[UPDATE: A transcript of the audio recording is available below.]
Every now and then, an artifact of the past turns up that is so of its era and place that it sucks you in like a time machine. Such was the case of a dusty 33 LP that Victor Rodack handed over to us while we were producing this week’s episode of Vox Tablet. The LP is a recording of a 1967 press conference.
In it, a 14-year-old Rodack fields reporters’ questions about stowing away on an El Al flight to Israel. He’s got an accent that recalls a young Woody Allen, and a nonchalance reminiscent of early Bob Dylan.
“It’s a long story,” Rodack says wearily on that summer day in 1967. “I took a boarding pass… I knew what I was doing. I knew I’d get into trouble but still I thought it may be worth it.”
His adventure was “impulsive” and aside from the worry he caused his folks, the kid’s got no regrets.
“I just felt like leaving. I’ve always wanted to go it Israel. I belong in Israel. It’s my country,” Rodack says on a scratchy recording of the press conference he gave at JFK International Airport upon his return. The El Al staff indulged Rodack, spiriting him around Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Ramallah before putting him on a return flight to Queens.
Beside the charm of a confident, guileless adolescent voice from an era when international travel was still romantic and unencumbered by body searches, there’s the slightly condescending awe to be discerned in the voices of the reporters as they question the youthful Rodack.
“What is it with you and Israel?” asks one. “Why this fascination? This magnitude?”
And then, turning to the boy’s parents, a reporter asks a question he’d be castigated for today: “Are you a whipping father or do you rely on psychology?”
On today’s Vox Tablet, titled “I Was a Teenage Stowaway,” Rodack, now in his sixties and a shrink in New York City, shares his improbable story. You can enjoy the entirety of the 1967 press conference here:
Vox Vault: Song Cycle
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Transcript of Victor Rodack’s Press Conference, August, 1967
Journalist: Hello, Vic.
J: How do you feel?
V: Fine and tired.
J: What did you do?
V: Just took a plane to Israel.
J: How did you get on board, Victor?
V: It’s a long story. I took- I took a boarding pass, and there was a seat stapled to it. I went on, and I took the seat.
J: When did they find out that you didn’t have a ticket?
V: When there were cables- the- the airplane was cabled, and so they were looking for me on the plane.
J: Did you know, when you did it, what you were doing?
V: I knew what I was doing. I knew- I knew I’d get into trouble, but still I thought it may be worth it.
J: Wait a minute. Where did you find this boarding pass and how did you come about the decision to actually take this plane?
V: I found it on the desk where they were being given out to the passengers. And the decision was just impulsive. I just felt like leaving. I’ve always wanted to go to Israel. I- I belong in Israel. It’s my country.
J: When you said you just wanted to go, was it that you wanted to get away from home for awhile?
V: Possibly, I’m not sure myself. I just felt like leaving; that’s why I left.
J: So how do you feel, now that you’ve been over there? Did you like it?
V: I enjoyed it. I had a wonderful time in Israel.
J: Would you go back?
V: Yes. I would- and I will.
J: The same way?
V: No, I’ll be a paying passenger.
J: We understand you were taken on a tour.
V: Not exactly a tour. I was staying with some friends who I made, and I was taken to see Jerusalem, which is really a beautiful city. And then, this morning, I went to see Tel Aviv. I’ve also seen Jaffa, the Old City, and Ramallah, an Arab town.
J: How much do you really regret it?
V: Well, I regret the worry I had to cause to my parents, that’s all. I’m sorry I did it, but I think if I had the same opportunity I’d do it again.
J: What is it with you and Israel? Why this uh fascination, this magnitude?
V: I don’t know really, it’s just- it’s always held me, ever since I was a kid, I took out books and books about it.
J: Do you think you’d like to go back there to live or to study?
V: Yes, definitely.
J: Had you any offers while you were there of that opportunity?
V: When I arrived and the public found out about it, there were many volunteers ready to take me- very willing, but I stayed with some friends whom I had made.
J: So you said you’re going back; I just wonder what makes you so definite.
V: I just am. I know I will. It’s inevitable.
J: What are you going to do when you go back?
V: I’m not sure. I’ll just find a career, possibly in languages, and live there.
J: You say Israel is “my country.” Uh, how does that relate to the U.S. and all that?
V: Well I think United States is a wonderful country. It’s tremendous and it just offers opportunities that very few other countries do, but I feel I’m tied to Israel religiously, and that’s where I belong. It’s where my people originated from.
J: When you came out here on Sunday night, did you have any idea that it was going to end up back here on Tuesday night?
V: No, I didn’t know what would happen, what would become of it. Sort of in a trance.
J: Why did you come out here for in the first place?
V: I come out here often; I enjoy visiting the airport, seeing the different airplanes and people.
J: Have you done anything like this before?
V: No. Never.
J: Is this what you were wearing when you left?
V: No, I was wearing different clothes.
J: What kind of clothes are these? Are these special things people your age wear in Israel, or anything significant like that?
V: Yes, they are. It’s worn very commonly. They also wear sandals, but I didn’t get any.
J: Did they have any-
V: I forget them; they’re hard to pronounce.
J: Who gave them to you? Friends you made?
J: Do you speak Hebrew?
V: No, not at all. But I’d like to learn.
J: Where did you get that hat you’re wearing?
V: The ElAl parties. Lod Airport gave it to me before I left.
J: Can you describe it? What kind of a hat is it?
V: Well it’s called a tembel.
J: A what?
V: A tembel hat. It’s what the Israelis wear to keep them from getting sunstroke.
J: How do you spell that?
V: Tembel. I think it’s T-E-M-B-L.
J: Did you see any signs of the recent war?
V: Yes, yes. Um, on our way to Jerusalem, we rode through Jordan- what was Jordan- on the road newly constructed. And you could see the barrenness of the hills, compared to the lush greenery of the Israeli side.
J: How did that make you feel? You know…
V: Nothing; I sort of had expected. Although I felt kind of funny traveling through what once was a hostile country.
J: How much money did you have with you when you left Kennedy?
V: Approximately seven dollars; that’s all.
J: So what had you planned to do – if you hadn’t been discovered aboard the plane – what had you planned to do when you get there?
V: I had expected to be discovered aboard the plane; it just worked out that way. It’s the way I’d hoped it’d happen.
J: Vic, did you bring back any souvenirs?
V: I brought back a couple of things. I brought back an Israeli record, and I bought some things at Lod Airport in particular- an Israeli keychain – they’re tax free at Lod Airport.
J: How much of the seven dollars and some cents do you have left.
V: Oh, I’d say around five dollars.
J: [laughs] That’s pretty cheap – that’s a wonderful vacation I would say.
V: Yes it is – it was – unforgettable.
J: Listen, you said you knew that you would be discovered, right? What did you decide to do? Just brazen it out when they found out. Were you confident that the plane wouldn’t turn back?
V: Sure. They wouldn’t. I don’t think they would disrupt the whole schedule for me. I didn’t expect to be discovered though until Id reach the airport and was asked for my passport, cause I didn’t have any.
J: Any word from the ElAl people about whether you’ll have to pay or not, and how did they treat you?
V: They treated me wonderfully and they really don’t think that I’ll have to pay. They’re not certain, as far as the Israeli company is concerned, in Israel, they’re not sure.
J: Can I ask you, now that the anticipation has been satisfied, how you feel?
Victor’s Mother: Well, we are just very happy to have him back safe and healthy and that’s it for now. I see that he is very, very tired and I would like him to get home and go to bed as quickly as possible.
J: How much sleep did you get?
V: I got very little sleep – well, I had a good sleep last night but then I was on a plane since 7:30 this morning your time, and so I’ve had a long trip.
J: Were you detained at any time over there, or how were you treated when you were in Israel?
V: I was treated with respect and I was considered a big joke.
J: Mr. Rodack, it’s traditionally considered dad’s job to administer discipline. Have you given any consideration as to what you’re going to do.
Victor’s Dad: Well, I think when we get home were gonna have a long talk, and my wife and I will decide on what we will do regarding victor.
J: Are you a whipping father or do you rely on psychology?
Victor’s Dad: No. I can understand some of things that motivated him, but I certainly do not condone what he did, and were going to take that up when we do get home.
J: Does ElAl feel that you’ll have to pay?
Victor’s Dad: I have no idea at this time.
J: What if you do?
Victor’s Dad: Well – he’s going to have empty pockets for a long time.
[END OF TAPE]