What I did on My Holidays at Christmas 1981

It’s strange what can bring the memories rushing back. Finding a clip of Sir William Walton’s ‘Belshazzer’s Feast’ for another purpose this morning did it for me.

In 1981, the Scottish National Orchestra Chorus were invited to tour Israel. The chorus needed augmenting and the call went out to the Embra Festival Chorus. Mrs M. signed up. More importantly, hangers-on were encouraged and I signed up too.

Started badly. Drove through to Glasgow Airport and stood in line for hours as Israeli security guards went through our all possessions. This was, of course, in the dear old, dead old days before 9/11 and we were just not used to such levels of intrusion. We had a Christmas gift from my brother-in-law for a Christian Arab Israeli friend (a length of tartan cloth) and they made us unwrap it entirely to check it out. There was only one black chorus member who was accompanied by his black hanger-on wife, and they took them, and only them, away and searched them in private. The tour might have ended right then, had not said black member said to forget it.

We landed at Ben Gurion Airport on 27th December 1981 and were bused to a kibbutz just shy of Jerusalem. Non-religious and a total joy. Friendly people who loved their country.

It was like that for the rest of the trip. Usually, totally smitten by the country and its people but, just every so often, feeling slightly uncomfortable. Mrs M. was rehearsing most of the time but I was free to wander and did. Walked miles from the centre of Jerusalem to find the flat where the friend’s family stayed and handed over the gift. They were watching Jordanian TV when I arrived and she was out. Their English was almost non-existent but I got through it with sign language and a couple of explanatory photographs of Peter with their daughter and the coffee was good.

Went to Yad Vashem and wept at the Eternal Flame but then got seriously upset about the fact that there was a room which appeared to be equating our holding camps in Cyprus with the Nazi concentration camps.

Tried to change money in an old Mandate building and almost got homicidal, firstly because the locals did not believe in queuing and kept pushing in front of us goyim and secondly because when I handed over my form, the teller crossed out ‘British’ and wrote ‘English’ for my nationality. I went to critical mass when she assured me that it was the same thing.

Actually, this is all turning into a bit of a rant and I have a lot more to write about that trip. Suffice it to say in what has become Part 1 that the trip gave me a belief in the right of Israel to exist. I am not an uncritical supporter of what they have done, and are doing, to survive but I am on their side and I don’t think that will ever change.

I leave you, for now, with one of our very dated photographs from that trip. In those days, you could walk up to the Temple Mount, wander freely around and then take off your shoes and go into the Dome of the Rock. One of the most moving religious sites that I have ever visited.

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