The year: 1970
The place: Northview High School, Covina, California.
I’m seated on a green lawn under a tree. It’s lunch time. Students line up to get burgers and fries. Originally from Israel, it’s my second year in California, more specifically, Covina, some 25 miles east of Hollywood, in smoggy San Gabriel Valley.
The school’s mascot, the Vikings, is painted on the school wall. I bite into my tuna sandwich and watch the horns on the Viking’s helmet. The Vikings crossed the Atlantic to America centuries ago. As a 15 year-old, I’m in a new land as well. Behind me, I hear a lively conversation. It’s not the content, but the heavy accent that catches my attention. It’s foreign. Foreign? Could there be another “alien” on campus besides me?
I turn around. A girl, blond, is seated cross-legged, hippie-style. She’s talking to another girl. They giggle. “Hello,” I offer.
The blond girl introduces herself: “I’m Doretta.”
I tell her and her friend my name. I soon realize she’s not American. “Where are you from?”
“Roma, Italia,” she says. She detects my accent, most likely. “And you?”
And so began a friendship that spans more than 40 years.
I later learned she was an exchange-student for the year. Her friend Beverly was her American host. Doretta was a Junior then; I a sophomore. During the school year we hung out together, spoke of our “Mediterranean” background, marveled at how Americans were strange yet wonderful. We spent some weekends together playing tennis, eating fast food, lounging by the swimming pool in my apartment complex. 1970: Funny bathing suits. Chlorine. Weird hairstyles. Rock and Roll. Big cars. Smog.
And then it was over. She returned to Italy at end of the school year. A year later, in 1971, I returned to Israel.
For the next three years we became the best of pen pals; she in Rome, I near Tel Aviv. We sent each other long letters, colorful postcards from our travels, gifts, record albums.
“Surprise! I’m coming to Israel,” she announced in one of her postcards.
Doretta arrived in the summer of 1974 with her friend, Claudia. I had them over my house, took them to the beach, to the south, to the north, to Jerusalem. They then decided to tour the Dead Sea on their own. Doretta sat at a bus stop, saw an Israeli soldier in uniform, fell in love. Must be something about uniforms and guns that make women swoon.
She went back to Rome only to pack her things, and returned to Israel, to her man, David. Doretta, a Christian, converted to Judaism, studied the Torah inside out. She’d become Jewish.
Who was have guessed?
In 1982 I attended her birthday party in Israel.
I did not see her again until some 13 years later, in 1995. My wife Pnina and I vacationed in Rome. I told her about my childhood friend. I reached for the hotel phone book and looked up Doretta’s maiden name, thinking I’d call her mother and tell her to say hello to Doretta in Israel.
“She’s in Rome,” her mother told me. “David and Doretta have been in Rome for many years. They have a daughter, her name’s Angela.”
We rushed out of the hotel and met up with them, spoke about old times.
Three years later, they came to visit us in Los Angeles.
Fast forward to 2013. Doretta’s on the phone with me. “Angela got married in Germany last month, to a German, but we’re throwing a wedding party in Israel in August. You must come!”
And here the story came full circle. Again I attended a wedding, this time her daughter’s, not half a mile away from where Doretta had wed 30 years earlier.
David, a Moroccan Jew, held the wedding party at Marrakesh, a Moroccan restaurant. Most of the guests were his extended family and friends. The groom, Stefan, and all his brothers and family came from Dortmund, Germany.
It was the most unusual party starting with Doretta, an Italian who’d become Jewish; David, an Israeli of Moroccan extraction, and a bunch of jolly Germans drinking and dancing to the sounds of Moroccan love songs, shrill cries to welcome the bride and the groom, drum beats, an alluring belly dancer, gold-laced costumes and fez hats from Casablanca.
I looked about the room.
What started out as a casual talk in California by a timid Israeli boy with a good-looking Italian led decades later to a multinational, transcontinental fiesta only writers come dream up.
So, what do you think? Was it all a random, chance encounter or was it destiny?
Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.
He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com
or at BN.com