Esor Ben-Sorek

If only… a letter unread

If only my beloved and sainted wife Rahel could read this letter. If only she could stand and sit beside me. If only she could be here with me. But five years have passed since her death. Five bitter and lonely years for me. If only I could tell her that my love for her has never ended. It cannot ever end. I still mourn for her.

If only we could return to the first day we met. It was on 27 August 1959. We were passengers on the Zim line ship from Haifa to Naples and Marseilles. When the ship first docked at the Italian port of Napoli, passengers were allowed ten hours to leave the ship and tour the beautiful and magical city.

It was magical because in that spot we first met and spent hours on the deck sitting and talking about ourselves, our lives, our dreams. But it was at that special place that I first fell in love with you.

And some few days later when we took the train from Marseilles to Paris, we shared the glory of that historic and highly cultured city, holding hands as we walked on the Montparnasse, browsed in the luxurious shops of Le Printemps and Galeries Lafayette on the magnificent Champs-Elysees, and breathed in the delights of the city.

I rented a car and drove you to visit museums and palaces. I stopped at a café for lunch but you would not eat because there was nothing kosher, so you drank only tea and ate ananas au kirsch (pineapple with cherries) and I drank only coffee. But later we discovered a kosher restaurant, Eden, in the center of the city and we enjoyed a kosher meal.

If only you could have remained in Paris for a few more days. But soon you were to leave me on the boat train to England. I came to the train station with a large box of chocolates wrapped up in a blue bow and ribbon. 62 years later I have still kept that ribbon tied up to the more than 100 love letters we wrote to each other.

As your train was leaving the station, I sat down at the station’s café and ordered an espresso. But I simply could not drink it. Every sip choked me and my tears were falling and I felt shame to be seen crying over a small cup of coffee.

I ran back to my hotel, threw myself on the bed and wept for a long time. I was deeply in love with you and I simply could not bear the separation.

The rest of the story you remember well. After knowing one another for only six days I flew back to Israel, met your family and we were married in Tel-Aviv surrounded by loving family and dear friends.

My darling Rahel… if only you could be here with me now as I recall the birth of our great love, our undying love, it would make my life less painful.

As I look at your many photos and kiss them while holding them in my hands, I cannot stop the tears from welling up and falling down. Our children get angry with me and insist that since five years have past and you are no longer physically here with us that I should get over my years of mourning…a mourning which you would have said “dayenu… it’s enough”. But no, my beloved Rahel. It is not enough for me and never will be. If only you were here with me. If only we could hug and kiss. If only we could sit together and discuss the Torah portion of the week in the commentaries of the British Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks. If only we could smile together. If only. If only.

I have several good friends who have lost a husband or a wife and while always remembering them, they have adjusted to the reality that the dead remain dead. Somehow, I am not like them. Although your body lies buried in a grave, I still feel that you are here beside me. If only it could be true!

I know that I will be lying next to you perhaps in one or two more years. When we meet again in God’s heaven, can we embrace one another? Can we share sweet words of our love? Can we recall that day on 27 August 1959 when we first met on a ship in the Italian port of Naples? If only. If only.

Sadly, our Israel today is not the Israel we remember. It is a “new” country. Gone is the eternal love now substituted by hate, corruption, lies, racism, bigotry and an autocracy just recently booted out of too many years in power.

When you worked at the Haaretz newspaper you always remarked to me how pleasant it was to work for editor Shocken, how kind and respectful he was. Never any wild accusations or name-calling.

Sadly, that period of time seems to be failing. If only the old Israel could become the new Israel with hope, love, tradition, faith and respectability. Perhaps the new government of change can work miracles. If only!

If only the closing years of my life could bring me more smiles, more happiness, more beautiful dreams of you, my beautiful bride. If only.

You had in your smallest finger more knowledge and more wisdom than I have in my entire body.

I wish that I could be more like you. A better person!

This, my beloved, is my 1,240th article and it is dedicated to your memory which will live on forever.

Now it is time for me to rest. To dream. To cherish memories of my life with you. If only….

If only this unread letter to you could be read. If only!

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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