My tale of woe and joy begs to be told, and I seem to be telling it a lot lately…so here it is, the uncensored version, the bits that I can remember, even the bits that I’d rather forget. All for your reading pleasure. Yes indeed. Where else can you get to hear tales of a non-Jewish potential Kibbutz volunteer who falls in love with Tel Aviv, dodges Scud missiles, lives and works illegally for years on end, gets besotted by one Israeli girl despite the best attempts of a legendary Jewish mother, but ends up marrying and divorcing another… and then marrying yet another to join suburbia and the hi-tech revolution, while becoming the seemingly respectable owner of an English school. Oh crikey, I missed out loads!
Where else you gonna get all this, eh, where?!
Part 1: The seeds are sown
To be absolutely honest, Israel was never really my intended target. In fact, it was initially never even on the radar. OK, I’d made the decision to bail out on the mighty Blighty some time in 1989, and I knew I just had to spend some time in the sun, but Israel was not even on my list of places to visit.
The exotic shores of the south of France were my first goal – and the Linguaphone cassette course in French that I devoured while walking the dog and while on the train home from my boring 9-5 office job can vouch for that. I also had a hankering to return to my place of birth, and where I’d spent the first five years of my life, Hong Kong, while Australia and the promise of sunny climes down under also really tickled my fancy.
The interest in Israel probably started with a documentary type film that was shown on the BBC around the time I’d started thinking about leaving Britain. The film was a behind the scenes look at life on a Kibbutz and pictures of sunny skies, date and palm trees, and volunteers living it up grabbed my attention. The Kibbutz and the idealism dear to every Kibbutz probably also attracted me a little, but I was more interested in getting out of rainy Britain at any cost. If a Kibbutz was willing to take me on as a volunteer and simultaneously show me a good time, then so be it.
I started reading up about volunteering on a Kibbutz and the programs available, but the clincher for me was when an ex-girlfriend dropped me a line from a Kibbutz she was staying on in Israel. She let me know how much fun she was having and also told me that she saw herself staying there for many years (when I eventually did make it over to Israel a few months later, she’d already returned to the UK).
So, with my mind getting more and more set on an adventure, I decided to quit my job in around April-May 1990. I’d got enough cash saved up over the previous 6 months, done more than enough research and daydreaming about life on the road, and had decided that the time was right. I just had to tell my boss and my family…
My family was actually the easy part: I’d told them on numerous occasions that I was heading off some time soon. My old man was on my side and thought it was good to get it out of my system, while my Mum wasn’t quite so sure. But she’s a Mum and it’s her job to worry, right? It was my accountant boss I was more worried about as they’d paid for some courses for me to take and actually thought I was a decent potential accountant. But me, a bloody accountant? Get outta here!
In the end, breaking it to him wasn’t at all bad. He bought my story that I was going to be away for 3 months, even though deep down I knew that 3 months just wasn’t going to be enough. But I kept telling myself that the 3 month limit was a safety net just in case things didn’t work out for me. And my boss even offered to keep my job open for me, so I really had nothing to lose.
So there I was, one sunny morning, with a fresh new haircut that meant a tearful goodbye to my floppy fringe, stood in line at the National Express offices (bus/coach services throughout the UK) in Eastbourne. With some excitement I purchased my “Magic Bus” ticket from London to Athens. A 3 day ride through Europe, ending up in sunny Greece. What more could a pastey-white British lad in search of the sun ask for?
Coming soon: Part 2, The Journey to Israel