By Angie JACOBS, Noam Israel tour mum.
As I write, my precious 16-year-old daughter has been in Israel for just over three weeks on “tour” with a group called Noam.
She is one lucky girl! Not only is she escaping her parents and little brother for almost a month, but she is having the opportunity to explore Israel with a group of teenagers.
She will experience people and places that one does not encounter on a package holiday. (Nor is there the ‘ruach’ or ‘chavura’ on a family holiday!) She has looked forward to the trip for years and for me it was a blessing during those bleak GSCE revision months: “Yes, exams are awful/horrible/pointless, but at least you’re going on our at the end of them.”
Back in 1982, I was even luckier. Our exams were called O Levels and could be winged with a final flurry of revision, rather than studying hard for two years. On top of this, the trip I went on was touring for two weeks and ‘working’ ( I use that term very loosely, on a kibbutz for three.
Far fewer kids went in those days and there wasn’t the choice of groups. Nowadays more than half of Jewish 16-year-olds in the UK go on tour and every youth movement and synagogue is getting a slice of the action. Earlier this year, I, gleefully I must admit, as it’s right up my street, took my Ilana to a tour fair where we were able to speak to representatives from each group and make an informed decision on which would be the most suitable for her.
She’s a discerning lass and she wasn’t going to go with just anyone. We got it down to three – FZY because they had a special interest week; Habonim because I used to go and knew the representative’s dad; and BBYO because the representative was cute.
Unfortunately, RSY and LJY never got a look in as they are vegetarian. (Look, I’m being honest.)
The next day she came home from school and announced: “I’m going with Noam!” Ohhhkay. There’s a lot to be said for ‘who your friends are going with’. Back in the day, I went with a group called “Leeds & Yorkshire.” Twenty girls and eight boys (I remember the exact numbers because the odds were so poor) from Leeds, Manchester and Hull. If our parents were lucky, they got one or two blue aerogrammes (which they accidentally tore while opening) from us and a reversed- charged phone call (ouch).
Nowadays, I’m not complaining. We get daily emails from Noam and dark photos of their backs on Facebook. These photos are like playing Where’s Wally?, and if you do find your son or daughter among the other Primark-clad adolescents, there follows an analysis of how happy your child looks, who she/he is standing next to and is that an arm around the shoulder?
So back to 1982. What do I remember? I remember a fantastic adventure. If I had to sum up my experience in one word it would be “fun”. Yes, rite of passage, bonding, Zionistic, learning and cultural are all close contenders, but boy did we laugh. From the first night of sneaking my sister, who was on a gap year, into our dorm, to throwing water onto tourists from a ninth floor balcony in Netanya and then crouching down so they couldn’t see where the shower was coming from, to constant singing, chanting, games and merriment.
We spent many hours on our coach and Abracadabra was constantly on the radio. I think we sang it more times than Steve Miller. I can only hope my daughter is enjoying it as much as I did. (Sadly, not everyone on our tour was happy and one participant went home to Hull. Yes, Hull. It must have been bad.) Times were different. Kibbutzim allowed groups to stay and work there.
Our kibbutz, Sde Nehemia in the Upper Galilee, probably stopped though after they’d had us there. I have memories of falling asleep in the fields and getting told off for playing catch with fruit that I was supposed to be picking. The kibbutz had a pool, but if you went to the pool in the afternoon instead of having a schluf, then you were invariably too tired to go to the pub. At the pub you could hang out with the volunteers and drink large measures of Arak and vodka into the early hours of the morning. Tough choices. Hang on a minute… alcohol? On Israel tour?
If you so much as glance at grape juice now you’d no doubt be sent home. And there were cigarettes too. If you didn’t smoke before tour, you definitely did by the time you got back. (Except for me, mum.)
Noblesse was the cheapest brand – not very strong for a hardened Israeli smoker, but with the mouthfeel of Capstan non-filter to the English teenager.
I’ve put a thread on Facebook to reconnect with old comrades and it seems that all is not as innocent and rosy as I’m remembering. We’re talking catfights, sneaking off to nightclubs and big hair. Shil-shul (diarrhoea) was rife and even the cotton fields got pebbledashed.
There were no phone cards to not phone our parents with, but asimonim (tokens) that we chose to wear around our necks instead. The food was schnitzel and rice, often more than once a day. Mornings were early and grumpy. “I don’t care if we’re going up Massada, one of the most beautiful and important Jewish sites. I just want to go back to sleep!”
Ilana’s tour is now almost through and we’re counting the sleeps until she’s back home putting us in our place. I expected to cry when we waved her off and my husband’s tears were a sure thing. We didn’t cry. We were just so happy, and a little bit jealous, for her. Anyone want to set up tours for fortysomethings?