The party my family threw to mark my recent birthday (a very round number which seems terribly old to me, even though I keep telling myself I don’t feel it) set me thinking about parties I have had in my life, occasioning nostalgia and a kind of summing up.
Of course (though perhaps not of course), my parents made birthday parties for me when I was a child. These were not mammoth affairs, but a few children from my class would be invited to our house, my mother would prepare sandwiches and cake, we would play games like Pass the Parcel and Musical Chairs, the birthday child would blow out the candles on the cake and be given ‘the bumps’ by the other children, all under the supervision of my father, and then everyone would go home. Each child would bring the birthday child a little gift, but I don’t remember that they were given anything when they left, as we were expected to do when we made birthday parties for our own children many years later). The excitement these parties would arouse were totally out of proportion to the size of the event, and they brightened the otherwise dull routine of my childhood.
In my early teenage years parties became a more formal occasion, with a small group of girls from school being invited to our home to partake of the goodies my mother had prepared and participate in solving the word games and puzzles I had prepared. These could hardly be called parties, but that was the way I chose to celebrate my birthdays. Later on, when I joined a youth movement to which both boys and girls belonged, parties began to be more lively, with dancing and games like Sardines and Charades that involved less sedate pursuits. Those were the years when the Beatles burst onto the scene, and I remember the heady feeling of jiving to ‘She Loves You’ and ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand.’
For my twenty-first birthday I invited hordes of fellow-students to our modest semi-detached house on the outskirts of London. As usual, my mother prepared all kinds of delicacies, and she and my father remained in the kitchen throughout the evening while every other room in our house, including the bedrooms, was filled with young people encountering other young people. I don’t think there was much room for dancing, though we tried to have music playing all the time. My friends also had twenty-first birthday parties, some quite wild in their way, but that was still at a time of relative innocence in the early 1960s, before the arrival of ‘the pill.’
When I moved to Israel the parties continued. How else do young people get to know one another? My inability to speak Hebrew may have been a handicap, but the fact that various immigrant organisations held parties for English-speakers was very helpful. Of course, the fact that people who were not exactly native ‘Anglos’ often came along to these parties only added to their attraction, and many ‘mixed’ couples emerged from these events. And then there were also a few night clubs in those far-off, pre-1967 days, when Jerusalem was a small, provincial backwater, where life was relatively peaceful and everyone knew everyone else. In fact, on any Saturday night you could hardly take a stroll in what was known as the downtown ‘Triangle’ of streets without meeting one or two people you knew. The saying then was that if you bumped into the same person twice in the same evening you would promise to have an ice cream together on the third encounter.
But the most memorable party I attended was the one given by a friend to which the cheeky young man who was later to become my husband gatecrashed and then took over, organising records and getting the party going with a swing. I’m almost tempted to say that our lives have been one long party ever since, but that would be going a little too far. Still, we have adopted it as our motto in life to celebrate whatever we can whenever we can, even if, as on the present occasion, reaching the ripe old age of 70 is not really a cause for celebration. But then again, perhaps it is.