Then there was Israel, 1978

While this is a true account,  there is an astounding similarity to those Roman e’ clef characters.  ..simply astounding similarities!

My sister had a saintly, frail and very elderly friend who passed away in 1978.  This elderly friend left a small inheritance to my  sister.  This sister decided to use the small inheritance to go on a Pilgrimage to Israel with a very illustrious group from Washington DC. headed by a Bishop, several Monsignors, priests , nuns– along with many of ” the faithful” as it were.

So there I was planted in the country with one husband, seven children, and a garden that would feed Napoleon’s army.  A  miracle beyond my ken took place.  My sister wanting to share her good fortune  plucked me out of my real life to include me on an adventure of a lifetime.

The first dazzle of my naive self was to understand that it was quicker to fly over Iceland to get to Israel.  I know all you young people know that now.  This for me is the beginning of a mounting excitement.  Well! at that time things were happening that were somewhat grave  in the mid-east.  We did not land in Israel but rather in Jordon on, The Royal Jordanian Airline (Alia) .  The night visit in Jordan was downright exciting and downright dangerous.  That very first night a few of the adventurers (self and Aunt Jeanne included) secured a guide  to drive some of us to the Citadel,  a fortress high above the city. We went on our first tour with all the innocence that only happy travelers can have.

We, snug  in our  cabs, pulled up to the stone wall at the top of the Citadel, but strangely enough another group of cars pulled up aggressively and skidded to a stop almost upon our arriving at the Citadel.  Mind you it was quite dark by this time. Our guides (drivers) shoulders back, went over to the newly arrived cars–filled with rough looking men I might add.  The two groups argued for an interminable time.  J and I were looking for places in the stones that we could hide our wallets.  What good would that do were we to became hostages or be cast into some other unwanted  dilemma (?)  We are a family action and that was the first thing on our list.  The list fortunately dissolved because apparently our guides prevailed and the rugged bunch took off.

We finished our tour. On the way back to the hotel,  I personally chatted with one of our guides, he looked into my eyes gravely and with a low voice shared that if anything happened to us Americans, they the guides would surely loose a limb at the very least.  A younger Arab fellow who came along (I know not why) with heartfelt emotion asked , “Why does not America love us as they do our neighboring country? I hope I was diplomatic in my assurances.

When we returned to our hotel, we received sly looks from bent heads of some of hotel staff.  Someone in that hotel did not have our best interest in mind.  J and I barricaded the door and took a bath in a tub that was beneath a full size picture window.   We filled the tub, turned the lights out and bathed quickly.  We had a lovely breakfast in the morning with the full contingency from home. We certainly felt less vulnerable with the Bishops, etc. etc. etc.  I’d like to assure you that we never never went off on our own again but I cannot make that promise.

Now back in cabs to take us to  the buses that would finally take us to our destination,  Israel.  On the way to the bus we were halted to a slow pace  by the loveliest sight I’d ever seen.  Flowing colors floating   from the Jordanian robes to the flags on top of the market tents.  Horses and camels every where . Then,  what to our wondering eyes, we now knew that we were halted because ,  King Hussein was passing  with his cavalcade.  The level of excitement accelerated all around us as the King passed.  All so very thrilling. The frightening  scrape of the former night already in our deep memory and simply  passing bit of our journey.

We produced all our documents at the border between Jordan and Israel yet again and piled on the bus(es).  We breathed sighs of ‘short lived’ relief when suddenly we were stopped and Israeli soldiers with rifles at the ready came aboard and looked each of us dead in the eyes.  No hint of welcoming.  Every aspect of ‘this is war’ and[we will pass you though if we see fit] was present.  They did not see fit to let one of our own  through.  The soldiers took this mild mannered professor off the bus and kept him.  He did not return to our group for a couple of days. He was an American but  his skin tone was suspect..  As we drove along we worried about him but that concern became more self centered when upon leaving the buss we had to turn our bags and purses– except our cameras– over to the border guards.  We were then put one by one into a tall concrete stall where we were instructed to activate our cameras by taking at least two pictures.  The guards stood outside the concrete stall much as happens in dentist offices of hospital radiation exposure.  We were beginning to feel like traveling hot shots.  We could do this.  This is just all part of being fearless travelers.  Without a breath in between  these extraordinary sequence of events , we were dropped softly in the the beautiful and flowering city of Jericho where we had a relaxed repast including wine.   Curious how calm and joy became part of our core so quickly.

We soon arrived in Jerusalem not far from the Western Wall.  Jerusalem is a walled city of old.  We rested a bit and again were off to enter the Walled City of narrow walkways, some of which covered the original walk by six feet or so.  The walls were still quite tall and the churches even taller and  peeked  from above:  Onion Domes, Catholic Cathedral like structures Byzantine Churches and Mosques  We were led to the original Way of the Cross inside the City.  The  Stone Pavement of the fortress of Antonia from Roman times was still in evidence.  We saw the main triumphal arch built by Hadrian in 135.

Eventually, we went to the Dome of the Rock that, of course is controlled and cared for my the Muslims but it was open for viewing.  At least the doors were open for men.  A timid and well-bred lady from our tour group, walked softy in a door and approached the Holy Center.  There was a hub- bub of activity that emanated from the little lady’s spot.  We watched in awe as the lady was quickly and not too gently ushered out of the Mosque.  Upon the heels of this activity  a man with a bucket and mop furiously wiped up the spot on which this woman had stood.  It was not our space.  We did not know.   I did not know that an Arab had offered five camels to purchase me.  Thank goodness for Father (you know who) or you might never have seen me again . We headed back to the Hotel where we found the hotel surrounded by tanks parked along the street.  Oh! yes.  there is a war.

After a fabulous dinner and sumptuous breakfast we were off again to see, perhaps not in this order but Masada, the last hold out for the Jews back in history.  We had to take a ski lift to get to the top of Masada. We visited the Dead Sea which is the lowest spot on earth.  We saw the Roman Aqueducts and the spot were Jesus was thought to have been born in Bethlehem.  Speaking of Bethlehem which by the way if a rough town with rough inhabitants (at least it was in 1978).  But here is the thing  Aunt J is a daily communicant and after checking the night before it was discovered the only Mass the next morning was at a French Monastery that people sort of knew where to find.   Four-thirty AM in Bethlehem we two alone and blinded by Faith went walking to look for this French Monastery  in the dark.  After some hiking, we did recognize some French words on a plaque at a gate.  We walked down the long path and began to hear the chanting that we knew and loved.  Never mind that there were a passel of clergy who would probably say Mass in some little corner, J had to be sure.  Actually, it was one of the sweetest moments since we knew the Mass, no matter what language it was in.

We arrived back in time for breakfast with  shouts coming at us from right and left, “where have you been”   ladda ladda ladda !    To be serious, an architectural piece of note is that the important edifices in Bethlehem had low low doors so that in the more war like times, ahem,  enemy horsemen could not ride in at will.  That night as I ran up to my room to get my sweater as the others were ordering cocktails, I was—yes, I am damned sure that I was pinched.  Pinched on the butt as I ascended the stairs. I looked over my shoulder to see an ever so innocent looking waiter on his descent with his  wobbling  tray.

Somewhere along the line we ended up near the Mediterranean Sea.  I think it was a town called, Acre.  We were carefully presented to various shops so that the local shop keepers could benefit from our stay in their country.  Shop that group did– but wait!  There were shots …many shots but from a not too far distance.  Our Franciscan Monk guide told us not to be alarmed.  There is a slight skirmish down the way and they will be finished soon and we can carry on.  Well!  Okay then.  We were having a good time.

This was a long tour and to finish it off, we were taken to the resort town of, Natanya by bus.  A bus had been blown up that morning on that very road to Natanya.  Surely nothing like that could happen to American tourists she thought in her innocence.  Once again we were on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in a delightful hotel on the beach. The hotel was filled with happy people both native to Israel and we tourists.  Glasses were clinging together with the sound of gaiety.   The best aroma was the Espresso. I have never tasted anything so good since.  After having our refresher, Aunt J. went to  to bed, however, sleep would not come to her until I was safely tucked in bed. Little did she know what was transpiring a few yards from her snug bed.

A former Cloistered nun, Nat  and I wanted to go out on the beach (in the  dark?) and discuss – oh you know–the meaning of life.  So we sat on the sand and heard the waves gently caress the shore…the innocent shore.  Startled by a bright light, Nat and I jumped up to see.  See we did.  There was a large jeep filled with armed soldiers whose large weapons were pointed at us.   We were considered  a threat.  After all, agents of the enemy of Israel  had just carried out a treacherous act by blowing up the bus earlier that very day in that very area,  killing many persons.  It had not occurred to Nat and myself that others of the enemy would use the Sea to enter Israel.  So back to the moment of the lights shining on we two dumb intelligent dames.  The solders yelled to us and motioned for us to come closer.  We walked close with more than a little trepidation.  The solders kept their weapons on us and asked what we were doing there?  We explained  that we were staying at the hotel to which we pointed like fifth graders.  They examined our features.  Nat could have been one of the enemy given her coloring and height.  I, on the other hand, was short blond with a distinct English heritage image.  After casting glances to each other, they determined that we were just what we said we were. They admonished us for our fool hardiness and ordered us back to the hotel and watched us every step of the way.  Nat, the former nun, said (you guessed it) –“I don’t know about you but I need a drink.”  I did not disagree.  After our drink, we went to bed saving our story for the next day so that Aunt J could sleep.  We did not.

We took off from Ben Gurion Airstrip on an, El Al.  plane and landed at an airport somewhere along the way to fuel up only to find that we could not take off for home because there was a hostage situation somewhere on the airstrip.  Well, we did take off finally and all was well. I remember the following like it was yesterday:  from a drowsy sleep in my window seat, I saw both the black of night behind us (not metaphorical) and the bright sunlight ahead of us.

What a wonderful time we had, truly.  With all its beauty and history along with the armed conflicts going on, we had a wonderful time never to be forgotten.  We humans are a resilient bunch.

mosswood  2012

(a few remembrances from 1978)


~ by mosswood on June 17, 2012.

4 Responses to “Then there was Israel, 1978”

  1. what a wonderful and frightening adventure. i cant wait talk with you and hear more about it. what a blessed life.

  2. Thanks, Katie. We all are having adventures but we only see it when we look back.

  3. What a magnificent adventure! Wow

  4. M. Glad you enjoyed and thanks for the comment.

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