Because of the war we expected our friends to cancel their scheduled visit to Israel, but they did not show any sign of doing so. On the appointed day in August we met them in Ben Gurion airport. Apparently they were the only non-Israelis passengers on board. They told us that upon arrival when asked at the passport control  for the purpose of their visit they answered   “to visit friends”.

This reply wouldn’t surprise any one here, even in time of war, since friendship has always been an important and natural part of Israeli  life. When my father came to Israel on his own at the age of twenty one in 1934 he had no family in Palestine, and his friends were his only support network. It was a typical situation in his generation. Looking through old issues of the Israeli magazine L’aisha  (For Woman)  from the late 1940s  I found an essay devoted to friendship. Its purpose was to teach  women  how to make friends and keep them:

The essay “The secret of true friendship” by Elisheva  Daniel  was written in response to questions of many readers who had written to the magazine asking for advice. The content suggests that  the writer believed that her target audience had no experience in making friends. It was only a couple of years after the end of the second World War and many young women (and men) arrived to Israel as refugees and had to grow up fast often without parents.

In order to make friends and keep them, the writer advises the reader to have an open mind, to refrain from prejudice, to understand that everyone is lonely and could be a potential friend. She warns not  to envy those who already have friends, since they had to work hard in order to acquire them. It is important  to make time for friends, to show empathy and understanding . Every person likes to feel special and it is the friend’s responsibility to enable it. A friend should care about the needs and wishes of the other person and to try to fulfill them.

The writer ends the essay with the following statement:  “You see, to be a good friend you must be ready to sacrifice and not to think only of yourself. This is the price of friendship and if you wish to have friends  you should work hard to get them. You have to become  a giver. There is no happiness like that of a person who knows that he/she can do something for someone else. This is the secret of true friendship.”

This was seventy years ago, but friendship has maintained its significance in our society. In schools, in youth movements, and in the army serious discussions are devoted to the value and significance of this institution. However, with time the meaning of friendship and the role of the friend have greatly changed.  Elisheva Daniel’s stern definition, the about the commitment and responsibility of the friend, is no longer applicable to most everyday friendships. While in the 1940s friendship often was the most significant relationship in a person’s life, today it has been replaced by the family. We are willing, perhaps, to make sacrifices for members of our family but much less for our friends.

The attitude to friendship varies in different cultures, In Britain,for example, a friend is someone whom we have known all our lives. In contrast, many Israelis are often surprised, and even disappointed, to discover that friendship and friends are regarded much more casually in the US.

A more relevant definition of friendship is offered by  the British sociologist Graham Allan, who regards friendship as an  informal, voluntary, reciprocal, equal, and non-exploitive personal relationship. It is formed not for instrumental reasons but simply because it is found to be enjoyable.

Fun is curiously absent from Elisheva Daniel’s early description of friendship. However, joyful is the adjective which I choose to describe the visit of our friends during the war. It was a wonderful opportunity to see the country afresh through their admiring eyes. And it was especially joyful to remember that, in spite of the heat of August and the stress of the war, touring the country is something to look forward to when normal life resumes