Perhaps 90 percent or higher do not remember the days of “tzena”, the national period of rationing and buying all kinds of goods with ration tickets. Citizens were strictly limited to special daily or weekly food allowances and clothing purchases following the immediate declaration of independence and continuing for more than three years.
Woe be it to an Israeli who was caught cheating by fraudulently buying more than was allowed. To prevent such incidents a volunteer service, Shurat HaMitnadvim, was organized throughout Israel, founded and headed by a group of honest activists, most of them academics, who took it upon themselves to maintain the rationing laws and to denounce publicly those who broke the laws.
It was headed by my friend, today the 94 year old lawyer and former politician, a founder of Kiryat Arba, the Jewish section of the biblical city of Hebron, Eliakim Haetzni.
Born Georg Bombach in the German city of Kiel in 1926, he migrated with his parents and sister to pre-state Palestine in 1938 and settled in a garden area in the Rehavia section of Jerusalem.
I knew him in 1951 when he lived on rehov Redak in Rehavia. We had first met while working in Kibbutz Matzuva on the Lebanese frontier.
Eliakim was (and is) one of Israel’s most outstanding heroes. In the 1948 war, he was severely wounded in most of his upper body and was confined to a hospital bed for eighteen months. Even upon his release from the hospital he remained terribly scarred and limited to activity.
But the Shurat HaMitnadvim, which together with other students and faculty members at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem they founded became the watchful eyes for those who dared to violate the tzena regulations.
Walking along the city streets and passing by the homes, they would lift up the garbage and refuse pails. Woe be it to anyone whose garbage showed more cracked egg shells or more chicken bones than were permitted to allotment under the national rationing laws.
If I remember correctly it was two eggs per person per week. No sugar. No butter. Only scraps of meat for a Shabbat meal. Meatless cholent…only potatoes and beans. One pair of shoes per year. Milk only for infants and babies. Coffee was replaced by bitter chicory.
Most people complained. But most people, faithful to Israel and its laws, observed the laws while still complaining. No one ever wanted to be caught by Eliakim Haetzni’s Shurat HaMitnadvim. The Ration Police, as they were called, were everywhere and God help those who were caught cheating.
Eliakim was a yekke, a German-born Jew, a society of stubborn men and women determined to uphold law and order and to publicly chastise and humiliate anyone… anyone… found guilty of hoarding or cheating.
I recall vividly one major case which he brought against Amos Ben-Gurion, son of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. Haetzni accused him of bribery to the police in order to obtain a larger portion of food products beyond what was limited by the rationing boards.
In 1957 Eliakim invited me to sit in the court proceedings in Jerusalem’s Russian Compound. I don’t recall if the case was brought before Judge Moshe Landau who served on the bench in the earlier trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann or if it was brought before Judge Shmuel Agranat.
Eliakim presented his case in detail, not missing a single comma, period or question mark, but in the end he lost his case… a major case which received national attention. Amos Ben-Gurion was free of charges against him. Who knows if it was the egg shells or the chicken bones which caused him so much anxiety. I dare to say he watched with extreme caution the refuse he had to dispose of in the future of tzena years.
Always sober, always insisting on truth and justice for all, Eliakim Haetzni has led an exemplary life in the many years of devoted service to the country.
From 1990 to 1992 he served in the Knesset in the new party which he created… Tehiya. In his last year in the Knesset at age 66 he invited me for lunch in the delegates’ cafeteria. A day and time had been arranged with one of his secretaries.
When I arrived in the Knesset cafeteria I saw Eliakim sitting alone bent over a pile of newspapers.
When I walked over to him he had forgotten about our lunch date and now had no time to chat with me. He was engrossed in a new case. And when Eliakim Haetzni was involved in a legal question which he strongly disputed, forget newspapers, forget people, forget eating. Just give him a pencil and a pad of paper on which he could write his opinions to be submitted if and when necessary to one of our courts of law. At age 94 he still holds strong opinions !
From the 1951 Matzuva days to the 2020 days of heated discussions over annexation of the Jordan Valley and increased settlement activity I feel certain that Israel is in good hands with the 94 year old builder of dreams in Kiryat Arba.
I doubt that Amos Ben-Gurion and his Prime Minister father David ever forgave Eliakim for the trial of Amos in 1957. I’m happy that I sat in that courtroom.
And I am certain that God will use the skills of a good lawyer like Eliakim Haetzni when he gets the call.
At least no more broken egg shells or twisted chicken bones to count.