Nick Freeman

I love Israel, but I never go there

I made my last trip to the Holy Land 30 years ago — I haven’t been able to get back since, even though my wife is Israeli

December 21, 2017 11:10

Over 42 years have passed since I first visited Israel. Back then I was 18 years old, newly released from boarding school, with a career path that led directly to the cowshed of a large kibbutz.

Spool forward four decades and professionally I’m in a much better — and decidedly more fragrant — place. After years of hard graft building up a busy legal practice, these days I have the time and means to return to our historic homeland.

Yet I made my last trip to the Holy Land 30 years ago — I haven’t been able to get back since.

Not because, as so many complain, the pound is feeble, the politics are volatile and the Israeli idea of customer service amounts to an entitled shrug when you leave a tip.

Indeed, nothing could quell an almost visceral yearning which points like a compass to the land of our forefathers. My forefathers.

So why don’t I do it? Put simply, I’m afraid of the journey. Not of flying but of the prospect of being violently sick should the plane hit turbulence.

It might sound silly coming from a lawyer known for his combative style, but although I fight to win in the courtroom, flying defeats me.

My card was marked at the age of seven when I spent a 16 hour flight to South Africa with my face in a sick bag. I felt like I was dying and have been a terrible traveller ever since (my mum promised me I’d grow out of it).

And even though I was determined to overcome the problem, a succession of hideous experiences — including being stretchered off a honeymoon flight to Barbados — has shattered any inclination to take to the air.

I last flew in 2007 on a family holiday to Turkey. I was so ill on the outward flight that I seriously looked into a 48 hour drive through 16 countries to get home. Once I landed in the UK, I vowed I’d never fly again.

I love cars and enjoy motoring, especially on the continent. I regularly travel to my holiday home in the South of France, happily driving up to 1,000 miles in one day.

Despite being brought up in a traditional Jewish family in Nottingham, there were wilderness years when I drifted away from my roots, settling in a very English corner of Cheshire and marrying a nice non-Jewish girl.

But recently, especially after remarrying “in”, there has been a rekindling of the spirit and with it an increased ache to revisit Israel .

In terms of my Judaism I’ve begun a slow, and admittedly stumbling journey back to the fold, aided by learned local people only too keen to help.

In fact now in my 61st year, I read Psalm 61 every day.

The commentaries I follow talk of how a longing for Eretz Yisrael — even if one’s body is “at the end of the earth” — means that the spirit is always in God’s holy place. It strikes a sweetly painful chord as slowly I discover my resonant frequency on the Jewish dial.

There have been other factors too. About five years ago, I was offered the opportunity to visit Poland for the first time. I couldn`t fly of course. But instead I drove with my brother John to our bleak destination.

Staring at the broken remains of the gas chambers in Auschwitz, I gave silent thanks for our Jewish homeland. A place of escape and the very articulation of Jewish continuity. How could I not want to visit Israel again?.

But perhaps what brings this all into sharpest focus is the resurgence in antisemitism. Where once Jews would idle over Shabbat lunch talking about a nice retirement pad in Poleg, now many are pricing up Israeli real estate as a realistic escape.

I had my own wake up call at a recent community dinner where Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, Israel’s former Chief Rabbi, warned that our time in Europe is limited, that we Jews were living in a “fools’ paradise”.

As an eight-year-old boy, Rav Lau was the youngest survivor of Buchenwald. He knows the harrowing reality of the Shoah. As such, his words drilled into my soul. Surely it is, at the very least, time to visit Israel again and reboot the connection.

Truthfully, I’m not ready to leave, I feel settled but not safe in the UK. But I would like to visit. My wife, who is Israeli, goes frequently but travels alone. There’s nothing I can do about it.

I sincerely hope we never reach a time when Jews are forced to flee this country. Only then can I see myself booking that El Al flight.

Sure I might throw up all the way there. But at least I’d know I wouldn’t have to face the journey back.

December 21, 2017 11:10

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive