'Suddenly Life Had Meaning'

Pip Allon discovered she was Jewish at age 10 in an orphanage, where she was inspired by Zionist youth leaders and their tales of kibbutz life.

Pip Allon did not even know she was Jewish until the age of 10 when her mother placed her in a Jewish orphanage in London. Allon has few happy memories from her time at the home, but among them are the regular visits made by youth leaders from the Zionist youth movement, Habonim. "It planted the seeds of Israel and kibbutz in me," said Allon, from her home on Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim just outside Jerusalem this week.

After leaving the orphanage at 15, Allon lived in London and Paris, but found herself drawn to Israel. In 1965, she packed her bags and moved, spending six months here before returning to the U.K., after having failed to enroll in studies. She also did not speak the language and was short on money, which only compounded the situation. "It was an awful decision," she says of her return to London.

When the Six-Day War broke out a year later, Allon was studying childcare, but felt she was in the wrong place. "I had to be in Israel, where I felt I belonged. It was totally gut," she says. Allon pestered Jewish Agency officials until they agreed to send her, and after a course in basic first aid, she flew to Israel. "I remember the feeling that we were going into a war zone. There was a tremendous euphoria, like we were coming here to save, to do our part. Suddenly life had meaning."

She arrived in Israel on June 15, a few days after the war ended, expecting to find Tel Aviv flattened. She and nine others were sent to Kibbutz Malkia on the northern border. "Of course it was a total let-down when we arrived," she says with a smile. "Nobody knew we were coming or what to do with us. We had all this enthusiasm but people kept asking, 'Why did you come? Why did you leave England?'" Within a week, most of the volunteers had left, but Allon stayed on, picking fruit in the orchards for six months before moving down to Tel Aviv.

Life in the big city as a single young woman with no money and no family was "pretty horrendous," Allon recalls. Things began looking up when she met Yitzhak, a young Israeli who she later married. They spent nearly a decade in subsidized housing for immigrants in Eilat, then relocated with their three children to Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim, where Allon worked as an English teacher, cosmetician and volunteer-coordinator. Her husband died from cancer six years ago.

Allon declares she is "reasonably satisfied" with her life; she loves teaching English and she loves her home, with its stunning view of the hills along the Jerusalem corridor. But she confesses to a "nagging feeling of disappointment" with the country.

"We used to talk about yerida [emigration from Israel] in such a negative way, but today I see things differently. Until five years ago, I always had that feeling of hope. I was one of the few who voted against privatizing the kibbutz. There's government corruption, the lack of leadership. The disengagement was a tragedy, and everyone is continuing day-to-day as though it's okay but it isn't.

"I have no regrets," she says of her decision to move to Israel, "but the idealism and bright-eyed optimism I came with have gone."