Wednesday, September 25, 2013


If 4 Sept 1973 was a very important day in my life, then 25 Sept 1978 was the most important day in my life: it was the day when I emigrated from Britain to Israel. After years of talking about it and months of planning, the actual day arrived, and of course it was a bit of an anticlimax.

My parents drove me from Cardiff to Heathrow; I have a picture of the three of us standing outside our house, along with a suitcase, two guitars and a mandolin. Most of my belongings had been sent in advance to Israel in a 20 ft container, along with those of my group; this was scheduled to arrive some time in December. 

Joining me on the plane were two of my companions. Altogether, there were maybe ten of us emigrating that year from British Habonim, but everyone had their own plans and  separate departure dates. 25 Sept was a compromise date and was based on my return from America on  one hand and a desire to arrive in Israel before the New Year (that year it fell at the end of September) on the other. I was disappointed to discover that the airline - El Al, of course - didn't serve us champagne as new immigrants.

After we touched down in Lod Airport (as it was then), we were escorted to a side room where we filled in some forms and received official documentation of our status, along with our identity card numbers. Then someone took us to Kibbutz Mishmar David, which was to be our home. I had already spent some time here - one month in the summer of 1976 and two weeks in the spring of 1977 - so it wasn't a complete unknown.

Looking back on it now, the first year was structured in a similar manner to the year of 1973: first we had a period of three-four months, which I call 'the phony war'. We acclimatised to living in Israel as Israelis and to a new kibbutz. I wasn't able to find a suitable place to work so ended up running the kibbutz laundry machines on my own for this time. I didn't like the work and was isolated, but I also knew that it was only for a few months.

In the early months of 1979, we went to the development town  Arad for three months, for an extensive course in Hebrew and Israeli culture. As opposed to previous seminars, we were allocated to self catering flats; we ate breakfast 'at home' and lunch in the seminar centre; dinner would either be 'at home' or at other people's flats. Our fellow students were two groups of American immigrants, similar to us; they came from two different kibbutzim in the Negev desert. 

For a while, I was quite taken by some of these people, and even spent one weekend with them in the hot desert, but I realised that I would never be able to survive there because of the heat and so discarded any idle thoughts that I might have entertained of jumping ship from Mishmar David.

I was in the top Hebrew class and as befitting our status, we had two teachers. One was the head of the seminar centre and taught us Hebrew grammar, whereas the second was a journalist (possibly out of work) who taught us how to listen to the news on radio and how to read the newspaper. They both taught us invaluable material. Unfortunately some of the Americans in my class (there were maybe ten of us in the class of which only two were British, so it was inevitable that it would be Americans ...) took a strong dislike to this teacher and caused no small amount of tension, both within the class and towards the teaching staff. I don't remember how the situation was resolved, but I do recall that the other British student (a girl who whilst being from British Habonim was in a year younger than mine and had only joined our emigration group at the last minute) and I were invited to the home of the seminar head for tea one Shabbat afternoon where we talked about life and the social schism.

In the final month of the seminar, I was elected to be the general representative of the entire group; this was quite a surprise as I didn't - and still don't - consider myself to be leadership material. I liased with all three groups along with the seminar staff and arranged a day trip to somewhere (I don't recall now where we went). 

I was one of the few people who went home for the final weekend - I think that the seminar finished on a Sunday or a Monday (I went home on Friday and intended to return on Sunday). On Friday evening, I went to some evening activity on the kibbutz; when returning to my room, my sandal enclosed foot brushed against what I thought was a twig, drawing a little blood. After a few minutes, this scratch started to hurt and someone suggested that I see the kibbutz nurse. It turns out that a black scorpion - poisonous but not fatal - had bitten me; fortunately we were able to deal with this in time before my entire leg became paralysed. I spent the rest of the weekend - and a few days following - stuck on my bed, unable to move. Of course, I missed the graduation ceremony at the seminar in which I was supposed to take a leading part.

After the seminar finished (and my leg returned to normal), I began working in the kibbutz kitchen. It was intended that at some stage I would be running the kitchen (planning menus, purchasing the food, etc) and I insisted that first I learn what it was like to be 'one of the workers'. I was interested to see what the kitchen was technically capable of doing and learning how the cooking devices (large hot plate, steam heated pots and electrical oven) could function.

Sometime in August 1979, I went with a few others to the closest office of the Ministry of the Interior in order to change my status from temporary resident to citizen. This meant, of course, that I would eligible for induction into the Israeli army within the next six months or so. I'll leave that story (or at least, the parts that I can tell...) for another time.

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