Last week I invited six friends for pastries, ice cream and coffee to my apartment in Rishon. I made sure to buy pareve ice cream in the event that a guest may have eaten a meat meal. As we chatted, the conversation dwelling mainly with the Hamas “war” in Gaza upon cities, villages and settlements in Israel’s southern region, someone requested that I turn on the television. It was time for the London & Kirschenbaum nightly news broadcast. When someone said she could not hear I turned up the volume.
My preference is the telehearing, commonly known as the radio. It is more pleasant to hear the news rather than to see it being physically (if not fistfully) shamefully viewed. If there are four people sitting around the commentator’s table, all four shout at the same time, each trying to bitterly disagree with one another. With Israeli broadcasts one can always know when the circus has come to town.
When I am alone, my two favorite news stations are channel 11 In Hebrew and i24 in English and Arabic.
On that particular evening the center of respectful conversation centered around Avigdor Lieberman’s resignation from his post as Minister of Defense . Obviously among a group of six there had to be pros and cons. It is simply impossible for Israelis to agree or disagree unanimously on any given subject.
First it was Lieberman’s resignation which soon shifted onto Netanyahu’s “disgraceful” approval of an Egyptian-proposed ceasefire and from there to the ubiquitous question “what was Sara’s reaction”?
Sara, of course, is the wife of our prime minister and hers is the loud and dominant voice of every imaginable controversy. She is frequently referred to as “Israel’s real prime minister”. When she says “jump” there is no following question “how high”. One can clearly hear the sound of the jump.
The amazing thing about that evening in my apartment was that everyone present disagreed with prime minister Netanyahu’s acceptance of the ceasefire. The two common words tossed back and forth among us were “pachdan” (coward) and “chalashlush” (weakling).
Netanyahu justified his decision sincerely as the only means to prevent more deaths of our soldiers and civilians but the ceasefire was definitely (agreed by all of us) a political victory for Hamas.
The Egyptian mediators meant well in their ceaseless efforts to put a halt on the bombings. 460 rockets fell on Israeli border cities such as Sderot and on large cities such as Beersheba Ashdod and Ashkelon on the Mediterranean in a brief 24 hour period….. the worst attacks upon us since 2014.
Israel became weak in the eyes of the 74 % of the population who denounced Netanyahu’s action and who praised Lieberman’s decision to withdraw from a government seemingly powerless to retaliate.
While the news commentator was waiting for an answer to his question, one of my guests said it succinctly.
“Turn off the TV. There will never be and can never be a peace between us and them, not in 100 years. Can I please have another piece of cake with another refill of coffee?”
With the TV now turned off and the radio out of sight, the six of us spent the next two hours reminiscing of the past. I began the conversation by reminding my friends of a remark made by David Ben-Gurion, a founding father and first and longest prime minister of Israel.
“Whoa”, one of the guests remarked. “Don’t get me started on Ben-Gurion. I can tell you stories about him that will make your hair stand on end”.
Someone else added “but look how loving and faithful he was to Paula. Would you have liked him better if he had been a one-eyed Moshe Dayan with one wife, Ruth, and more than 200 female ‘partners’ ’”?
The man had been a member of the pre-State Irgun and had never been able to forgive Ben-Gurion’s treachery in the command given to his Haganah to blow up the ship Altalena in Tel-Aviv port because it carried weapons and ammunition for the Irgun. One of the greatest tragedies in Israeli history.
Of the six of us in the room, four remembered the event from first-hand experience while the other two, myself included, knew it from the history we had learned in school.
Conversations became mumbled, more than one talking at the same time. I continued discussing many of our past leaders, most of them honorable men and Golda Meier as our first and so far only female prime minister. Few complained about her. Two disliked her chain-smoking cigarette habits !
When it came to mentioning President Shazar I spoke up loudly. During my visit in the then Soviet Union in 1969 while attending a service in the grand Choral synagogue in Leningrad, a man whose name I never knew whispered to me in Yiddish “gib a gruss zu dein president Shazar in Yisroel fun die yiddishe volke in Russland”…. Give regards to your president Shazar in Israel from the Jewish people in Russia”.
Upon my return to Israel in August 1969, I sent a brief message to President Shazar at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. A few days later I received a telephone call from his office telling me that the president would be arriving at the Tel-Aviv Sheraton hotel and would very much like to meet me.
At the end of that week, my wife and I were escorted to the president’s suite as his niece was already pouring cups of tea for us. His Excellency, the President of Israel, greeted us warmly and invited us to be seated. He asked me questions about my impressions, how many people were in the synagogue for the service, how many approached me, who was the man who asked me to extend greetings, etc.
I replied that I thought there were about 30 men in the synagogue for the mincha-maariv service that evening. No one approached me except for the unknown man who sat next to me and whispered in my ear.
The president was grateful to me for sharing the little that I did. He blessed my wife and me as we were leaving. Three days later a large envelope arrived for me at my mother-in-law’s home in the Montefiore quarter of Tel-Aviv. Enclosed was a photograph of the president signed in Hebrew “Zalman Shazar. 6.8.1969”.
The photo in a frame has been hanging on my wall for the past almost 50 years.
Wonderful memories. So who needs television when telehearing is much better ! Panim el panim.. face to face. Kol l’kol… voice to voice. The pleasant evening visit of devoted friends came to an end.
I was left to wash the cups, plates, spoons and forks.
More coffee, anyone?