A tale of two Vardas

A tale of two Vardas

By ELYNNE CHAPLIK-ALESKOW
December 10, 2009 17:45
new varda

new varda . (photo credit: )

I was fearless in my 20s and 30s. I traveled the world alone, loving the adventure and spontaneity of my single life. Decisions were not absolutes. They were quests. In 1970 I traveled to Israel. Jerusalem remains in my mind the most unique city I have ever visited. While in the Old City, I had the distinct feeling that at any minute God was going to put His hand on my shoulder and say, "Welcome, Elynne." One afternoon I took the train from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. I met a young woman named Varda who was my age. She lived on a kibbutz and invited me to visit her over Shabbat. Being alone I was happy to accept her invitation. She gave me careful directions and told me she would see me soon. She waved as she left the train. Sitting across the aisle from me was an older gentleman who had overheard the conversation I had shared with Varda. When Varda left, he motioned me to come and sit beside him. "You must not go to that kibbutz," he warned looking me straight in the eye. "Why?" I asked. "It is dangerous. It is on the Lebanese border. Very dangerous." I smiled and thanked him with the full intention of continuing my plan. When I wrote my mother in Chicago, I left out his warning but told her I had met a lovely older man on the train. My mother told the family that only her single daughter would go to Israel and meet a Tevye like in Fiddler on the Roof. That weekend I followed Varda's directions and took the train to the stop for Kibbutz Ga'aton. When I got off the train, there was land as far as I could see, a train track, a small bench and me. I sat down with my suitcase and waited. Nothing and no one were in sight. I sat there desperately hoping that Varda did not forget me. Suddenly in the distance I saw a truck driving in my direction and heard a voice with a distinct Israeli accent calling my name. Varda and her friends had stopped to get ice cream for the American. At the kibbutz they showed me around and we had a late dinner. Then we all turned in for the night. The bathroom was an outhouse. I knew there would be no way I would get through the night without having to use it. I had just seen the movie Exodus and remembered the scene of the brutal killing of Karen when she was out walking alone near the border. Sure enough I woke in the middle of the night. I took the flashlight Varda left for me by my bed and prayed all the way to the toilet and back. I could not remember ever feeling that much fear. The next day I visited the children at their school and toured more of the kibbutz. Varda and her friends spoke very little English, and my Hebrew was limited to basic words. I could not even speak a sentence. Yet somehow we managed to communicate. Sitting around the fire in the evening, we tried to talk about our favorite books. I asked if anyone had read Antoine de Saint Exupery's The Little Prince which at that time in my life was one of my greatest treasures. Varda's eyes lit up. She ran to her cabin and brought out The Little Prince in Hebrew. I was speechless. I was on the other side of the world and yet I felt in that moment that I was home. After my visit with Varda at the kibbutz, I became restless and felt homesick. I inquired about going home early to Chicago and was put on a wait list. I eventually got the earlier flight out. At home four days later, I woke to the news that my original TWA flight had been hijacked. My homesickness had made me lucky. Varda and I corresponded for about a year. She sent me The Little Prince in Hebrew and I sent her the book in English. Then we lost touch. Forty years later I am in my sixth decade of life. I recently joined Facebook and have been contacted by many friends and acquaintances from my past. It is a unique opportunity. Looking at my bookshelf, I found myself staring at my copy of The Little Prince in Hebrew from Varda. I started wondering how she was. I looked at her inscription on the page. She had only signed Varda with no last name. I wondered if I might be able to find her through Facebook. I typed the name Varda into the search box and a listing of more than 500 Vardas came up. As I examined the list, I saw that about 100 of them said Varda (last name) Country: Israel. I began to type: "Are you the Varda I met on a train in 1970 and visited at Kibbutz Ga'aton? We both loved The Little Prince." Looking at photographs of faces I wondered could she be the one? It had been almost 40 years and I did not remember her face. I copied and pasted these words over and over, my speed building with each name. Suddenly a warning message from Facebook popped up. Its system misinterpreted me as a spammer due to the volume and speed with which I was sending messages. Facebook warned me. I was on a mission and paid no attention. I had to reach each Varda with the chance of finding mine. Suddenly Facebook issued its last warning and froze my access to sending messages for 24 hours. I had been penalized and put in the corner. This action only made me more determined to complete my list. When I resumed, however, I dutifully slowed down the pace of my inquiries. When I had finished, I started to get back answers from the Facebook Vardas of Israel. "Sorry, no I am not your Varda." "No. I am not the one but I love The Little Prince." Then one of the Israeli Vardas responded: "Please tell me more about the Varda you are trying to find." I told her my story. She and I started an e-mail correspondence. There was a seven-hour difference between Chicago and Israel. As I was going to bed, Varda was waking up. I would wish her good morning as she wished me good night. One morning I woke to an e-mail from her that was titled "Wake up... Surprise... Surprise..." In her e-mail Varda told me that she had called Kibbutz Ga'aton and had tracked down the married last name of the Varda for whom I was searching. That Varda had moved to another kibbutz. My new friend Varda drove to the kibbutz and within 10 minutes was standing in the dining room in front of Varda No. 1 telling her the whole story of my search. She got her e-mail address for me and within moments from the time of my receiving that "Wake up Surprise" e-mail, I was in touch with the Varda I had met on the train. It was a very pleasant reunion and Varda e-mailed me a copy of the inscription I had written in the book I had gifted her 40 years ago. It was good to know that Varda was well and to have found her through the gracious efforts of my new friend. When I had started my search, my new Varda was a means to helping me find my Little Prince Varda. As time went on, however, my original Varda had become the means of my discovering my new friend. Our bond had become so strong. We were two women from two different countries who had shared the stories of our lives with one another. We discovered that we had the same sense of humor and tastes in films and music and a shared passion for the city of New York, among other private thoughts and memories. Varda was beyond fluent in English. She was eloquent in describing her feelings and thoughts. We shared discussions about everything imaginable. The wonderful irony was that we had not yet got around to politics. Our lives were different and yet the essence of our beings profoundly mirrored one another. Our focus was on two women who through the miraculous chance of Facebook had found one another and communicated with a rare understanding. Somehow in the darkness of the infinite Internet universe I clicked send and received Varda. And at that moment we both came home to one another in an extraordinary new friendship. The writer, Founding General Manager of WYCC-TV/PBS and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Wright College in Chicago, is an author, public speaker and award-winning educator and broadcaster.


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