Once upon a time, long years ago, when my hair was still light brown, not like the white of today, there were three young men, bosom buddies but more like loving brothers, who were known throughout Rishon Lezion as the three musketeers of Rishon.

Me, Yitzhak Mizrachi and Reuven Yitzchaki, were inseparable comrades. After work each day we would meet at the same place, Café Pinati on the corner of Herzl and Rothschild, always at 5 o’clock in the late afternoon.

Elsa, the waitress, always waited for us and we sat at the same table every day. We did not need a menu.

We ordered the same ice cream each day. Then it was called “g’lida special” and consisted of two scoops of ice cream, chocolate and vanilla, topped with heaps of cut slices of fresh fruit, and crowned to the brim with whipped cream. Elsa never had to ask what we wanted. After a few minutes she appeared with three tall glasses on a tray and three smaller glasses of cold water.

Sometimes Reuven would bring his copy of HaAretz newspaper and we shared pages and comments.

Whenever a customer would come in and saw us, he or she would always walk over to our table to shake hands with Yitzchak and to chat. Sometimes the chat was so long that his ice cream was melting.

Everyone in Rishon knew him. He worked then in the Gavish glass factory and later he opened up his own insurance agency. Customers never refrained from inquiring about a broken car window, a leaking roof or anything that required an insurance policy to fix. Yitzchak was outgoing, he was a people’s person who talked to everybody.

For many years he served as a member of the city council of Rishon and his popularity attracted him to anyone who had a request or a complaint.

Reuven, on the other hand, was quiet. An intellectual. He could quote verses from the Tanach by heart citing chapter and verse. In those days of the early 50’s, he was a teacher in the Ittamar elementary school. Some years later, he became Principal of that school and remained there as a beloved educator for many years until he retired.

One day Yitzchak suggested that Reuven and I should take a long trip as far north as the Lebanese border.

There was so much to see in the Galilee. We were hosted in Druze villages, we swam in the Sachneh, we picknicked at Tel Dan, we visited the graves and tombs of sainted rabbis and scholars in Tiberias and at each spot, Reuven would open a small Bible he brought with him and would read aloud passages citing the locations where we were standing.

We completed our week long motorcycle journey with a breakfast in Jerusalem, and a supper in Tel-Aviv before returning to Rishon. A journey the stuff that dreams are made of.

Closing my eyes even now, the pictures still appear before me. Yitzchak and Reuven are no longer alive. Of the three musketeers, I alone remain the last of them.

Hayu zmanim. Those were the days. Days and long years of a friendship that ended only with their deaths.

Friends like those in the Israel of our youth were precious. Dedicated and devoted one to the other. I think there is no place on earth where friends…true friends… are as cherished as dearly as in Israel.

I still remember our early evenings at Café Pinati and Elsa who served us the “g’lida special”.

As I said, hayu zmanim. Those were glorious days.Long gone but eternally remembered.