As well as forging and facilitating connections between individuals, Facebook also provides the opportunity to form groups, bringing together people all over the world who share mutual interests. These are many and varied, and seem to have succeeded in their objective. Thus, some time ago a bright spark somewhere out there in the ether had the idea of creating a Facebook group entitled ‘Brits Living in Israel’ for discussing topics of interest to former residents of Great Britain now domiciled in Israel. I’m not sure how long this group has been in existence, but at present it numbers 4,853 members, and may still be growing, for all I know.
During its existence the FB group has provided a forum for English people in Israel to discuss all kinds of subjects, though the moderators have requested that we refrain from controversial political issues (in Israel) or try to further our own business interests and sales. In my own particular case I found salvation in my relentless quest for McVitie Digestive biscuits (dark chocolate preferably), when one of the members (thanks, Anton Delin) provided the address of a shop in Tel Aviv where they could be bought. Although getting to downtown Tel Aviv is only marginally less arduous for me than getting to London, imagine the surge of joy that filled my heart when I walked into the shop and saw the shelves stacked with the biscuits that I have loved since childhood. Over the fifty-odd years I have been living in Israel I have managed to bring packets back from my occasional visits to London, eking out their lifespan by rationing myself to one a day. In an amazing recent development (apparently due to a change in their composition and subsequent granting of a rabbinic Hechsher) they are now available in plentiful supply in most supermarkets in Israel. My joy knows no bounds, but I am doing my best to restrict my daily intake.
Other subjects discussed (and mainly complained about) by the members of the group have been the availability in Israel of Heinz vegetarian baked beans, the policies regarding the BBC of Israel’s TV channels, the price and availability of other much-loved foods and sweets, the difficulty of finding reliable handymen and the agony of dealing with Israeli bureaucracy. Fair enough. I’ve seen similar grievances raised in groups catering for British expats in France, so it all seems fairly standard.
But at some point last year one of the bright sparks (Anton Delin again, I believe) had another brilliant idea. Why not arrange an actual physical meeting for members of the group? This was duly done, in a pub appropriately called Murphy’s somewhere in the Tel Aviv area. I did not go to that but by all accounts it was a great success, and the idea of organising a similar event in the Jerusalem area was duly adopted. The meeting that ensued was held recently in a Jerusalem café, with some twenty-five members including myself in attendance. The choice of venue was excellent, and we were provided with a secluded room at the back of the café, so that we were accorded sufficient privacy and a relatively quiet environment.
Names that had formerly featured solely as disembodied entities moaning about the difficulty of obtaining baked beans, BBC programmes on TV, or Cadbury’s chocolate eggs now emerged as actual, visible people, of various shapes and sizes, different religious and political beliefs, and a preponderance of women over men. Over plates of fish and chips (not quite up to the British standard), pasta or sandwiches, according to the individual’s preference and purse, we all got to know one another a little better, finding connections to places where we had lived in England, relatives and communities we had known, places where we had once worked, and altogether finding ties to bind us closer together.
Which only goes to show that you can take the individual out of England, but you can’t take England out of the individual.