I was 18 years old and had never really considered my Jewishness. I lived in Westcliff-on-Sea, which had a decent sized Jewish community but I pretty much took it for granted. I went to a Catholic grammar school, was allowed out Friday nights, dated non-Jews and then, on June 2, the whole family went to London to see Topol in Fiddler on the Roof. That was when I discovered my identity and went to Rex House to sign up as a volunteer. My parents didn't understand the change in me but I remember they were so proud and supportive. I don't remember being afraid at all but had the romantic notion that "I would die for my country".
I was then glued to the TV until I finally flew out on June 20th, with a planeload of other kids from all over the UK. We were taken on a day trip to Yad Vashem and I wasn't the only one who knew so little about our heritage. There were Jewish boys who had never been Bar Mitzvah, let alone went to cheder, and I think it was a Rite of Passage for many of us.
The seed was sown and my pride in my Jewish heritage continues to grow. I spent 4 months that time, working on kibbutzim and in an army reservist camp. The Israelis were wonderful and so grateful for our presence. I imagine it must have been like Londoners during the Blitz. Everyone came together and helped each other. I was unaware that there were different types of Jews and different social classes. Everyone was equal with one ultimate goal - to live in peace. I went back to Israel as a volunteer two more times and always had that feeling of belonging.
- Susie Hirschfield (Mexico)BACK to Diaspora Recollections