A journey of the heart

The long-awaited sequel to 'A tale of two Vardas.'

By ELYNNE CHAPLIK-ALESKOW
January 21, 2010 17:56
The 'old' Varda, Varda Harel, Chaplik-Aleskow and

Varda Harel 311. (photo credit: x)

 
X

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When I began my Facebook search for the Varda I had met in Israel in 1970, I had no notion what destiny awaited me. In searching for my unforgettable Varda Harel, I met Varda Shachar, who helped me find her and in the process became one of my dearest and most cherished friends.


My Internet search began before Rosh Hashana. By December 2009 I would not only be in Israel with both my Vardas, but my journey would also have me reunite with students from my first teaching position 40 years ago who read my story "A tale of two Vardas" in The Jerusalem Post Magazine (December 11) and made contact with me. In addition, a bat mitzva in my family and meeting with my husband's cousins, one of whom we had recently found, brought us to this fateful trip in our lives.



The anticipation of seeing Varda Shachar in person for the first time when she picked us up at the airport was almost too moving to bear. Our hug was one of new old friends. We had found one another by chance, yet our friendship felt as though we had known one another our entire lives.



Varda was an enthusiastic and outstanding guide for my husband Richard, myself and Richard's cousin Victor, who had come to Israel from Russia to be with us during our two-week stay. We walked through the wonders of Jerusalem, where other tourists tried to join us to hear Varda's explanation of the sites we were seeing. Varda was with me at the Wall, where I said Kaddish for my father and sister Ivy. The intimacy of that moment was one I shared with this dear friend who knew my heart.



My pride in being a Jew was part of every moment I experienced in Israel. My extended family had come in from the States for my cousin's bat mitzva at Masada. The ceremony was profound and historically moving. My family continued on a tour, while Richard and I remained with Varda.



While in Jerusalem, we had dinner with my former student Ardie and his wife Ivonne. My story in The Jerusalem Post Magazine brought me many gifts of connection and reunion. Life is utterly amazing and bashert. Our meeting after four decades was warm, and my student was still the intelligent and sensitive man I remembered. Suddenly during our dinner, Ardie handed me several sheets of paper across the table. I looked at them in disbelief. It was a research paper he had done in my class. He wanted to know, 40 years later, why he had received a grade of A-. Why the minus, he wanted to know? We shared a long laugh.



With Varda, my husband, his cousin and I explored the streets and history of Jerusalem, including quaint cafes, bookshops, and the unique Mahaneh Yehuda market where I had the best humous I have ever eaten. Jerusalem remains for me one of the most intriguing cities in the world.





When we moved to Tel Aviv, Varda was again our guide in what she considered to be her city. The Tel Aviv she shared with me was a very different city from the one I had visited 40 years ago. Richard and I had the great pleasure of having Shabbat dinner with Varda's children and family at her mother's home, and had dinner with her father and his wife at her brother's restaurant, Pronto.



Varda was indeed a devoted guide and friend. She acted as our translator in helping us arrange a place for the meeting of Richard's cousins on his father's side, including the cousin we had never met. It was a joyous family evening of relatives who shared the same blood but had never known one another before that night. When my husband had found his lost cousin and organized this emotional meeting, he looked at his father's portrait and said: "Papa, I did it." He felt a similar joy when we met with family from his mother's side.



One evening Varda took Richard and me to a jazz club in Tel Aviv to hear Edna Goren. As we sat in this intimate setting, I watched the audience sing along as she sang songs from the country's early days. Sitting with an Israeli audience which was deeply moved as they sang the songs of Sasha Argov profoundly touched me. This was an Israel I had never experienced. I thought about the rest of the world not knowing the hearts and minds of a people who are the standard for humanism.



The day of my reunion with my original Varda had arrived. Varda Shachar, Richard and I were invited to Kibbutz Gan Shmuel, where Varda Harel, her husband and family lived, for lunch. When I saw Varda's face, it brought back memories of our first meeting on a train 40 years ago. She was still the tender woman I remembered. Her smile and her warmth touched my heart as she had done then. In greeting us, Varda referred to my new Varda as "our angel" for answering my search and bringing us together. As we went to Varda's home, I became overwhelmed at the sight and reality of my two Vardas standing before me. I started to cry tears of amazement, gratitude and utter joy.



Varda Harel told me that a man from her choir collected The Little Prince, the book we had sent to one another in Hebrew and English when we first met. She said that he asked for her copy in English which I had gifted her. He had asked before she knew I was looking for her, but she could not part with the book because she felt a connection somehow, somewhere. And now we were sitting in her kitchen with my husband, her family and my new Varda. The moment was surreal and joyous.



As a gift I brought Varda one of the anthologies that features my stories. The book is fittingly called Forever Friends. My inscription said, "We once shared The Little Prince with one another and now I bring you some of my own published stories." On my last day in Israel, Varda Harel came to Tel Aviv to have lunch with me, Richard and Varda. She wanted to see me again before I left, and I was so happy to have the opportunity to spend more time with her. We ate lunch at the charming Metzitzim Café on the beach in the Tel Aviv harbor and looked out at the sea. Both Vardas had once lived blocks from where we were, had played on this beach and had attended the same school at different times.

Up to the time of my visit, in getting to know one another through the Internet, Varda Shachar and I told each other about past memories of our lives. During my time in Israel we had the gift of making and sharing our own exquisite memories. Her graciousness and devotion to both me and my husband were so much the friend I had come to know and love. Varda's favorite café is called Comme Il Faut, which translates "as it should be." That is how I would describe everything about my magical time in Israel.

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