By Belfast-born Israeli, BARBARA ABRAHAM-VAZANA
In 1958 when the State of Israel had just celebrated its 10th birthday my El Al flight landed in Ben Gurion Airport and the applause and cheers of the passengers when the plane landed filled me with a myriad of emotions. Born, brought up and educated mainly in Belfast I enjoyed a secure and protective back-ground.
My mother’s family, with whom we stayed in Wales for part of the war years as my father was overseas fighting with the British Forces, became aware of the slaughter of their dear ones who never left Poland but the reason for their tears and heartbreak was never discussed in front of me – just an infant. On our return to Belfast I overheard and eventually was told more as we visited the refugee farm in Millisle with clothing and goodies for the children. After the war ended the horrific details of the Holocaust eventually became common knowledge and there was increased attention given to the cause of a homeland for the Jewish people both at family gatherings and in our special Hebrew/Jewish education classes in Belfast. “Eretz Israel” – the Land of Israel, took on a special meaning for the Jewish people.
There already were family ties with Palestine for my paternal grandfather, who arrived in Belfast penniless in the late 19th century, had always been a Zionist in his heart and when he did establish himself and have the ability – and means – to travel he would sail to the port of Jaffa each winter and in the late 20ies fulfilled a dream and purchased land where he planted an orange grove. But why was I on that flight, a young woman who had not yet completed her degree at Queen’s?
Intermarriage between Jew and another faith was regarded as taboo in those days. However life in the fifties was changing attitudes for women, preparing us for the burning of bras in the sixties and the birth of the hippy mentality and having enjoyed all the advantages of an expansive education I was a free thinker who discovered the taste of romance with a Christian lad. This was not acceptable to my family and given two options I took the more adventurous one and came to Israel, the family hoping I would find a nice Jewish boy.
That subject we will leave aside but what I did find was a world so different to the one I had known – a country that filled me with a plethora of emotions and of never-ending challenges. The pride of seeing our people cultivating arid land and Jews of all ages and shades of skin laboring to build and develop towns, road systems and all that was required to house the influx both of the dispossessed from Europe and Arab lands and those who made a conscious decision to return to the land of their fore-fathers. I met young pioneers who helped to establish the Kibbutz system and formed the core of the Israeli Defense Corps. And together with that, a countryside that was seasonally filled with the odor of the orange blossoms that planted them-selves in my heart from the time of my arrival.
I too was swept into the excitement of building a new life in a new State. Five months on a Kibbutz Ulpan, then pioneering in Eilat where only some 500 families lived, marriage and two lovely children; then the Six Day War; involvement in the growing Tourist Industry which I continued in Tel Aviv when I left my husband. These years saw the commencement of many new developments and changes across the country including the parts that were beyond the original borders; it was a time of increasing and developing new industries and an eventual entry into the expansion of hi-tec.
The formation of a new personal relationship brought me into contact with the oil fields of Sinai; then another war which began on Yom Kippur, which again brought fear, suffering and the loss of loved ones for many. Eventual peace with Egypt meant the return of Sinai and another life change. The decision to accompany my partner who found work in his profession in the North Sea meant leaving for Scotland with him but my children who were still pre-military service choose to stay in Israel and a large part of my heart remained with them.
We spent twenty years in Scotland with many flight tickets purchased in both directions for us and for our off-springs. There were weddings, births and funerals and the return to the “homeland” always remained in our hearts and eventually the day of our return came with retirement.
It took a while to get used to all the changes wrought in Israeli society after the quiet, unthreatened back-ground of Scotland but we were home. I had begun to write articles and short stories in Scotland and was interested in continuing with this and was lucky in finding contact with ESRA – which is short for English Speaking Residents Association. Their colourful and informative magazine is just a small, but important, part of the excellent work they do. Founded some thirty years ago they fulfill many needs in today’s society with their volunteer work – even the magazine is produced by volunteers. Why don’t you go online to www.esramag.com and there you will be able to get a taste of modern Israeli life?
Sixty two years have passed since the State of Israel was officially recognized by the United Nations and given the right to exist and yet the losses and the sacrifices in life continue in order to defend and to live on this minute piece of land. The lives we honour and remember are tragically not to be the last yet we are condemned for taking the steps we must to protect our people.
You in Northern Ireland can understand my thoughts and words. I have watched with admiration the work of NIFI and wrote about you in the ESRA magazine in an article entitled “Israel’s Friends Indeed” – which was read in tens of thousands of Israeli homes. I hope I fill your minds with the wish to savour the aroma of the orange blossoms and visit us – if you still have not.