Up till two weeks ago, I had considered myself the consummate olah who had experienced it all. Thirty one years after having made Aliya from London, I had completed two university degrees, moved to a development town (Dimona), married a Moroccan Israeli (Avi), learnt how to cook Moroccan fish (much better than its British parallel), brought my sister and parents to live in the development town, had premature triplets (readers can skip this stage), then another two, worked for the Jewish Agency (skip this stage too), survived the Israeli primary and secondary school system together with five children (one of whom graduated the Special Education stream), insisted on speaking to them only in Hebrew (I had to be the ultimate Israeli and they cursed me when faced with their English bagrut), confronted and battled with the Israeli medical system (and in particular Soroka Hospital with a father who recovered from colon cancer), organized a barmitzvah, batmitzvah, moved house, conscripted two sons to the army, a daughter to Sherut Leumi and could look back with satisfaction that I knew the ins and outs of Israeli society.
And then came the ultimate Aliya experience: My beloved father suffered a massive heart attack, died suddenly a few weeks ago and life changed forever. Losing a parent is an acute universal experience. Yet it became an ultimately Israeli one for a number of reasons: firstly, the speed. Within two hours of notification (being called frantically from work at Sde Boker), I stood at the funeral parlour to bid farewell to my mentor and closest advisor for the past 49 years. Secondly, the funeral: wrapped only in a tallit on a stretcher (no coffins in Israel) I eulogized him (only around 30 men and women had received the news and made it in time) together with my two daughters and saw him being placed in the newly dug grave (warning: distressing, I highly recommend avoiding this part) The shiva week is similar in character around the world and differs mainly by family origins: Neighbours who had never spoken to my parents brought food daily. My London aunt was amazed at the Dimona community spirit. Thirdly: Tactless comforters (“no need to be sad” declared one, “your father died at 89 and mine at 61”) came and went, (“my mother died in the same year as my dad” said another, luckily without my mother understanding the Hebrew). I actually think that someone should write an Israeli guide of tactless remarks at shiva calls, it will be a bestseller (or perhaps tactlessness is universal). I think that the Jewish custom (based on the Book of Job) to visit mourners in silence and only respond when spoken to by the mourner is an excellent one. And finally the Moroccan custom to terminate the shiva with a fully catered meal which was enjoyed by all (“what lovely tasty fish”, commented one of the comforters).
So now I can truly say that I have undergone the complete Israeli life cycle.
Well actually there is an additional one: I haven’t yet experienced marrying off my children. I have a lovely religious 23 year old daughter looking for a husband. She would kill me if she knew I was mentioning her, but then again her English isn’t good enough to read this article, all thanks to me.
May the memory of my Zionist pioneering father, Maurice Benzimra be for a blessing