We loved the roof-top terrace on the 27th floor of the Meir Shalom Tower, famous in Tel Aviv since its completion in 1965, when it could rival any building in the Middle East. This was where we hung out. It was where we laughed, ate croissants; drank coffee and cola; took photographs and learned the grid of the city streets and the lay of the land, almost as far as Jerusalem. When we looked a long way South, beyond the old bus Station, past the city limits and towards the Negev desert, we imagined the way Moses came with the tribes. It was the way Lawrence of Arabia came with Arab hordes, and the way my Dad came on an open truck in 1947 on his journey from Egypt.
My Dad had great admiration for Lawrence of Arabia and Moses, probably in that order. While he had some spiritual connection with the Old and New Testaments after a Methodist upbringing, he had an affinity with wanderers and saw the Bible as a useful geographical and historical record of conflicts. He could skilfully connect eras and areas in the Levant as he did in the United Kingdom.
Below us, on Allenby Street, we could see the Dome of the Great Synagogue and I reminded Colin that we had never been there. 2 years earlier, we had hoped to visit, but I was very disappointed after asking directions from an old man sitting on a low stone wall outside a house with a big garden, somewhere behind Allenby Street. He had shocked us with his harsh reply. “We don’t want the British in our Synagogue,” he said seriously. I stepped back off the kerb, shocked at meeting a man with old scores to settle.
“Well, he doesn’t like us!” Colin exclaimed as we walked away. “What shall we do?”
I answered him as calmly as I could muster: “We’d better go and have ice cream instead. Someone will show us the way on another day.” For a minute, I felt out of my depth as a newcomer. A woman of 32 in a strange land with an enthusiastic young boy, realising I had a lot to learn if I thought the whole of Israel would be glad to see us.