A journey of the heart

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

Varda Harel 311 (photo credit: x)
Varda Harel 311
(photo credit: x)
When I began my Facebook search for the Varda I hadmet in Israel in 1970, I had no notion what destiny awaited me. Insearching for my unforgettable Varda Harel, I met Varda Shachar, whohelped me find her and in the process became one of my dearest and mostcherished friends.

My Internet search began before Rosh Hashana. ByDecember 2009 I would not only be in Israel with both my Vardas, but myjourney would also have me reunite with students from my first teachingposition 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 myfamily and meeting with my husband's cousins, one of whom we hadrecently found, brought us to this fateful trip in our lives.

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

Varda was an enthusiastic and outstanding guide for my husbandRichard, myself and Richard's cousin Victor, who had come to Israelfrom Russia to be with us during our two-week stay. We walked throughthe wonders of Jerusalem, where other tourists tried to join us to hearVarda's explanation of the sites we were seeing. Varda was with me atthe Wall, where I said Kaddish for my father and sister Ivy. Theintimacy of that moment was one I shared with this dear friend who knewmy heart.

My pride in being a Jew was part of every moment Iexperienced in Israel. My extended family had come in from the Statesfor my cousin's bat mitzva at Masada. The ceremony was profound andhistorically moving. My family continued on a tour, while Richard and Iremained 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 theintelligent and sensitive man I remembered. Suddenly during our dinner,Ardie handed me several sheets of paper across the table. I looked atthem in disbelief. It was a research paper he had done in my class. Hewanted to know, 40 years later, why he had received a grade of A-. Whythe minus, he wanted to know? We shared a long laugh.

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

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

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

One evening Varda took Richard and me to a jazz club in TelAviv to hear Edna Goren. As we sat in this intimate setting, I watchedthe audience sing along as she sang songs from the country's earlydays. Sitting with an Israeli audience which was deeply moved as theysang the songs of Sasha Argov profoundly touched me. This was an IsraelI had never experienced. I thought about the rest of the world notknowing the hearts and minds of a people who are the standard forhumanism.

The day of my reunion with my original Varda had arrived. VardaShachar, Richard and I were invited to Kibbutz Gan Shmuel, where VardaHarel, her husband and family lived, for lunch. When I saw Varda'sface, it brought back memories of our first meeting on a train 40 yearsago. She was still the tender woman I remembered. Her smile and herwarmth touched my heart as she had done then. In greeting us, Vardareferred to my new Varda as "our angel" for answering my search andbringing us together. As we went to Varda's home, I became overwhelmedat the sight and reality of my two Vardas standing before me. I startedto 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 firstmet. She said that he asked for her copy in English which I had giftedher. He had asked before she knew I was looking for her, but she couldnot part with the book because she felt a connection somehow,somewhere. And now we were sitting in her kitchen with my husband, herfamily 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 Princewith 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 lunchwith 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 TelAviv harbor and looked out at the sea. Both Vardas had once livedblocks from where we were, had played on this beach and had attendedthe same school at different times.

Up to the time of my visit, in getting to know oneanother through the Internet, Varda Shachar and I told each other aboutpast memories of our lives. During my time in Israel we had the gift ofmaking and sharing our own exquisite memories. Her graciousness anddevotion to both me and my husband were so much the friend I had cometo know and love. Varda's favorite café is called Comme Il Faut, whichtranslates "as it should be." That is how I would describe everythingabout my magical time in Israel.