One Cup of Coffee That Lasted Forever

In the summer of 1951, several of my classmates at Chavat Halimud in East Talpiot and I were sent from Jerusalem to the far north of the country to Kvutzat Matzuva on the Lebanese frontier to volunteer in harvesting on the kibbutz.

I did not particularly enjoy life on a kibbutz. No privacy and no room for individuality. Up at 5:30 in the morning, breakfast of tea and jam and black bread. Off to the tobacco fields where I was handed what was called a turiya, a miniature hoe, which required back-breaking efforts to bend down, dig around the tobacco plants to remove weeds, and tamp the soil firmly.

Among the volunteers were a group of classmates from Petach Tikva. They were all younger than I was and belonged to a Zionist club called HaNoar HaOved. They had experience in agricultural activity and laughed at me for complaining of back aches and pains. One sixteen-year old in particular was the most unkind.
Amir Shapira was the grandson of the legendary Shapira, founder of the Shomrim, the guards who preceded the Haganah and police in the early pre-State years. He was always pictured riding on a white stallion with a flowing Arab keffiyah. In that pose he could easily have been mistaken for a noble Arab sheikh.

Amir constantly threw piles of soil in my area, making my labor twice as difficult. He laughed as he watched me trying to clear the stones and weeds from his pile. His other classmates chided him on his lack of kindness and courtesy and came over to help me in clearing up what Amir had deposited. They were friendly and helpful to me and made known to Amir that he acted despicably.

He never bothered me again but like a true sabra teen-ager who thought the world was his because of his grandfather’s fame in the early history of chalutzim (pioneers) on the land of Eretz Yisrael, he never apologized. We ignored one another, sharing only a table in the communal dining hall of the kibbutz.

It was easy to make friends who were members of the kibbutz. They showed real appreciation for the hard work of the volunteers. One day, five of them invited me to join them on a very long trip through the southern desert to a place called Um Rashrash on the Red Sea.. It was a deserted place inhabited only by Beduin. I don’t think there was a single person, other than Beduin, who made their camp there. Today the place is Israel’s largest and most popular resort city. It is called Eilat.

(But Um Rashrash (Eilat) had to wait for my first visit in 1960 when my new wife and I honeymooned in the only small pension in the town).

En route south I felt ill. Perhaps it was poor water or intense heat but it affected me and when we reached Beersheba I informed my friends that I could not continue the journey. They pitched a small tent for me on Beersheba’s sand and left me with a thermos of water, assuring me that I would feel better and that they would return for me in two days.

Alone in the desert, not speaking Arabic, with few provisions, I wandered in the sand, passing a British military cemetery for Australian, New Zealand and British soldiers who had died fighting the Ottoman Turks between 1914-1918. Arabs had set up tables under a canopy and from them I bought a few oranges and several pitot, the flat bread which Beduin women bake on hot stones under the fierce sun.

Much later that day, a truckload of young Israeli soldiers drove by and one of them, seeing me alone, signaled to me to hop on their truck. They were en route to a small military canteen for coffee and the young soldier who signaled me to join them bought me a cup of thick black coffee. We talked together. He told me his name was Yitzhak Mizrachi from Rishon Lezion and said that when his military duties had ended he was going to work as a glass-blower in the Gavish glass factory near his home in Rishon.

I told him that I was eventually going to continue my studies in the United States. We exchanged addresses but he was skeptical of hearing from me. He was proved wrong.
With that one cup of coffee which he bought me, a life-long friendship blossomed and grew until his death fifty years later.

With Yitzchak I learned the joy and value of having a genuine friend. The one cup of coffee lasted a lifetime. There is a quotation in the Talmud by which I have lived my life…. “o chevruta o mituta”. Give me friendship or give me death. A life without genuine caring friends is no life at all.

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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