Jun 2007 Journal

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Letter from Israel

Like migrating birds, they spend every winter in Eilat. Their home is in London, but the winter climate makes their old bones ache and, besides, she’s not too keen on housework.

Hearing the unmistakeable sound of native London accents in the hotel club room, we fell into conversation with the visitors from the UK. They seemed to be in their seventies and to have spent a lot of time in the sun, judging by their tans.

‘Yes, we come here every year, and spend three months in this hotel. We’ve been doing it for the last 16 years’, they told us. ‘The hotel staff regard us as family.’

How admirable, we thought, wishing that more British Jews would follow their lead. Little did we realise that we had fallen into a trap.

‘But why do Israelis have to take their children with them everywhere?’, they complained. ‘Why can’t we eat in the dining room without having to put up with screaming children? Why does everyone have to wear jeans all the time? Is it a religion? Why do Israelis pile so much food on their plates? Was there a famine? And why is everyone so bad-mannered?’

It seemed slightly futile to try and counteract those sweeping generalisations. How does one explain that Israel is not England, that most parents wouldn’t dream of going away without their children, that Israelis enjoy good food, and that people on holiday, especially in the laid-back atmosphere of Eilat, tend to wear comfortable clothes?

After our conversation I took a good look at the other people in the hotel. I saw adorable babies and toddlers and beautiful, lively children. I tried to view those happy families through my acquaintance’s jaundiced eyes, but my imaginative faculties failed me.

Yes, once there was rationing and hardship here, but that was a long time ago. Nowadays, Israelis simply want to enjoy themselves. Just like everybody else.

Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

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