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The frailty of memory

This past fall, my son Daniel asked me about a box of cassette tapes that I recorded and sent to my mother, in place of letters, during the years 1973-1974 when I lived in Israel studying in my first year of rabbinic school at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem. He said he would love to read them, if I would transcribe them.

My mother kept 22 cassette tapes in a small white box tucked away in a closet in her condominium. I’d forgotten completely about them until one day my brother and I prepared to move our mother to assisted living in her 95th year some ten years ago. I brought them home and must have told Daniel about them, and he remembered.

When an adult child asks something specific of a parent, that parent ought to respond positively – I did.

So, I down-loaded a transcription App and played on my out-of-use Sony cassette tape player (I’m glad I didn’t throw it away) 19 of the tapes into my IPhone (3 tapes were damaged). I transferred the texts to my home computer and spent weeks editing what this then 23 to 24 year-old graduate student said from Ulpan Akiva in Netanya where I spent the summer of 1973 learning Hebrew, and from his dorm room at Bet HaStudent, a half-block from the President of the State of Israel’s House in the Rechavia neighborhood of Jerusalem (that dorm was converted into expensive condominiums).

As I listened to a much younger me, I was stunned by how honest and clear-thinking I was 48 years ago, how so much of what I was to become as a progressive Zionist and American Reform Rabbi was seeded in that important year in my life, and (as it turned out) in the history of the State of Israel and the United States.

Historical highlights of that year include the Watergate hearings, the outbreak of the 1973 Yom Kippur War and its aftermath, the shuttle diplomacy of US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the death of the founding patriarch of the Jewish State, David Ben Gurion, the resignation of Israel’s Prime Minister Golda Meir and General Moshe Dayan for failure to anticipate the simultaneous attack on Israel resulting in the devastating loss of life of 2656 Israeli soldiers and the injury of another 11,656, and the Palestinian terrorist attack out of Lebanon on the northern town of Kiryat Shemona resulting in the murder of 18 Israeli women, men and children.

In addition, I came to know well my Petach Tikvah family, Devorah and Yitzhak-Tzvi Shapira (the niece and nephew of Avraham Shapira, the founding shomer of Petach Tikvah), Rav Yosef and Sarah Rozovsky (my father’s first-cousin and a Rosh Yeshiva of a religious school), and our Jerusalem family, Tamara Pinchosovich (an attorney overseeing Knesset labor and economic legislation and Avraham Shapira’s granddaughter), Morrie and Stella Bay and their children (new olim to Israel after the 1967 Six Day War), and Rachael ‘Rae’ Rivlin (known in O Jerusalem by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre (publ. 1971) as the “hostess of Jerusalem” as well as the widow of Hebrew University Professor Yosef Yoel Rivlin and mother of the future President of the State of Israel, Reuven ‘Ruvi’ Rivlin.

I was friendly during my eight weeks of study at Ulpan Akiva in Netanya with Shulamit Katznelson (1919-1999), the founding director and daughter of Berl Katznelson (1887-1944), an architect of the emerging State of Israel who founded the state’s Labor Union, Health Care System, and other institutions of the State.

Finally, I established close relationships with many rabbinic school classmates. Though our paths diverged over the years, we continue to share a bond unlike any other friendships.

As I listened and transcribed these cassettes, I vaguely recall a few of the incidents and remember many not at all. Most memorable are the close relationships I shared then with the Shapira, Rozovsky, Pinchosovich, Rivlin, and Bay families, and with events before, during, and after the Yom Kippur War.

Not only did listening, transcribing, and editing these hour-long cassettes bring the events of those years vividly to mind, as if I were transported back in time, I’m reminded of the vagaries of memory, how very much we forget, how important are our early life-experiences in who we become and what we value and care most about. I also am reminded, yet again, how important it is for each of us to record our life stories for the sake of our children, grandchildren, and the generations to come not only so that there will be a written or oral record but so that they will understand themselves as the most recent links in the chain of their family’s history.

I’m grateful to my mother (z’l) for insisting that I send these tapes in lieu of writing letters, which she knew I wouldn’t do, and for holding onto them for so long thereby preserving for my memory one of the most consequential years in my young life.

About the Author
John L. Rosove is Senior Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles. He is a national co-Chair of the Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet of J Street and immediate past National Chairman of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA). He serves as a member of the newly created Union for Reform Judaism's Israel and Reform Zionism Committee (IRZC). John was the 2002 Recipient of the World Union for Progressive Judaism International Humanitarian Award and has received special commendation from the State of Israel Bonds. In 2013 he was honored by J Street at its Fifth Anniversary Celebration in Los Angeles. John is the author of two books - “Why Judaism Matters – Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove” (Nashville: Jewish Lights Publishing, a division of Turner Publishing Company, 2017) and "Why Israel [and its Future] Matters - Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove" (New Jersey: Ben Yehuda Press, 2019). Both are available at Amazon.com. John translated and edited the Hebrew biography of his Great Granduncle – "Avraham Shapira – Veteran of the Haganah and Hebrew Guard" by Getzel Kressel (publ. by the Municipality of Petach Tikvah, 1955). The translation was privately published (2021). John is married to Barbara. They are the parents of two sons - Daniel (married to Marina) and David. He has two grandchildren.
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