The Making of a Zionist
I know the exact moment it happened and I’ll get to that soon enough.. Looking back at my life I have to believe in destiny. All the right players appearing at just the right time is how the universe works, even if you are at the time totally unaware.
My Dad escaped the Nazis and was sent to a displaced persons camp in jolly old England. He wanted to go to what was then still called Palestine and occupied by the British. They said no. He could choose between America or Australia. He chose America and so began my history.
I was born in 1956. A mere seven years after the rebirth of the Jewish State. Unlike Jewish millennials today who see the strength Israel has, back then it wasn’t a given. In 1963 my grandfather went to visit his sister who lived in the new state. A memento from his trip was a colorful sand filled bottle of Coca Cola depicting of course camels. I think they still sell them in the Old City of Jerusalem but he didn’t get it there. No Jews allowed in the eastern part of the city which was then occupied by Jordan. I wonder to this day how the hell they got the sand to form a perfect picture.
My next memory is of the Six Day War. Well actually my memory is of my father. In June of 1967 there was no CNN type 24/7 news programming. So in those tense days, when Israel’s fate hung in the balance, my Dad would come home and immediately head for the radio on his nightstand. If he was the type, but he wasn’t, he would have told me to “Shut the fuck up!”, but instead he just shushed me. Sensing the tension I would back off as he got the news that at leastfor that day, Israel still existed.
In the summer of 1971 I went to a sleep away camp called Camp Betar. If you notice, on the upper left hand corner of the brochure it says “not just another camp.” That was definitely truth in advertising. I went there because of my friend Bunnie who had just moved to the neighborhood a couple of years earlier. Another push from the universe that was telling me to head east. In camp I got my Jewish identity. Of course I knew I was Jewish, but I allowed my self to become unapologetically Jewish. I learned about Israel and I learned about Israel’s history. Camp Betar was a zionist camp.
I joined Betar, the zionist youth movement. One winter they had a former member who had moved to Israel come and speak to us. As he told us what life was like he said something that resonated with me. To this day I’m not sure why. He said that people don’t lock their doors. That was true of Israel in the early seventies. Something inside of me clicked. Or maybe what I felt was the universe shifting.
Then I went to the promised land. There was a year program in Israel for youth leaders from different zionist movements. Israel was like a big crazy version of camp. I could not not fall in love! I fell in love with Israel and my future husband. The universe was working overtime. The year was 1973 and I remember the sirens on Yom Kippur. I remember going down to the bomb shelter. The Yom Kippur war had started. We didn’t flinch. I was braver back then. None of our parents made us come home. I knew I was going to be throwing my lot in with these beautiful, loud, aggravating, strong people.
That’s me on the right. I’m on my way to formally becoming an Israeli. The year was 1975 and we were at JFK airport where my friends were seeing me off. I hated having my picture taken back then but now I wish we had taken more pictures. That was zionist me in her qiana shirt and shag haircut. Life would get a little twisty for me, leading me down different paths, but they always led me back to Israel because there has always only been one place where I felt truly at home.