya in September 1964, though I did not get my official status as a new immigrant until June 1967, but that’s another story.
When people ask me why I left England’s green and pleasant land to come and live in what they imagine to be an arid desert in one of the most dangerous parts of the world, my answer consists of two words: ‘climate’ and ‘men.’
But of course I must have had weightier reasons than those. The fact that I grew up in a home where Zionism was a fact of life, attended a Zionist youth movement and had relatives in Israel played an undeniable role in my decision. My first visit to Israel, in 1959, within the framework of a youth tour organized by the Jewish Agency was an eye-opener for me, an impressionable teenager. I had never experienced anything like it before. Six weeks of touring sunny Israel, visiting sites, cities and kibbutzim, finding smiling bronzed faces wherever we turned and being welcomed into people’s homes made a deep and lasting impression on me. In addition, the climate really did serve to lift my spirits, which seemed to have been perpetually dormant in the grey and rainy London streets in which I had grown up.
I visited Israel twice in my vacations from university, and managed to make contact with people in the Sociology Department of the Hebrew University, so that when I came for my second visit I was given a holiday job and even earned some money (which I found to my chagrin that I was unable to take home). As a result of those visits I was offered a position as a research assistant in that department when I decided to continue for an M.A. after graduating in London. So I suppose I could be said to have had one of the easiest transitions imaginable in moving to a different country. I had employment, albeit with minimal income, I could stay with relatives until I found a place to rent, and I was meeting intelligent and pleasant people. I didn’t know much Hebrew, and was too busy working and studying to go to an ulpan, but I managed to get by with the little I knew. There were organizations catering to English-speaking people and there were student parties, so my social life was not totally uninteresting.
Israel was a very different place fifty years ago, and this was especially the case with Jerusalem. Before the Six-Day War it was a small, intimate place where everyone knew everyone else and the central ‘triangle’ formed by the three main streets was where one went to eat falafel, meet friends or just enjoy the cool evening air. ‘The third time we meet on the same day we’ll go and get ice-cream,’ was the slogan of the day. Religion played a part in some people’s lives, but nothing was extreme and everyone appeared tolerant of everyone else.
The political atmosphere was one of socialism, idealism and mutual support. Today it is capitalist, entrepreneurial and right-wing. Those early days of naiveté and perhaps even innocence are long gone, due to both internal and external processes. Personally, I find that regrettable, but it is foolish to try to stem the tide of change.
What about men? I hear you cry. I found the love of my life at a student party in Jerusalem, got married and produced three children. We lived through times of peace and war, sickness and health, poverty and relative prosperity and now also have seven grandchildren, all living in Israel.
All in all, Israel has been good for me, and I hope I’ve been good for it.