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Danita and Michel Aziza

Four "old friends" from Canada reunited in Israel. From left to right: Naomi, Elaine, Danita, Estelle

DANITA AZIZA: LESSON #27: It Takes a Long Time to Grow Old Friends

by Danita Aziza, April 12, 2011

Four women getting together for dinner to celebrate one of the four’s 50th birthday doesn’t really sound all that extraordinary. Well, in the case of my friend Elaine’s 50th birthday celebration last week, I would have to say that it was, in retrospect, quite extraordinary and actually, some what of a rarity given all the circumstances.

Sitting around the dinner table in a quaint French restaurant down a narrow side street in Ra’ananna , were Estelle, Elaine and Naomi, pals from my youth who all came to Israel at different times; Estelle and Elaine as singles and Naomi with a husband and, at that time three young children.

Estelle and I have known each other since we were barely out of diapers.  I came from Moose Jaw while Estelle grew up in Biggar Saskatchewan, both small Canadian towns made famous for their names.  We met at Camp B’nai Brith in Alberta and our mutual love and involvement in the B’nai Brith Youth Organization cemented us together throughout our teen years.  When I moved to Toronto in 1980 to attend university, Estelle took me under her wing and being a year ahead in school, introduced me to her friends and made her relatives like my own.  It was always her dream to live in Israel, and being one of those folk who put thought into action, she made Aliyah in 1984, worked like crazy to learn the language, built a career, married a wonderful Israeli man, had two beautiful daughters and today lives in Jerusalem.

I met Elaine through Estelle and Elaine’s family became my surrogate family in Toronto.  Elaine and I served as co-chairs of the United Jewish Appeal campaign on the York University Campus and it was her gentle yet take charge persona that earned her the nickname that has stuck until today.  “Boss” made Aliyah in 1993 and pursued a Master of Law degree at the Hebrew University, married an American divorcee with four kids of his own and together they were blessed with twins.   Elaine lives in Karnei Shomron  with her husband and adorable son and daughter who are now in grade 2, practices law in B’nai Brak and has a total of  9 grandchildren.  She’s something!

Naomi originates from Hamilton and we met at University.  Ironically, her husband is also from Saskatchewan and I’ve known him for about as long as I’ve known Estelle.
Naomi, also a lawyer, made Aliyah in 1993 with their three children, and their fourth child, a daughter, was born in Israel 14 years ago.  Naomi was already friends with Elaine and Estelle when I joined the pack and we reconnected after being out of regular touch for a number of years when I became somewhat of a neighbor living a mere 15 minutes away from her home in Ra’ananna. 

Staying in touch with the “girls” has not always easy.  With some I had more contact than others and without Face Book and e-mail for many years, many months would go by without any communication at all with any one of them.  When bad news or tragedy struck the country, as it so often did over the years, I would always find myself worrying about each one and tried to pick up the phone to let them know that I was thinking about them.  Many times I got stuck in the thought and never followed through to the act of calling, something that I now most surely regret.

It would seem pretty natural that time would cause us to drift apart.  Throughout the years, we have all developed strong friendships with many new and wonderful people we have met along the way, taken different paths in terms of career, religious observance, and even child rearing. In our university days we four shared much in common from having similar schedules, to sharing clothing (I wore Boss’s jean overalls on my first date with Michel almost 25 years ago), we ate off of each other’s plate and knew each other’s parents and called them by their first name, which was an anomaly back in those days. Common threads ran through us and our lives were joined at the seams. We didn’t have to work at our friendship, because our friendship simply worked.

It was easy to be friends in the days when our lives were connected, but far more of a challenge as distance and lifestyle separated me from the three of them.  Even though the three all found their way to Israel, their lives too were separate and unique from one another and visits between them were, at times, infrequent.  So when Estelle took the initiative to arrange for the four of us to reunite to celebrate the Boss’s birthday, we reverted back to excited youngsters eagerly anticipating our get together and acknowledging how unbelievable it was that we should have this opportunity to reconnect, reminisce and toast not just our friendship or the milestone birthday, but also the fact that we are all now living in Israel.

The evening was special in every way.  Despite not being able to read the menu without donning our reading glasses or spending a good chunk of time discussing our preferred method for covering our gray hair, I could have shut my eyes and sworn that time had been frozen since our last rendezvous oh so many years ago.  We chatted about all sorts of nonsense, laughed like we used to when tears start to run down your cheeks and spoke of our good fortune for being brought together by happenstance or perhaps something a bit deeper than that.

Being reunited with “the girls” was a lesson in having to tend to and cultivate relationships and friendships of value.  I would have never thought there would come a time when we would all be living so close to one another again and sharing so many common life experiences.  Had we all not made some effort to keep in touch even a bit, been there for one another during the highs and lows and made the effort to attend each other’s weddings and children’s bar and bat mitzvahs, we may not have been as able to reestablish our friendship in quite the same fashion.  I remember this now as I try to maintain my cherished friendships with those that were once so much a part of my daily life in Canada.  I now know first hand that the investment in time and effort is something of great importance.

Israel has brought the four of us together in our middle age and has replaced that which connected us in our youth.  While our regular conversations can still center on the frivolous and mundane, another layer has been added to the relationship as a result of our living in a place equal in intensity to few others. We now share interest in the politics of the day, experiences of children serving or soon to serve in the army, and concerns for things that I would never have had to think about in a previous life so to speak.

Being the new kid on the block, all three of my “old friends” serve as models of strength and optimism, something that is especially helpful on those days when I tend to find myself feeling uneasy.  Many challenges have presented themselves as a result of choosing to live life in Israel, but many gifts I have been given as well.  As I realized sitting around that table in that quaint restaurant celebrating my friend’s birthday, Israel has afforded me the opportunity to continue to grow old friendships that have become new once again.  Lucky me!



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