London Mayor’s Sister Recounts Their Time Together in Israel
Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, once lived on a Kibbutz in Israel with his sister, Rachel. Thirty years later Rachel returned to the country to write about her earlier time there and to relate her impressions of the current state of Israel for the UK’s Daily Mail.
“We’d come to work as volunteers at a kibbutz north of the Sea of Galilee, on the green banks of the Jordan river, just below the volcanic pointy hills of the Golan Heights and a few miles from Syria,” she writes of her and Boris’s initial arrival.
“We arrived at the kibbutz in the blasting heat of July. ‘Warm breeze,’ I wrote in my diary at the time. ‘Smell of blossom … and latrines.’ Soon after arrival, we were assigned our work sections. I had the Augean task of ‘male sanitation.'”
“Boris was bundled into the communal kitchen,” she relates, but “With industrial dishwashers going all the time, it was hotter than Hades in the kitchens and as for me, I took one look at the stomach-churning male loos and felt so desperate that I was forced to play the ‘shiksa,'” Rachel Johnson explains of her efforts to find a job on the Kibbutz that didn’t entail kitchen work.
She lucked out. Eventually she worked in a factory making irrigation valves, then moved on to picking fruit, and finally became a
“Boris,” she writes, “meanwhile, doughtily remained at his post, his skin peeling from the heat and steam, and stayed sane by reading Homer and Virgil in the library in the evening.”
“After a month or so, we left to tour the country: We ‘did’ the main sites of Jerusalem and Hebron in the West Bank; we climbed the fortress of Masada, the hilltop site where 960 Jewish patriots committed suicide rather than face enslavement by the Romans; we bobbed fatly and whitely in the Dead Sea.”
Thirty years later Rachel returned first to the Kibbutz. What she found didn’t impress. She writes: “The kibbutz has changed with the times. There is no communal dining room any longer. It has a small B&B business, as well as the large swimming pool, tennis courts and romantic views of the Jordan Valley I remembered. It now occupies twice as much land, but has just a third of the people, the members are old, and the sense of thrumming, if exhausted, purpose has almost gone.”
Next she headed to the nearby Golan Heights. “Like everything else in this edgy, utterly alive, beautiful, neurotic, fascinating, tormented land, Golan is packed with stuff to do and see,” she relates. She details the activities on offer such as skiing and describes the wine making, which the region is well known for. “You can watch the wine flowing into wooden barrels, and taste the results afterwards before a mezze lunch at a Druze-run restaurant where you will be given, without ordering, the best garlic bread in the world.”
Rachel’s travels take her from Acre to Haifa then to Herzliya, which she describes as “sub-Miami beach.” Then on to Tel Aviv, “possibly the coolest city in the world” and Jerusalem and its Old City.
Her verdict? “Almost 30 years on, the country is busier, more religious, more polarised, cleaner, faster, but still utterly fascinating. I predict Israel will have you at Shalom.”