England revisited after years in Israel

We were very lucky that the heat wave, which had Brits sweltering in 40°C.

 THE FOUNTAIN at Thurnham Hall, near Lancaster, is a grade-1 listed 17th century country house. (photo credit: ALEX DEUTCH)
THE FOUNTAIN at Thurnham Hall, near Lancaster, is a grade-1 listed 17th century country house.
(photo credit: ALEX DEUTCH)

After two and a half years cooped up in our tiny country, thanks to Corona, what a thrill it was to board an El-Al flight and arrive in London for a two-week holiday in the land of our birth.

We were very lucky that the heat wave, which had Brits sweltering in 40°C, did not hit until we were safely back in Israel. We returned on July 12th and the hottest day ever recorded in England was on July 19th.

Although the main reason for the trip was a sad one – the stone-setting for my late older sister, who died a year ago in Leeds – we also managed to do some touring and enjoy some London attractions, as well as the incomparable beauty of the English countryside.

We spent a week at the Churchill Hotel near Marble Arch. Busts and pictures of the great man (a personal hero of mine, who saved the world from disaster) adorn the public spaces of the hotel.

On Shabbat, we visited the nearby Marble Arch synagogue and I found this an eye-opening experience and not at all how I remembered childhood synagogues. Many of the women left their heads uncovered, unheard of in the past, although the stiletto heels and Chanel bags were very much in evidence.

The staircase at Thurnham Hall, near Lancaster, is a grade-1 listed 17th century country house. (credit: ALEX DEUTCH)The staircase at Thurnham Hall, near Lancaster, is a grade-1 listed 17th century country house. (credit: ALEX DEUTCH)

We were lucky to have chosen a Shabbat with a guest chazan – and thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful tenor voice of British Israeli cantor Simon Cohen, who should be topping the bill at La Scala, not davening musaf.

He introduced Israeli and Yiddish melodies into the liturgy and encouraged the congregation to join in. The prayer for the Queen was said by a woman from the Ladies’ Gallery, another innovation.

After the service there is a sumptuous kiddush at Marble Arch. We tucked into herring and fish balls, cholent, kugel, sushi and cakes.

After this feast, of course, we didn’t need lunch. But it also meant we missed a colorful gay parade in nearby Hyde Park, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Gay Liberation Movement. Many pop stars and personalities came, and among the performers was our very own Netta Barzilai, the Eurovision winner in 2018. Netta is not gay but having been discriminated as a fat child growing up in Israel, she is sympathetic to the gay movement.

After our journey to Leeds and the stone-setting, we moved on to our RCI (Resorts Condominiums International) in Thurnham Hall, near Lancaster. It’s a grade-1 listed 17th century country house, about 10 km. south of Lancaster.

There was no air-conditioning, naturally, although the receptionist very kindly found us a fan. No lifts either, but luckily our apartment was on the first floor. RCI apartments, which we have enjoyed for decades now, are fairly basic but comfortable and self-catering. A quick visit to a local supermarket for provisions and we were set up for a very long Shabbat.

Shabbat

In the north of England, Shabbat begins at around 9:30 p.m. and goes out after bed-time. We were well-equipped with reading matter, a new Scrabble set and we both enjoy walking, inspecting gurgling streamlets and ancient forests. We were told it was fine to walk in the fields too, “but just watch out for the bulls.”

The nearest town is Lancaster and this was where we had a reunion with old friends from Liverpool Medical School, where Alex graduated, in 1966. We visited the castle, a rather grim stone fortress with some medieval remains, but the thing I enjoyed most on that trip was a great cup of English tea.

For our last night in England, we booked into a hotel in Bicester. This is a designer shopping outlet and, according to its website, the most popular tourist site for Chinese visitors after Buckingham Palace!

No bargains here, unless you think something costing £4,000 (NIS 16,660) now reduced to £2,000 (NIS 8,330) is a good buy.

The next day, we drove our hired car to Heathrow, arrived at El-Al and felt instantly at home. The shouting and arguing, oh, it was music to our ears.