Recently, I participated virtually in a funeral for my oldest daughter Lauren’s father-in-law, which took place in Israel. (Unfortunately, this was my second Zoom funeral. The first, for my brother Gary, took place last April. For that one, I was on the cemetery end of the Zoom camera.)
As I watched Yitzhak Cohen’s children eulogize him, I began to think what unusually good luck my daughters had in finding first-class fathers-in-law.
Yitzhak was born in Jerusalem in 1934 to Iranian Jewish parents who had come to British Mandatory Palestine on a pilgrimage but did not return to the land of their birth. As they were illegal immigrants under British rule, they had to remain hidden and lived in a small store. To wash himself, Yitzhak had to walk a mile or two to springs near Lifta, an Arab village just outside of the city.
Eventually, when his family was able to move into an apartment in Jerusalem, it was next door to Mazal, the woman who was to become his wife.
Too young for the War of Independence, Yitzhak served in the Ordnance Corps during the Six-Day War.
He had a real knack for working with materials and for production. He was employed by the Tuttnauer medical equipment company in Beit Shemesh. Later, he opened his own business, which failed after his partner allegedly embezzled the firm’s money.
After that, he spent most of his working life as maintenance chief at the Migdal Hotel in Jerusalem.
At the funeral, his children spoke of his love for his family and the lessons they had learned from him about the value of work and of a job well done.
Yitzhak was man of few words, but his message — and that of Mazal — apparently got through to their kids. Neither parent had much formal schooling, but all five of their children are college graduates. His oldest son Ron is a retired colonel in the IDF; Arik has a Ph.D. in mathematics; Moshe works in hi-tech; and my son-in-law Dror is a top executive with an Israeli software company. Yitzhak’s daughter Yafit is an educator on a kibbutz.
The parents of Ya’akov Goldschmidt, daughter number two Debra’s father-in-law, moved to British Mandatory Palestine in 1924, and his older sister was born in Tel Aviv in 1925. When his mother became pregnant with Ya’akov, she returned to Germany, where conditions were better for giving birth and she could visit her parents. Ya’akov was born in Germany in 1927 and when his parents returned to Palestine in 1928, he became a very young immigrant.
He spent much of his youth in Tel Aviv; in 1936, the Goldschmidts moved to a house in Jerusalem, which the family still owns.
Ya’akov studied at the Kadoorie Agricultural High School in the Galilee, and from there joined the Palmach, the pre-state elite military unit of the Haganah. During the War of Independence, he was a combat liaison in the Yiftach Brigade and was stationed in the Galilee and the Negev.
Living on Kibbutz Gadot in the late 1950s before he met his wife Rachel, he was sent by the kibbutz to learn economics and received his bachelor’s at the Weizmann Institute and later his master’s in economics and business at the University of Arizona in Phoenix. In 1962 he founded a consulting company on management issues and computerized systems.
The kibbutz later sent him to take a course in agriculture at the Weizmann Institute. where he met Rachel. Ten years later they got married and immediately after the wedding went to Cornell where he was to receive a Ph.D. also in economics. (More than 30 years later, his son Nadav — Debra’s husband — also received a doctorate from that university. He teaches customer service to executives in Israeli companies and graduate students. His siblings also are academics: Assaf is a professor of the history of Chinese medicine at Tel Aviv University and Nitzan is a psychologist.)
Ya’akov spent the rest of his career teaching at Tel Aviv University and as a business and financial consultant.
Nadav says his father taught him to be independent, to do it yourself. He also remembers how much his father loved going on trips with the family in Israel from Sinai to the Golan, and all over Europe and the U.S.
Debra says her father-in-law, who died 10 years ago, was always kind, a very quiet person who truly loved his family, and had so much joy with all of his grandchildren.
Moshe Mechtinger, daughter number three Abby’s father-in-law, was born in Krakow, Poland, in 1927. His parents brought him to British Mandatory Palestine when he was 10 years old.
Like Ya’akov, he was a member of the Palmach, and he fought in the War of independence. For a time, he was one of David Ben-Gurion’s personal guards.
Moshe lived in south Tel Aviv as did his future wife, Shulamit. They met through a mutual friend. This kind of marriage between an Ashkenazi man and a woman whose family came from Yemen is relatively rare in Israel. When such unions take place, often the families reject the marriage partner form the other community. But in this case, the opposite occurred: both families lovingly accepted the person from the other community and became close.
Moshe was a printer, working for the government printing house (HaMadpis HaMemshalti), which prints government documents. Later, he worked for Davar, owned by the Histadrut labor union and closely connected to the Labor Party.
When he was young, recalls Meir — Moshe’s youngest son and, more to the point, number three’s husband — his father would take the family on trips that included hiking, usually in an organized group.
“My father was always very patient and always did the right thing for his family,” Meir says. “He was kind and funny in his very own way. He always wanted the best for me and my brothers and did everything he could to make sure we got it.
“Even though he was not well educated, he knew a lot. I remember solving crossword puzzles together on Saturday afternoons.”
Moshe died four years ago.
As in the case of Yitzhak, Moshe’s sons have not let their father’s lack of formal education slow them down. Meir’s brother Ran is a chemical engineer and his other brother Ofer works as a manufacturing practical engineer.
Meir received a bachelor’s in electrical engineering and is working on his master’s in engineering management. He currently manages a team of software engineers for a major American manufacturer of sound equipment.
As I said, my fellow grandfathers were good, remarkable men. While all four grandmothers are still with us, I am the only living grandfather in my family.
This gives me a daunting sense of responsibility.
A Zoom Book Party for my memoir, Figs and Alligators: An American Immigrant’s Life in Israel in the 1970s and 1980s, will take place on March 7 at 11 a.m. EST. The event is free, but you must register. See you then.