My father, a man named Sam, often told us that when he reached his 80th birthday he would give up driving. Interestingly enough, he never would say “if” he reached 80, but always “when”. He was a perennial optimist throughout his life. He assumed he would reach 80, and so he did, exceeding it by almost 18 years.
He was not one for serious advance planning, being more of a creature of impulse than anyone I’ve ever known. For example, he would come home and tell my mother he had just bought a new car, with no advance discussion. Yet, they had the most perfect marriage, never arguing and always supportive of each other. He also never reneged on a promise. So, as his 80th birthday neared, he realized that he’d better figure out how to continue living without benefit of a car. By that time he and my mother were squarely suburbanites, having moved out of Newark in the ’60s when the family sold the house on Aldine Street.
As any resident of suburban America, in this case Clark, New Jersey, knows, it’s not easy to manage without a car. All kinds of things must be done and life is complicated indeed when even the most mundane activity requires a car. Thus, just like that, snap of the fingers, they announced their impending move to Israel. Really!
This was a step not entirely unanticipated since they did already have a daughter and her family living in Herzliya. We were all supportive and, for my children, their grandparents’ aliyah gave them another place to stay on their already frequent visits to Israel.
Never ones to make a big deal out of little things, they speedily, but methodically, packed up a lifetime of acquisitions that they required and, somehow, disposed of the rest. Whatever was important went with them and, since they never were hoarders, all was reduced in size to whether they could or could not live without a particular item. My mother couldn’t live without her “good” dishes so they were packed. Pictures, of course, were of the utmost importance so they went on the lift as well. Furniture was sold or tossed. Remarkably, no medical supplies made the journey since neither of them ever took anything beyond an occasional aspirin.
The apartment that they found in Herzliya was totally perfect. It was a few doors in from Rehov Sokolov, near the corner of Rehov Ben Gurion. This, as anyone from that lovely place could tell you, was downtown and convenient to everything. A car, as a matter of fact, would have been a hindrance. Parking was a challenge, but walking was not. Every kind of store was within a minute or two by foot and this included a nice big supermarket, Steimatzky for books and newspapers, a kupat cholim (medical clinic) and a really friendly iteration of an American Conservative shul, populated by lots of aging Anglos. They fit in there like peas in a pod. There was even a chapter of Hadassah which met right in their neighborhood; my mother was promptly elevated to newsletter editor, since this monthly document was entirely in English.
Hebrew remained an obstacle. My father never even bothered to go to the ulpan but my mother strived to achieve some Hebrew literacy. Unfortunately this was not to be and she remained in kitah aleph ( first grade) until the end, which was 12 years later.
My mother continued her tradition of “maasim tovim,” delivering homemade soup to those who were ill and being an active volunteer wherever she could. My father found a nearby library so that he, a man who could never read enough, found a supplier of English history books that sustained his habit quite nicely. And he walked! Walked everywhere, miles and miles,even in the heat and rain. He was never deterred by distance. He became a marathon walker in his 80’s and 90’s. Never prepared with a hat or umbrella or even a bottle of water, he got where he wanted to go with his famous adage, if challenged, “What am I, a baby?” He lived his life on his terms and it worked for him!
And then there were the Israeli grandchildren. This business of having nearby grandparents was a new treat for them. Their father, Zeev, was already orphaned by the time the kids were born so the sheer joy of local indulgent grandparents was a welcome addition. We know that with grandparents around, children are usually considered to be perfect and their parents are the wrongful aggressors. So life became very nice for Tali and Ilan while my American children went into grandparent withdrawal.
Friday nights became a ‘go-to’ event at the sabim, the grandparents’. For most of that time my mother cooked up a feast, packing the tiny kitchen with way too much food, elegantly presented, and served on the good dishes, squeezing everyone around the dining room table. Always part of the crowd was my sister’s dog, first Barak and then Yogi. It was Yogi, a beautiful white German shepherd, who continued to arrive after my mother left us. He sensed that it was Shabbat and a special meal was awaiting him. He recklessly crossed a substantial number of dangerous streets to arrive on time at 5 Rehov Ruppin, my parent’s house. There he would bark his basso profundo greeting to the hollow halls, and be dismayed when the food, and the cook, were nowhere to be found. It took Yogi a long time to reconcile himself to my mother’s death. Some say it was the food he was longing for. I knew better. I felt the same way. He was in search of my mother.
My parents today rest in the traditional section of the Herzliya Cemetery, which is now the “old” Herzliya Cemetery. That is a fascinating place to wander, a real ingathering of the exiles, with the various nationalities representing different customs even in death. So the Russians have photos on their stones and the Americans provide English names in addition to Hebrew. Most harrowing is the large military section, final home to countless soldiers whose hyphenated years were far too few. These are those who sacrificed their very lives for the land, haaretz, so that generations of Jews, like my sister and my parents, could make their decisions to become new immigrants, olim chadashim.
When the sun sets and the visitors depart, I know my mother and father are the guardians of those youngsters.