Today, I find myself in Tel-Aviv in preparation for the SELA conference this week. It has been 40 years since I have been in Israel.
Back then, as a boy of 17, I thought I wanted to move here, and was living on a one-year program on Kibbutz Ma’ayan Baruch, near Kiryat Shmona.
I was not a very happy Kibbutznick, I was terribly home-sick and missed my girl friend who was back in NY. In addition, I became very ill with Shil-Shul (don’t ask). About six weeks after my arrival, on Yom Kippour, I was standing outside the communal dining hall when an Israeli came yelling to get to the shelter. We laughed, we had just been in the shelter for a dance, the night before. Within seconds, however, we were running and being strafed by Syrian migs flying, to all appearances, just a few feet overhead. I’m told I took the two flights down into the shelter in two steps.
Worse, after about an hour a Captain in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) came and told us that we were in the wrong shelter, and had to go upstairs and run to a different one. His advice: “Zig Zag”
The war is frightening in retrospect, but at the time it was, frankly more exciting than alarming. My kibbutz was on the old Golan border and so we were told that we were the second line of defense. We Americans were not likely to be much use in a fight, but the Israelis seemed quite ready so we didn’t worry, much. I remember thinking how odd it was that there could be such danger and destruction in one place and such tranquility back home.
Funny how life works out: because I was sick, I was sent home fairly soon after. A friend and I took a bus to Tel-Aviv, where all the cars had their headlights blacked out. I was loaded onto an El Al flight and we were told to assume crash position, turn out the lights and close the shades. We flew like that until we were over international waters.
Shortly after I returned home my father died, and I didn’t go back to the program. Not being in the program, I drifted into other things, and my Zionism gave way to something more complex and less committed; certainly not committed enough to move to Israel and join the army. But a visit; a visit was always just a year or two away.
So now, here I am, with all the Hebrew I learned 40 years ago, but not an additional vocabulary word. (My Hebrew is terrible; fortunately, virtually everyone here speaks at least some English.) Much has changed here in 40 years, as you’d expect, and not least is the technology revolution.
When I was here in 1973 computers were the size of large rooms, guarded both by white jacketed technicians and heavy-duty air-conditioning. The entire history of micro-computers was still ahead, literally undreamed of by most of us. Now I write this tiny retrospective on a touch screen laptop that has more memory and more computing power in 3 pounds than that entire room of computers did; by far.
Here is a small memory: it was cheaper to get the NY Times delivered with a week’s delay back then. Now I get it instantly, on my phone. And speaking of my phone, now a video call back home is real and free (thank you Skype). That certainly would have been science fiction in 1973.
It is good to be back here, but I realize that when I tell folks at the conference that the last time I was here was the Yom Kippour War, they will look at me nonplussed, as nearly none of them were born at the time. I can live with that.