Monday, April 10, 2006

“Are you Jewish then?” - how we met

So a French-English couple! Where did you meet? People often ask us with the hope of an interesting story to entertain the dinner table or fill in time while waiting for a train or a plane. “Well, we actually met in Israel in 1989. We were both spending our summer holidays working on a Kibbutz” Then they ask about our religion, sometimes assuming we are Jewish or have Jewish roots. No neither of us is Jewish, although we both loved Jewish people, music and the kibbutz life. It was simply fate that we ended up meeting there.

Jacques was a mere teenager of nineteen when we met and I was two years older. It was my last student holiday before graduating in my Art and Design course at Nottingham University in England. Spending a summer on a kibbutz was a popular option in my faculty and a student agency organized trips, with five weeks working and two weeks holiday at the end. Israel sounded like an adventure and was an easy way to travel around, meet people and work while not spending much money. Jacques was doing a degree in Economics at Poitiers University, France and part of his course required a paper on communal living. We worked in teams from 6am to lunch on the fields out in the Negav Desert. He drove the tractor, while I planted and watered melon seeds in the dry desert soil of Eilat. We spent the afternoons by the pool or sleeping and at six pm we all ate together in the communal dining room and in the evening watched a film, had a disco or kibbutz-organised entertainment such as traditional dances or barbecues on the beach. It was a simple life and a great mix of young backpackers from all around the world. We were a mixed group of Irish, Brazilian, Australian, South African, English and French. The communal language was English but Jacques didn’t speak much; he just smiled and liked to clown around a lot. I wanted to talk to him but my French was so awful I just gazed at him from a distance.

On August 12th it was Jacques’ birthday and we had a party for him. Some of the young kibbutz staff had made him a cake and we danced the night away. Jacques had already been there for a few weeks and he was very popular. After the disco we all watched the August shooting stars, which I had never seen before and was stunned by the display of lights literally raining down on us in the dusty garden of Kibbutz Eilat. Someone said ‘make a wish’ and I wished impulsively that I could see Jacques again!

Afterwards in high spirits we decided to go ‘skinny dipping’ in the Kibbutz pool. I was rather reluctant, I hate water and in the dark it really scares me, but I didn’t want to miss out on all the fun. Skinny dipping was forbidden in the kibbutz but it was easy to climb over the fence and have a quick splash before the guards came. We all ran to the pool, jumped in, some naked, some still dressed. Soon the security guards heard the noise and everyone ran for it.

I ran by instinct to the female changing rooms, and a few minutues later Jacques peeped round the door looking for a place to hide. So with some embarrassment we sat silently in the changing room and waited for the guards to go away. We dare not go out for fear of being caught. To pass the time we whispered stories about our families, our hopes, dreams and plans for the rest of the holiday. Eventually we crept out and sneaked into the kibbutz canteen and made hot coffee and raided the fridge. The romance bloomed and we spent the next few days together, usually under the cover of darkness as we didn’t want everyone to know.

But as fate had it he had to leave for a trip to Egypt after just a few days and I was stuck on the kibbutz for another month. But this split was wonderful as he began to write long flowery love letters in French to me on the kibbutz telling of his undying love and sadness that I wasn’t with him. I made him Friendship bracelets from cotton thread and sent him photos.

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