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If ever 'the first day of the rest of my life' meant anything, this was the day and the precise moment. Tying up at the quayside in Haifa. The most significant day of my life. An absolute 180° turnabout. It's like everything, but everything that happened before, became irrelevant. I was 11 years old.
A new world
My life began that day. Imagine you have grown up all your life and then went on a journey to a far off planet. The people are similar yet different, and you don't understand them. The food, the climate, the clothes, the way of life... imagine going to sleep one day and waking up the next, and everything around you has changed. Remembering your past, but not feeling connected to it. Starting a whole new and exciting life.
My geek period
Even though it was for a short period, I was sent off to school to be in my cousin Yardena's class. All my cousins, and there were quite a few when you have so many uncles and aunts, were all more or less the same age. The pretense for sending me to school was to make friends and maybe learn the language. Obviously, it was to get me out the way.
I was quite an attraction though. Same as Godzilla would be in a schoolyard. I would love to say it was because I was from Liverpool where the Beatles were all the rage, but I think it was more because of my safari like shorts and shirt, together with sandals—and socks! Ooh, and my snow white skin of course. I must have appeared a right geek. I was only there for a day or two before I got into a fight with a boy who had a go at my cousin. I was petrified, but I had to be the English gentleman and protect her.
Getting used to a new life
I slotted into the local style very easily, despite my 'geeky' style, clothing, mannerisms, and strong Liverpudlian accent. Israeli culture is so different, but I liked it. The weather was fantastic, and I was enjoying every minute. Same could be said for Rose. Obviously she was 'home' and with the warm sunny weather, sunny skies, and no pollution, she was feeling much better. She was feeling happy despite the sombre shadow that was accompanying her every minute of every day.
We travelled from one sister to another by bus. From Haya's cottage in Gat Rimon by Petach Tikva, to Zehava in Kibbutz* Kabri in the north, to Leah's small one bedroom apartment at Carmel centre. Leah lived alone and never married. Finally, to Malka's palace on Panorama St., or known locally as 'Yafe Nof' meaning 'beautiful view'. Malka and Dov, her husband, and Ehud, my cousin, lived in a beautiful home the likes of which I had never seen in my life. The view from the balcony was just out of this world. Hardly five minutes before I had come from a prefab in Liverpool with grey skies, and ice on the inside of the windows. Their home was just above the Baha'i Gardens overlooking the bay of Haifa. Beyond was the gorgeous Mediterranean with numerous merchant ships waiting on anchor for their turn to enter the port. The view has far surpassed the majority of places I've ever been to, and I've been to many. In the distance I could be seen the mountain range that separated Lebanon and Israel. I had no idea that two years later, I would be living in Nahariya. Neither did I know eight years after that, I would be eating Humus on Hamra Street, central Beirut, an enemy of the State of Israel, and almost within shouting distance of Nahariya. More about that later. Rose and John didn't have a clue I was so close at that time.
*A kibbutz is a communal living arrangement whereby everyone had their own house, but shared a central dining room. There was no menu, and so you ate the same as everyone else. There were people who kept the place clean, those who cooked, and those who washed up. The kitchen work was on a rota basis between all the residents. In many a kibbutz could be found young foreign nationals who volunteered to do work in exchange for food and lodging; a cheap way to travel. It's still popular today. Also, and this you may find strange, the kids on a kibbutz didn't live at home. They lived in a central living area with caregivers looking over them. The question that always lingered in my mind was whether this made the kids more mature and independent? I was more or less alone from the age of seven, and I've always been extremely independent. The kibbutz usually had some kind of industry whether that be farming, dairy production, oranges, bananas, and lots more, and profits went into developing the industry further, and pocket money would be given to members. Today the system has changed, and most kibbutzim (pl) are independent homeowners, own kitchens, and kids live at home. However, there is still a central dining hall, and activities for members.
Travel in those days was easy enough, but a bit uncomfortable, if not VERY uncomfortable. It was a super hot climate, and air-conditioned public transport was non-existent. The options for travel were trains, buses, and American elongated seven-seaters called 'sherut'. Occasionally there were eight passengers and not seven, so the driver could make some more money, and to enable the passengers a more cosy experience, especially on a hot and sweaty day with no aircon or deodorants. Cigarettes were still in fashion, so that added to the 'aroma'. There were no regular stops for the sherut. Whenever you wanted, you could get off. It would also stop 1000 times on the way to pick up more passengers who just had to stick out their hand. The advantage of the sherut is when it filled up, it was off. Buses had a set schedule, but they were cheap.
Travelling between the sisters.
There were two main bus companies called Egged and Dan. They still operate today, but back then, they were similar to the American school type buses. Inside they were dark and gloomy, and there was no air conditioning, and, as mentioned previously, no deodorant. That was a luxury bus passengers hadn't heard of. If you wanted to breathe, there were these latch type half windows you could lower or raise. A kind of all or nothing option. The tires felt like solid wood or rubber on the road, and the seats were wooden too. You were usually glad to get off them as quickly as possible. But, Israel was only 12 years old.
Returning to Liverpool
No sooner had we arrived than the six weeks were up, and we were saying our goodbyes. For some, it was literally GOODBYE. The sisters, including Rose, had no idea at that time that she would outlive the doctor's predictions by almost 30 years. They were all under the impression that it was goodbye for the last time. I was kept totally in the dark.
We flew back home where my dad was waiting for us. It was my first flight, and I think Rose's too, because when I fiddled with the air vent, the plane tilted and her heart missed a beat. Never forget that. I'm guessing Malka paid for the flight back too.
Symbol of Liverpool
One of the famous 'liver birds'. The symbol of Liverpool originated in 1207 when Liverpool was registered as a borough with permission from the king, King John. He wanted a Royal Seal for the occasion to differentiate between various documents, and he chose a bird. There were two then, and they pointed in different directions. One out to sea, and the other towards the city to protect the city. You can see the liver birds in many places in Liverpool, but none more prominent than on Liverpool FC T-shirts.
The Liverpool music scene
The Beatles were driving everyone insane. Me too. Loved their music. Also Cliff Richard and the Shadows was the UK version of Elvis, and he was competing in the charts with the King. Other groups were coming on to the scene such as Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Searchers, Billy J Kramer, and dozens more. All Liverpudlians. A lot of talent came out of Liverpool.
I returned to school, and everything went back to 'normal'. It was obvious Rose was feeling better. However, I wasn't happy. I started pressuring my dad to move to Israel. He wasn't keen. Maybe because he knew the Palestine police*, the Brits, weren't popular. Maybe he didn't want to leave his family, although the connection wasn't that strong. I did see some of my uncles from time to time. I've just realised the weirdest thing at this exact moment. He had four brothers and one sister. Mom had four sisters and one brother. Weird coincidence.* More about coincidences later. My connection to my dad's family was not strong, and I have to admit, probably because of Rose. She resented them, and it affected me also. In fact, she resented everything about life in Liverpool, and I've only come to realise that fact much later in life. Most likely, it was the core issue of all their arguments over the years
I couldn't settle back into the way of life, and longed to go back to Israel, and it took two years of constant pressure to persuade my dad to agree. I was the driving force for the move. Mom kept quiet. I was doing her bidding. In a short time, I had fallen in love with that beautiful country and the way of life, and I wanted to be there.
The differences were stark. The food took a bit of getting used to. From the land of fish & chips, a cup of tea, beans on toast, egg and bacon etc., (as you can guess, we didn't keep kosher at home), I came to a place where they put the whole fish on a plate in front of you, head, eyes, tail and all. I never took to that, to this day. Reminds me of a time much later in my life that I took a delegation of four RAC engineers to an Arab restaurant (Arab restaurants are the best!!) by the Sea of Galilea, and they ordered fish, probably expecting the kind dipped in batter like back home in the UK. Boy were they in for a shock.
There were other things like olives. Couldn't stand them, but love them now. Gefilte fish and the jelly surrounding it. A poached and mixed fish made into fish type burgers with a slice of carrot on top and horseradish. At first, my stomach turned upside down, but I do eat it once a year (not the jelly) at the holiday time. Actually, I do like it today, but I won't go out to buy it. Don't like it that much. I love Mediterranean food, and do miss it a lot. Can't find it here in Portsmouth. Greek or Turkish are similar, but not the same. Salads were common with every meal so that was no problem.
*The Palestine Police Force
The British police during the Mandate times didn't have a good reputation. They were disliked because of their activities against the various Jewish paramilitary groups that were fighting the fedayeen. There was no IDF army back then, so protection for families and property fell to clandestine groups. However, the Brits (some of them, not my dad) would raid their munition hideouts, and confiscate weapons leaving the Jewish fighters without arms. That didn't win them any favours with the locals. It was a constant battle to outwit the Brits, and find new stashes to conceal the weapons.
Remember Bill and Judy from an earlier chapter? They lived in Rawtenstall, Rossendale. In 67 Newchurch Road, I think, although I'm not sure it was their initial address. Rawtenstall was a large industrial area with numerous shoe factories spread all over, and with the pollution that goes with it. Judy always made sure I had shoes. Rawtenstall was totally different to Liverpool. Surrounded by hills, valleys, fields in all directions, trees, stone quarries, it became like a second home. Liverpool was an urban city. Whenever I used to see an old Hovis advert on TV with a kid riding a bike, it used to remind me of the Rawtenstall area. Hence I call it 'Hovis Land'. But I don't mean that in a derogatory way whatsoever. On the contrary, I love that area of the country. Bill and Judy had two children; Rosemary and Raymond.
There was a strong bond between the two families as both men, and both ladies were good friends even before they met their future partners at the beach back in Tel Aviv-Jaffa. On a regular basis, they would either visit us in Liverpool, or we would travel there to visit them. We really were/are like family. I still see them every year or so, but my main contact is Ray and Angela, Ray's wife. Vicky too, their daughter. Ray calls me 'cousin' and Vicky calls me 'uncle'. Angela calls me... never mind... My Hovis remark drives her nuts. Yes, we really are family.
The pressure was still on John in the background, and it was having an effect. He started coming round to the idea, and they eventually contacted the Jewish Agency who assisted families wanting to go live in Israel. I was told not to tell any of my friends. Not sure about the secrecy, but I suspect it was because they were about to do a 'fly by night'. They were probably deeply in debt, and couldn't afford to meet their obligations. I do remember Bill coming to pick us up on the final day, at night, and I was shoved into the boot of the vehicle he had.
A complete blank
I think when getting into Bills car that night, I must have banged my head. For the life of me, I can't remember the following weeks. A total blackout. Not a single moment comes to mind. What I do know is we ended up in yet another prefab located 200 yards away from the beach in northern Nahariya close to the Lebanese border. Well, it wasn't exactly a prefab. More like an asbestos cabin. Yes, asbestos. Survived the TB, survived asthma and bronchitis, and now was living in an asbestos hut!
End of Part 2.
Part 2 will be extended into the next section, which will cover the early years in Israel, the merchant navy up to August 1966 when I joined the army.