It turns out that not all of my relatives who had immigrated to Israel had been killed in Arab riots in Jerusalem and Hebron at the beginning of the last century. No, there was a strand that was going strong, having moved from their last home in South Africa about ten years before. How did I discover this? Well, the scion of that branch of the family stopped by the kibbutz one afternoon not long after I had arrived in Israel looking for the small package that I had to deliver to him. Yes, my irresponsibility and procrastination goes way back. But I digress.
Anyway, he picked up his package and invited me to visit the family at their home in Tzfat. (In English this is usually spelled Safed, but that spelling is so far from the original Hebrew pronunciation that I cannot bear to use it. So try to make a little spitting sound and get the name out in Hebrew.) It was their holiday home away from their Jerusalem home. Tzfat is famous as a center of Jewish learning (of the Madonna kind) Kabbala, and for being an artist’s colony. Sounded like a plan to me.
A few weeks later, I made the journey. I hitchhiked from the kibbutz to Tiberias. (No lectures on hitchhiking, in those days in Israel it was safe. Well, that is until my friend and I were almost kidnapped on another trip, but not because we were Jewish but rather because we were young American women of the supposedly loose kind. All of these digressions.) From Tiberias I took the bus to Tzfat.
Their home was truly lovely. It was an old stone house, or rather a few old stone houses joined to make one labyrinthine home with all sorts of nooks and crannies. I got to meet my Israeli family, which was lovely, and I was made to feel part of the family. Yes, if you have a guest do the dishes and throw out the garbage you can be sure that you have permanently endeared her to you. Present were also two of their daughters and two of their sons-in-law, both of the women were pregnant, which left me, the one able-bodied woman, to help the matriarch. (Let's not even go into the men not offering to help or being expected to help, that would surely be a digression.)
Other than having to do chores, it was a lovely weekend, with lots of singing around the dinner table and home cooked meals that I had not had since arriving at the kibbutz where everything was home cooked, but home cooked for a “family” of 500 is not quite the same as for a family of ten.
On Saturday night my cousin drove me to the bus stop in Rosh Pina, which is part of the way down to Tiberias. On Fridays bus stops and buses are filled with soldiers going home for Shabbat, and on Saturdays after dark (when the Shabbat is over) and Sunday mornings the bus stops and buses are full of soldiers on their way back to their bases.
As I stood waiting a tall, dark and handsome soldier started talking to me. (No, this is not mr ex, for those who might be wondering.) We chatted while we waited for our buses to come.
A few weeks later an extremely handsome man from the kibbutz was asking for me. Ah, heart palpitations of the positive kind. But no, in his extremely poor English he was telling me that one of his buddies wanted to speak with me. Yes, I was being tracked down. I had told the bus stop man the name of the kibbutz where I was living, and a soldier from his unit—this soldier—lived on the kibbutz, and he asked him to find me and speak to me. I must say, I was the talk of a very nosy town because of this for a few days, and I was reveling in the attention. Knowing that you are being pursued has a lovely ability to bring light to one’s sense of being.
I recall telling him that yes, his friend could call me for a date.
And so a few days later Dudi (I kid you not) called to ask me for a date. I must explain, David is as popular a name in Israel as it is here, and so you have the various variety of variations; the two that I could never bring myself to utter being Dudi and Dudu. And so, I was to go on a date with, Dudi, although I told him that I could not call him by that name, for sometimes a rose really does smell like, well, you get where I’m going here.
I had been told that all Israelis are poor; that all Israelis live in crowded apartments (not like me with four of us in a two-bedroom apartment with one bathroom); that all Israelis have teeny tiny cars. Well, David dispelled all of those rumors. He arrived in a huge Volvo and took me to a Chinese restaurant in an old stone house in Tiberias.
This son of a Romanian father and an Egyptian mother was to dispel other rumors, including those that tall, dark and handsome men are rough and tumble. But I think I must stop here, you have other things to do and I must mull over this part of my Israel story before I can proceed in the telling. And I need to bring forth memories of this long-ago time, and savor them (and be remorseful, too) before they are ready for the page.
* * *