I made aliyah from London in 1986. It was a disaster. My immersion into Israel was totally unplanned. One inexplicable blunder followed another and I fetched up in Midreshet Ben Gurion — part pioneer township, part kibbutz — living in a tent within a largish concrete shell I’d put up using my immigrant loan. I was alone and broke.
On the bright side, I was living on the edge of Zin Nature Reserve and there was a cracking view of the desert landscape.
Ten years later I applied the last coat of paint to the structure and welcomed my first proper guests, two Australian engineers who came for two months to build a solar dish. They stayed, on and off, for three years.
Living here now for 22 years, I am still a Zionist fanatic. I am crazy about Israel — the idea and the reality — and this guesthouse is my Zionist showcase.
Israeli guests take one look at me and ask bluntly (how else?), “What are you doing here?”, and I answer. Foreign guests look around them at this exquisite village in the middle of nowhere and ask me, “what is this place?” and I give them my answer.
In December one of my guests was an 80-year-old Irish lady. She’d been on the road a few weeks, had a small knapsack, containing her one shirt (which she hand-washed daily), a pair of scissors to cut her hair, a pencil and notebook. She was a travel writer of 40 years standing and had finally come, lapsed Catholic that she was, to the Holy Land to write about the place. This was her reconnaissance trip to the desert; she was due to come back in March to start research.
I reckoned she’d formed her opinions about Israel-Palestine during the Spanish Civil War, so I kept my mouth firmly shut, spoilt her with good food and attention and introduced her to all my smartest, most leftist neighbours who fielded her questions in the spirit in which they were asked. It’s now May and she hasn’t come back. Was it the war in Gaza? Didn’t she like my cooking?
If I get a phone inquiry and the inquirer asks if we have TV in the rooms, I politely keep them from coming to stay because I figure it won’t be their cup of tea; likewise inquiries about air conditioning and Jacuzzis.
My ideal booking is an extended family of, say, six adults and eight small kids who take over the house for three days. The kids run wild with my kids, the parents blob out on the veranda. If, after they leave, I dispose of a mountain of used diapers and two kg of newspapers and magazines, I feel I’ve done my job.