by Alfred Traum
Two years ago I was on a nostalgic visit to Manchester, England, where I had lived. I visited Mamlock House, a Jewish center where many meetings and lectures were given.
The place was open, although there didn’t appear to be anyone around. I walked about scrutinizing the various artifacts on display when my eyes became fixed on a large glass and wooden display case attached to the wall. In it were commemorative plaques honoring members of the local Jewish community who had made the ultimate sacrifice for their country in war. Amongst them was a photo and a write-up of my nephew Howard, who was killed in the Sinai campaign during the “Yom Kippur war” in 1973. Howard was almost 21 when Egypt attacked Israel. As a reserve officer in the British army, he was immediately deployed to staff duties at the base camp of his armored unit. However, Howard was reluctant to be placed at a desk job and requested reassignment to a fighting unit. Even though he was an officer, he took an assignment as a tank driver and was immediately transferred to a unit in the Sinai, where the fighting was taking place. His tank took a direct hit from a wire-guided missile and was decommissioned. Only the tank commander was badly injured and in need of medical attention. Howard radioed for a medic and ordered the others to climb aboard a nearby tank while he remained with the wounded soldier. Before the Israeli medic could get to them, an Egyptian patrol came upon them and, with complete disregard to the Geneva Convention, shot them both at close range in cold blood. Such was their end. Howard was mentioned in dispatches and later awarded a medal for his bravery for not abandoning a wounded comrade.
My mind slipped back to better times, when my sister Ruth, her husband, David, and their two boys, Howard and Eli, first arrived in Israel. I met them at the ship and went with them to their new home at Moshav Habonim, a farming community south of Haifa along the Mediterranean Sea. I recalled how over the years I visited them every five weeks when my ship, the SS Zion, completed another round trip from Israel to the United States. I would take the noon train out of Haifa heading south to Dor, a small stop between two farming communities, Moshav Habonim and Kibbutz Nachsholim. The train passed my sister’s house and her family would stand on the stoop to check and see if I was on the train. I would wave wildly and they all responded likewise. The boys would run along the path to greet me. It was about three quarters of a mile, but it was the happiest stretch ever for me. Howard and Eli were both bubbling over with their news of what was going on in their world and questions for me. Howard would be wheezing slightly due to his asthma. Even at that time, he was concerned that he might not be accepted into the army. By the time he was 18, his asthma had all but disappeared and he was accepted into the Israeli Defense Forces. In the evening after dinner, we would all take a folding chair and make our way up the hill to the social hall, where we would gather and watch whatever film the community had acquired. Later we would break up and retreat to several homes where the party continued. At times we might even stroll down to the beach and take a late-night dip in the sea. As I recall, the water was delightful. The following day was Sabbath, which meant for most there was no need to rise early; there was time to relax.
As much as I enjoyed sailing on a fine passenger liner and visiting many parts of the world, I cherished above all else coming home to the welcome that I received from my family. All those images flashed by me as I stood in front of that display case for a long while.
Just then someone in Mamlock House tapped me on my shoulder and asked, “Anyone you know there?”
I proudly pointed to Howard’s picture and, with a lump in my throat, answered, “Yes, that’s my nephew.”
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