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1975: Israel

This is the beginning of that part of my autobiography which begins and ends with my second marriage. As many of those mentioned in it are either close friends, colleagues or even opposed to what I stood for, I've had to be careful what I say.

I have deliberately written this in a rather self-centred way, because what I want to focus on is what I learned or failed to learn rather than giving a blow by blow account of what happened to me.

It begins in 1975, a year and a half after my ileostomy operation in winter 1973. It had taken me some time to come to terms with what had happened to me, and eventually I resigned from m post at UMIST and after an abortive attempt to go playing music in South Africa with my brother Jeremy, I decided to go to Israel. I desperately needed some kind of break. I had never been to Israel, so somehow the idea formed that I should, particularly since my brother had been there a lot in the mid 1960s. So somehow or other I asked my mother whether she thought I should go to Israel.

Her answer was an enthusiastic yes. I had met many of my Israeli relatives when they visited London but had never experienced the joy of being in Israel. April 1975 saw me embarking on an El Al flight to Israel. I think I remember my aunt Aliza meeting me at Tel Aviv airport together with her partner Amatzia, who owned a big paper business in Jerusalem. I also think I remember my cousin Kobi being there, smiling and tall as ever. They all spoke very good English so there was no problem communicating. We had seen Aliza and Kobi many times in England. Aliza’s late husband Eliezer, who had been a top man in the Israeli fund raising operation, had travelled a lot to London on business and often brought his family with him.

Aliza had arranged for me to get help from the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Business. I had room in an office, where I turned my recently completed doctorate into a book on product planning.

Israel was a totally new experience. The drive up to Jerusalem is a very special experience After a short period on the flat, at Shar Hagai you begin to rise into the Judaean mountains, passing by several monuments to the war of independence in the form of red lead painted military transports, wrecked by the Arabs during the war. Sometimes flowers and other memorials are placed by them. The road rises and falls and then finally after crossing the last ridge, Jerusalem appears opposite, like a golden dream, its uniform bright sandy-white colour achieved by tough planning regulations which forbad (and still do) building or facing in anything other than Jerusalem stone.

You then wait at traffic lights – often for some time – before hitting the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem traffic before finally reaching your destination. My destination was Aliza’s small flat in a quiet street of Rehavia, an inner suburb of Jerusalem. She still lives there.

I realised that it was going to be rather crowded. I slept in the lounge while Kobi slept in the other room together with his mother. My cousin Dinah was already married and so no longer lived at home.

Kobi became my guide. He took me all over Jerusalem, finding new ways to fill one's stomach. I was lucky that eating falafel and the many other delights of Jerusalem streets didn't give me a tummy upset. The biggest impression that Jerusalem made on me was the beauty of the girls. I would stand at the crossroads and marvel at their beauty, which must have derived from the incredible mixture of Oriental and European blood that had taken place since Israeli independence. And it was not just their faces. They were nearly all slim and shapely and very well dressed. By that I don't mean expensively dressed, just that they dressed with a style that seemed to me almost Parisian. And when they smiled, they showed beautiful white teeth. I was in heaven. And the sun always shone, so the girls were never overdressed as they so often are in England.

I realised later that what I was seeing was partly a result of gender imbalance. It was less than two years since the Yom Kippur war had caused the highest absolute casualty rate in any of Israel’s wars since the War of Independence (when 4000 military and 2400 civilian deaths occurred). The June war of 1967 had cost nearly 800 military deaths, while the war of attrition that took place in Sinai from 1967-70 cost over 1500 lives, and the Yom Kippur war over 2600 lives. The number wounded was several times larger than this.  Nearly 5000 lives in a population of 2.5 million created a small gender imbalance, particularly among the young.

I started to learn Hebrew. I found myself a book called Elef Milim Part 2, the first part of which I had used as a teenager while learning Hebrew in Loughborough. I started to work my way through it. I also enrolled in a class, but I found that they were going too slowly and gave up the class and concentrated on teaching myself. Many English people find Hebrew a very difficult language, but I found it so logical that it appealed to my mathematical mind and I learned it very quickly.

The whole of Jerusalem was open to me. It was less than eight years since Jerusalem had been reunified. Jews walked into the old city without any fear. We were still the conquerors. The Arabs was still enjoying the relative peace and well-being of living within a Jewish state, in particular the big increase in tourist business that peace had brought. They had experienced some repression, as Palestinians, under the Jordanian Hashmite regime (another great British colonial success!), so some were happy with the situation. Later, their aspirations started to rise and they decided that they would like independence. I am sure that there was great resentment underneath the surface but I am also sure that their feelings were mixed. Talking to Arabs, who might not have seen me as a Jew. I suppose I benefited from the fact that I was very English in my looks, with hair that got fairer in the sun and bright blue eyes, plus a strong English accent, and the Jordanians and Palestinians had generally loved the English.

Back to the girls. Aliza introduced me to Ricky Hochstein, who worked for her. Ricky introduced me to a close friend of hers, Ofra, who – to cut a long story short – eventually became my wife. As we are no longer together, I have not written about how the relationship started and developed, out of respect for her. Suffice it to say that it led to marriage and two beautiful daughters, Maya and Talya. At the time, Ofra’s English was not so good, so I had to improve my Hebrew to make sure I was communicating well.

I returned briefly to the UK to interview successfully for a job at Kingston Polytechnic as a senior lecturer, which meant a big pay rise. August saw me travelling back to England with Ofra and an unborn Maya.