November 01, 2013
By Alfred Traum
This would be our first return to Israel since my sister’s death. My visits before had always felt like a homecoming. Now there was an emptiness that could not easily be replaced by family or friends. Josie and I embarked on our short vacation with mixed emotions.
Our purpose was twofold. We would spend time with family and friends, but in addition we would attend a reunion at a kibbutz, Kfar Hanassi. The kibbutz, an agricultural community, was formed in 1948, shortly after the state of Israel was established. Most of its members had emigrated from England, where they had belonged to Habonim, a Zionist Youth Movement.
Kfar Hanassi is a thriving kibbutz resting in the upper Galilee region. It is perched on a hilltop overlooking the rolling hills of the Galilee to the south, and to its north lies the border with Syria. Even though I had been a member of the Habonim Youth Movement in Manchester, I had never planned to live on the kibbutz. However, I knew many of the Manchester group that formed the nucleus of Kfar Hanassi. I suspected that I would probably be able to recognize a few of the “old timers.”
We traveled there with our good friends Frank and Elaine. Frank, who had been a member of that original group, had maintained strong ties with the community. I was quite excited about visiting the kibbutz again. It had been a long time since I was last there. A great deal of effort had been made to beautify the area. The kibbutz now contained guest quarters and a very up-to-date dining hall where the food was good and plentiful. I managed to pick out about half a dozen fellows—even though the aging process had taken its toll, they were still unmistakably recognizable. Their features and expressions remained the same.
I tugged at Frank’s sleeve and pointed in the direction of an older man sitting on a couch a long way from where we were standing. A shock of white hair covered his head. His strong burly figure and his countenance were unmistakable to me.
“Is that Zammi over there?” I asked.
“Why, yes it is. He isn’t known as Zammi anymore; he changed his name many years ago. Now he is known as Adam. Would you like to meet him? Come, I’ll take you over to him.”
I hesitated. “Better not. From what I remember of our last meeting, it did not go over so well.”
“When was that?” Frank asked in amazement.
“Well, over 50 years ago,” I replied.
“And you think he would hold a grudge all that time? That’s crazy! Come on, I’ll introduce you.”
My mind slipped back to that last encounter. It was in the fall of 1948. The state of Israel had just been declared and was immediately attacked by the surrounding Arab nations. I faced a dilemma: I just recently had been accepted for my national service with the British army and told to go home and wait for my instructions as to where to report for active service. I decided that under the current circumstances I should really volunteer for the Israeli army.
I was aware that some of the Zionist movement leaders were involved in clandestine recruiting arrangements for those wishing to serve in the Israeli army. Zammi was the youth leader in Manchester, but when I approached him about volunteering he dismissed the idea out of hand, saying they didn’t need someone like me without former military experience. I tried to rationalize with him, told him that if the British army was willing to accept me, why wouldn’t the Israeli army? No matter what I said, he would not change his mind. I therefore contacted another organization where I was not known. They very readily accepted me, and shortly thereafter I was on my way to Israel. I wondered whether Zammi would remember that incident?
Frank dragged me over to where Adam was seated. I could see signs of recognition as he looked me over. He stood up and gave me a bear hug. Still the powerful man he had been 50 years earlier.
“Is it really you, Freddie?” he asked. Then his face took on a more serious expression.
“I was sorry to hear about your sister Ruth.”
“Thank you. Yes, she died several years ago.”
There were a few awkward moments, neither of us knowing what to say next. To break the ice, I gave Adam a light rabbit punch and said, “You know, even though you wouldn’t accept me, I did join the Israeli army.”
He had a faraway look in his eyes as his face took on a more serious expression.
“I suppose there is no reason why I shouldn’t tell you now,” he said.
I was puzzled by his comment. Adam continued, “About a week before you contacted me, your sister Ruth came to see me. She knew that you wanted to volunteer for the Israeli army and begged me not to accept you. She told me that she had already lost all her family and that you were the only family she had. She didn’t want to lose you too. I honored her request, and as you know, I didn’t accept you. She also made me promise not to tell you of her visit to me. Well, until now, I had kept that promise, too, but somehow, I don’t think she would mind my telling it to you now.”
Adam’s remarks stunned me into silence. A divulgence like this after so many years took my breath away. Ruth had always been there watching out for me, while I always went right ahead and did whatever I wanted, with little regard or thought for anyone else. Reflecting on my actions in my younger years made me feel quite guilty. Even though Ruth never mentioned it, I suppose she would have preferred some discussion instead of my pronouncements of what I was about to do. When I look back on it, Ruth felt a responsibility over me like a parent, but had none of the authority that a parent would normally exercise over a child. It could not have been easy for her.
©2013, Alfred Traum. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.
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