My connection to Israel ~ Returning years later!

My (Peta) connection to Israel began with my maternal grandmother who was born around 1907 in the Old City of Jerusalem, in what was then Palestine.  She was the 5th generation in her family to be born in Palestine.  My grandmother, Sylvia, emigrated to South Africa in 1933 and married my grandfather who had emigrated from Latvia much earlier.
My father, Stanley David (born in the late 1920s) in Johannesburg, came to Israel to serve as a “Machal” volunteer to fight in the 1948 War of Independence.  He was assigned to a unit responsible for detection and clearance of land mines.  
 1949 ~ My father Stanley David, on the LEFT.  Volunteer soldier in the 1948 War of Independence in Israel.

Nearly twenty years later, in 1967, my parents moved to Israel with their four young children, when my father took a sabbatical from his engineering/architecture work in South Africa.  We came from our hill top home in Johannesburg to the Mout Carmel hill top in Haifa.

The timing was rather interesting… The Six Day War broke out just a few weeks after our arrival!  Arab countries coordinated an attack on Israel from all fronts, creating a second major existential threat to the young country’s survival;

Friends and family back in South Africa urged my partnes to “send the children home to safety, at least.” But my parents were having none of that.  We were sticking together as a family.  And so, as young children we (my two sisters ~ Niki and Dina, my brother, Daniel, and I) had the experience not only of being immersed immediately into the local public school with no more than a few words of Hebrew, but also of living through the Six Day War.

I was not a happy camper to be uprooted from my friends at ten years old and to land in a strange country with different customs, culture and a language I did not understand.  I told my parents they were bad people and that I was either going to report them to the police, or get myself back to South Africa by going to the local post office and having them mail me back to my best friend Monica.  I was of course notoriously rebellious and 10 year olds do tend toward the dramatic! (Maybe this is because once for a costume party my dad dressed me up as a parcel ~ and I won first prize!)

I remember during the war that we had to tape the windows of our rented house on Mount Carmel, overlooking the Haifa Bay, and cover them in brown paper to prevent both shattering and light showing at night.  Headlights of all cars were painted over in black.  Creating a dark city was meant to confuse the enemy bombers as to where the city was located.    The siren pierced the dark night sky with its loud wailing sound, usually in the middle of the night or the wee hours of the morning.  I do remember it was always dark and it always wok us up.  We would jump out of bed and meet at the top of the stairs to go down into the small shelter where we huddled together over a portable radio with a flashlight and various treats.

It did not take long for me to make new friends and to create strong bonds with my Israeli classmates, despinte my initial lack of language.  (One of my intentions for this trip to Israel is to reconnect with Dorit, who was my best friend in 6th grade at the time, and with Ehud, who was my first crush!)

It took six months for me to become conversationally fluent in Hebrew and to have a very core feeling of belonging with my new Israeli friends.  School days included new subjects, such as agriculture and sewing.  I understood virtually nothing as, of course, the classes were in Hebrew and being conversationally fluent is very different from understanding language in an “academic” context.

I was quite a novely in our school in a neighborhood where my friends had never met anyone from another country, or who spoke another language.  Iw as popular and well liked and had a very active social life.  The best memory was the incredible independence and freedom of movement that I suddenly gained, as a young childe.  Israeli children at the time (and even now) have an unusual level of independence at a young age.  No carpools or rides to get to friends; houses (like in Johannesburg) ~ we walked and took buses everywhere.  This for me and my siblings was a huge change form our lives in South Africa.

When it was time to return to South Africa a year and a half (?) later, it was heart-wrenching for me to say goodbye to my friends and to the lifestyle and culture I had come to love in Israel.

I returned to Israel five years later at the age of 15, for a three month stay on Ulpan with my high school at an agricultural base near Haifa and had yet another layer of Israel woven into my connective fabric with the country.

My parents returned to live in Israel many years later, once we had all finished high school in South Africa, as did my siblings, each with their own stories and own connections.  I went to America at the age of 19, and visited my family in Israel almost every year.

Tragically, my brother Daniel died in Jerusalem in his early twenties, adding a permanent layer of sadness, heighted by being in Israel, and a great loss to our family.

And so, it is with this context of multiple family connections and history with Israel that I now return, after a fifteen year hiatus, to Israel once again.

Over the course of three weeks, we visit Haifa, Ashkelon, Zichron Yaakov, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  It has been such a rich, full visit that several blog entries will be required to adequately cover our trip.

But first… a trip down memory lane to my family’s two homes in Haifa and our school…

Mom with the three girls. Niki top L, Dina bottom L and me to the right.
Daniel and me ~ “Two peas in a pod.” ~ Haifa beach 1967.
My sister Niki and I return to our old neighborhood in Haifa to visit the houses we lived in as young children  Many aspects of Haifa remain familar to me ~ the beautiful view over the bay, the cyprus, pine and eucalyptus trees interspersed with the creamy stone buildings and walls.  Of course, it is very built up and physically changed in the many years since we lived there.
Walking down the pathway today at 123 Panorama Street, the first house we lived in, during the Six Day War.
1967 ~ Walking up the pathway in front of our house, to go to school.
I remember the house as being large, because the building itself is big. However, there are actually two apartments inside and I was surprised to see how small our apartment was, especially considering there were six of us.
1967 ~ Daniel on the balcony of 123 Panorama, with the dramatic view of the Haifa bay and port.  In Johannesburg we had an amazing view from our house on the hill at Kallenbach Drive.
The view today 2014, (from the same balcony) of our first home in Israel.
48 years later – same balcony…
The public school we went to was a close walk to both our homes in Haifa.
First day of school at David Yellin on Mt. Carmel in Haifa. Daniel on L in front, then Niki, me in the middle and Dina on the R. No uniforms for school here such as we had in Johannesburg at our private day school.
Entrance to David Yellin today Not THAT different! After 48 years.
Places always feel way smaller  than you remember them, when you return to them as adults.
Back inside my school.
View over the Port with the Ba hai temple in the foreground.

After an initial period of life at 123 Panorama with it’s dramatic view, we moved to a larger house where we each had our own bedroom and a huge upstairs balcony at Sderot Yitzhak near a small park.

Walking through the park in search of the house where we spent most of the time when we lived in Haifa. Would I be able to find the house?
My sister Niki and me, sitting at the entrance to the park, near our house. A place we posed for photos as young children.
A few houses down the street. Many good memories of playing in the mostly empty streets and in a nearby vacant lot graced only with eucalyptus trees.
Finally, found the house! Outside our house in Sderot Yitzak, Mt. Carmel.
Front entrance to our house. Familiar enough to recognise even after all these years!
On the steps in front of the house. The window above was my bedroom.
From L, me, Dina, Niki, mom and Cindy our dog from the shelter, who went back to South Africa with us when we returned.
On Haifa beach enjoying a family outing on the weekend. This was the start of my inclination towards headstands ~ seeing the world from my own perspective.
Head stand in Cuba
Head stand in Viet Nam
Head stand in Thailand
Head stand in India

8 thoughts on “My connection to Israel ~ Returning years later!

  1. Sharon Rosenzweig

    What a fun post! I am glad to learn about your early life, which I’ve gathered bits and pieces of but not the full picture. Your mom is beautiful. No surprise, but really, beautiful. Imagine it from her point of view, do adventurous too. The Apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

  2. Rochy

    Amazing piece Peta. I didn’t know any of this. You made it all so clear and told such a good story. the pictures are remarkable – how you matched them up. Beautiful!

  3. Anonymous

    I think I like the headstand in Cuba the best…
    What a lovely period that has been woven into your history. What a beautiful view of the port and water. I’m beginning to realize why everyone might want to be there. Thanks for a little peek into your past Ms. Petita.
    Spike Chalo, wishing

    1. Peta Kaplan and Ben Sandzer-Bell

      Ahhhh… Cuba!

      Yes, it has been interesting to go back and add yet another layer of experience in addition to my childhood memories. Israel is indeed a beautiful country. We were only there for a short time and not able to see many other stand out sites (to my sister’s regret!)

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