As TIMES OF ISRAEL readers remember, I have written often about friendship, quoting a Talmudic adage “o chevruta o mituta”… give me friendship or give me death. For truly, a life bereft of good friends is not a life.
Moshe and I were students at Chavat Halimud in the east Talpiot section of Jerusalem in 1951. He became the Commercial Attache at the Embassy of Israel in London and later in the Israeli Consulates in Miami and in New York. We remained close dedicated friends until he died 45 years later.
In that same year, while walking on the sand dunes in Beersheba adjacent to the Beduin market, a truck carrying young Israeli soldiers passed by. Seeing me alone, one of them shouted to me to jump up on the truck and to join him and his buddies for coffee at a military canteen. Yitzchak and I became loving friends and shared a brother-like relationship until he died 57 years later.
He and I and a third friend, Reuven, were known as the Three Musketeers of Rishon Lezion. Every weekday night we met at 5 o’clock in the afternoon at Café Pinati where Elsa, our waitress, served us tall glasses of glida special…. three scoops of ice cream covered in pieces of fresh fruit and topped with whipped cream. It was our daily ritual. Yitzchak served on the municipal council of Rishon and Reuven was principal of the Ittamar elementary school in the city.
Reuven and I were the closest of all the friends. He was a gifted Bible scholar and we traveled on his motorcycle from Metullah in the north on the Lebanese frontier to Eilat on the Red Sea. In each place we visited, wherever there were graves of ancient and medieval rabbinic scholars, Reuven would open his Tanach and recite passages relevant to the history of the place. He knew the geography and the geology of Israel… for him, every stone had a history.
Through Reuven, I met Zecharia who was his assistant principal.
My wife and I were at every birth, every Bar/Bat Mitzvah, every wedding of their families. When Reuven retired, his teachers made a special party in his honor. He arrived at the place at the appointed time and five minutes after his arrival he complained of a severe headache. He was rushed to the local hospital and died on that same day of a cerebral hemorrhage. I spoke at his funeral in the RishonLezion old cemetery. He and I had been true brothers for sixty-two years. With Reuven’s sudden and very tragic death, I remain the last of the Three Musketeers of Rishon.
The friendship continued between my wife and me and between Zecharia and his wife, his five children and his more than a dozen grandchildren plus two great-grandchildren. We traveled through Israeli towns and cities always together. A few short years ago, his beloved wife of 60 years passed away after a long period of suffering with pancreatic cancer. Six months later, Zecharia was buried beside her.
We grieved for the loss of beloved friends of a lifetime. They had been at our wedding in 1960 in Tel-Aviv and we had celebrated with them in the marriages of their children. Our remaining friends of 62 years are Reuven’s brother Micha, his sister Elisheva, both in their eighties, and their children and grandchildren.
Recalling the several decades of friendships, I am living in the past. No friends, however dear, were as dear to me as the Israeli friends of my youth.
This year, one week before Rosh Hashanah, my beloved sainted wife of 56 years was taken away from me by pancreatic cancer. I mourned for her and will continue to mourn for her until my gray hairs go down with me into my grave beside her. She was the light of my life and without her I walk in darkness.
One day, while reciting kaddish for Rahel in our synagogue, I noticed a very handsome young man, perhaps not even 25 years old, praying fervently with a kavannah unusual for a non-chassidic youth of his age. He swayed back and forth, lifted his eyes up unto the heavens and recited his prayers with deep devotion. I was attracted to his personality and wanted to know who he was. I had never before seen him in our synagogue.
One of the elders of the synagogue told me only that his name was Noah, he lived in the community, and had done all of his academic work at the historic St. Andrews University in Fife, Scotland, founded in 1413, More than that, no one seemed to know anything about him.
I was intrigued but I never saw him again until the eve of Pesach a few days ago. He and I were among the first-born sons who were obligated either to attend a siyum or to fast. Both of us attended the siyum and at its conclusion we ate the breakfast provided by the synagogue. Noah and I happened by chance to be sitting at the same table. (I really don’t believe in chances. For me it is always hashgacha pratit, Divine intervention. I know that because after meeting my late wife on an Israeli ship in Naples, Italy, knowing her for only six days and falling in love with her at first sight, we returned to Israel to be married).
Noah introduced himself to me and I to him and we exchanged pleasantries. He told me that he was interested in a career in Jewish education with a preference of serving as a director in a B’nai Brith Hillel Foundation on a university campus. I was deeply impressed. Here, sitting opposite me, was a young, handsome young man with movie-star good looks, the kind of young man that young girls drool over, with a warm and vibrant personality whose chosen career was in the field of Jewish education. He intrigued me.
During Pesach services in the synagogue, we met again. I told him that I had a library of some 4,000 books dealing with Judaica, mostly in Hebrew, but hundreds in English and German, and wanted to give them away to anyone interested. His eyes lit up and he promised to visit me, to examine books of interest to him, and to hire a bus (only joking) to carry away the more than 60 boxes of books.
At the end of the second day of Pesach services, Noah introduced me to his lovely mother. She too had suffered the loss of her mother at the same time that I had buried my beloved Rahel. His mother offered me genuinely sincere words of comfort from her heart. She explained that we all grieve in our own personal way until we are consoled with the happy memories of a beautiful life together. I am grateful to her.
Now I am about to embark on a new adventure…….getting to know Noah. I am old enough to be his grandfather, but his youth and his charm have touched my heart. Perhaps here lies the beginning of a new friendship with Noah… the one without an Ark.