I have one leg in each of two countries. I own one apartment in Florida and a second in Haifa. When I am in Florida, it is mostly for work. When I am in Haifa, it is for play. Haifa is the most beautiful city in Israel. Tel Aviv has its beach. Jerusalem has its mountains. But Haifa has both. But when I am not hiking in the mountains or riding my bicycle along the beach, you can usually find me at the bridge club.
I fell in love with the game of bridge by watching my mother’s weekly home game. My father is a champion bridge player and I use to go to tournaments and watch him play. I started a bridge club in high school and started playing competitively when I was living in California and working at NASA. When I moved to Haifa, I joined the local bridge club. While I enjoy the game, what I really love is getting to know the people.
In the morning, the bridge club is filled with retirees. The average bridge player is well into their 70s. But bridge keeps the mind alert and these pensioners are among the brightest people I have ever met. The bridge club is filled with engineers, medical doctors, and university professors. But this is something that you will find at most any bridge club across the world. What makes the bridge club in Israel so special are the life stories of the players. They are the pioneers or children of pioneers who came to Israel and built the country.
One of my regular partners, Roni, was a member of the Israeli Special Forces during the Yom Kippur War. His unit crossed the Suez Canal and after the ceasefire was signed with Egypt, was helicoptered into the Golan Heights to fight against the Syrians.
Another player at the bridge club, Isaac, turned 90 this year. As a teenager, he fought against Nazi fascism with the Yugoslavian partisans during World War II. After the war, he came to Israel and joined the Haganah to help Israel win its independence.
I often partner with Ludmilla, who has a PhD in Mechanical Engineering. She was a Refusnik for many years in the Soviet Union and was detained often by the KGB before finally being allowed to emigrate to Israel. She worked in Israel’s defense industry for over 30 years before retiring and picking up bridge. Her brother, Edward Kuznetsov, was one of the most famous Refusniks. In 1970, he was arrested for planning to steal a plane and fly 16 Jews to Sweden. His brave act brought international attention to human rights violations in the Soviet Union.
I play bridge with the members of the “greatest generation.” Each one of them has lived our history. Some immigrated as children and some came later as adults. Some are first generation and some come from families that lived in Israel during Ottoman times. Each one has an amazing story to tell. They are my heroes. Living in Israel is wonderful. The weather, the beauty of the country, the food, the warmth of the people — all are fabulous. But more than that, it is a country where dreams are being turned into reality. A country that was poor and devastated is slowly, in bits and spurts, becoming a light to the nations. And here in Haifa, at my local bridge club, I get to rub shoulders with the people who made it all happen.