Susan Martins (77) talks with a friend, Catherine Grella (21) about her travels to Italy and Israel in her early 20s, which she considers the highlight of her entire life.
Well, I'd always wanted to travel and I always wanted to go to Italy, and I had $2,000, but this was in 1969, and $2,000 went a lot farther in those days. And I found a little pencion which was in a perfect location. It was a block from the Arno, but it was in a very great place. It was like the best place to be in Florence, and I just explored Florence while I was there. I had never really thought about going to Israel because while I was born Jewish, I really didn't know anything about Israel except while I was living there.
I read a book by Bruno Bettelheim, a psychologist, and it was about the Kabutz system in Israel, and I found it fascinating. And I felt like I wanted to go there. And in about January, I guess, I went to Israel. This was weird. It was the middle of the night when the plane landed in the airport in Tel Aviv, and I was sitting there waiting because the shuttle buses didn't go in to tell of the evening till six or seven in the morning.
So I was just sitting, waiting. This plane came in and this bunch of people got off the plane and they started bending down and kissing the street. And then they came into the airport. They couldn't believe that they were there, and they were kissing the floor in the airport. And it turned out that they were Polish Jews who had survived the Holocaust.
They were immigrating to Israel and they'd never been there before. And they walked in and to them it was coming home. At that time, I didn't know where I was going, but I knew I wanted to go to a Kabutz. And there's an office in Tel Aviv that sends volunteers from all over the world to volunteer on a Kabutz. And you work in the fields, or I worked in the laundry, ironing pants for months, but I also worked in the grapefruit fields, and I worked pruning plum trees at one point, and one point they assigned me this Kabutz, had a fruit stand on the road that the Kabutz was up the hill from.
They put me there to work because a lot of tourists spoke English. Somebody said, are you Israeli? And I said, no, I'm American. And they said, you look as if you were born here. You look just like an Israeli, and it's wonderful to meet you.
And I felt like I had come home, and I felt as if it was my country. That was the weird thing that I had never thought about Israel. I didn't really feel like a Jewish person, but I felt as if that was where I was from and it was really power.