Yesterday I stumbled upon a YouTube video that was stored among my “favorites.” The eighteen minute and twenty-five second movie was made in 1973. It was produced by Israel’s Jewish Agency for the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and was preserved by the Spielberg Jewish Film Archive. It is called “Kids Make It Well” and its purpose was to promote Aliyah to Israel.
It featured my family.
* * *
Though it was written as a fictitious story, the movie was based on the real experiences of my family when we moved to and lived in Israel from August 1971 to May 1974. Our adventure began, in fact, on an El Al flight bound for Lod Airport (now known as Ben Gurion International Airport) just outside Tel Aviv. Almost ten years old, it was my first transatlantic flight and, though nervous, I was very excited. We were moving to a place where Jews were not the minority and where the scars from my early brushes with anti-Semitism would fade.
We landed in the early evening, were met in the reception hall by family members I had never met, and caravanned to an absorption center for new immigrants in Be’er Sheva (southeast of Tel Aviv, in the northern part of the Negev desert, where it was hotter than hell!). There we lived, for about six months, in cinderblock buildings in which the apartments were not large enough for a family of six. We ate our meals in a communal dining hall; played baseball with the other American kids in a grassy common area; learned Hebrew and about the ways in which Israeli society worked; and even adopted our Hebrew names. Since I was given the Yiddish name Shayna (meaning “pretty”) at birth, I was proud to use my translated Hebrew name Yaffa.
Life in Israel actually was a great experience for my siblings and me, especially when we moved into an apartment (owned by Meir Amit who was the Chief Director and head of global operations for the Mossad from 1963 to 1968) in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv. We adjusted well to the public neighborhood school we attended and made new friends easily. During those years of the fifth, sixth, and seventh grades, I became popular and even developed my first serious crush on a boy (happily, it was reciprocated). I especially was pleased that, because my Hebrew was so good, my classmates forgot that I was “the American” – I simply was one of them. Life was good.
Then, on October 6, 1973, the Yom Kippur War broke out. And, for reasons I still don’t fully understand, by Saturday, May 11, 1974, my siblings and I were back in the States, living with our grandparents in Boston.
* * *
Finishing out middle school and going through high school in the metropolitan New York area, was a difficult adjustment period. The well-liked and accepted girl known as Yaffa disappeared; replaced instead by a girl who felt ugly, was behind in school, was awkward, and was mercilessly teased by the cool kids. As a result, this girl became guarded. She put up sarcastic and defensive walls, even as she tried to fit in. But, she also learned that survival meant playing the game, meeting expectations, and only trusting a solid base of family support.
* * *
Somewhere between my mid-thirties and early forties, Yaffa slowly started to reemerge, helping me tear down the walls and negative views of my own self. And now that I’m in my fifties, she is a driving force behind who I am and what I do today…especially when I’m in Israel.
Over the years, I’ve done my best to avoid watching the film. Seeing and feeling my twelve-year-old self was just too painful. However, I watched the film yesterday – with Yaffa by my side – and wistfully smiled over the memories of a time I wish had never ended.
In the film’s final scene, my father asks my mother, “Don’t you wish you were young again?” The question is a funny one. At the time it was asked, my parents were only thirty-four and thirty-three. Clearly they were old before their time. But as I, at fifty-three, weigh Dad’s question, my answer is no. I don’t want to be young again. I did everything I was supposed to do — and once was enough.
I’m ready to move on. I want to be who I am right now…looking forward to new opportunities, new loves, new stories and new adventures.