This summer is symbolically unique in terms of numbers: We are marking the 67th anniversary of the 1948 War of Independence as well as the 48th anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War. Sad as it is, Israel’s history is determined and counted by wars. However, at the same time, it is based on the personal stories and the people-to-people connections. Following are two stories that became one.
Last week, the Kibbutzim movement, one of the main forces in shaping Israeli society, elected its new Secretary General, Nir Meir, from Kibbutz Shiler. Nir has been very involved over the last few years with the Kibbutzim of Sha’ar Hanegev on the Gaza border, where the Greater MetroWest Federation maintains close partnership, especially with Kibbutz Erez.
In a meeting that Alon Schuster, mayor of Sha’ar Hanegev, held to congratulate Nir Meir upon his election, Nir said: “I am closing a circle today. We are now sitting in a conference room, which is also a bomb shelter. It is named after Tzvika Halevi from Nachal Oz. In his house in June 1967, my father took his last shower before he went to the battlefield of Gaza, from which he never came back.” Alon was quoting Nir in his weekly blog and while reading it I immediately recalled my own story from ’67.
I was 10 years old during the Six-Day War. On the 7th day, the entire world was amazed by Israel’s major victory. My most formative memory from this war is the story of Aryeh. He was my father’s childhood friend. They were both born, grew up, and built their families in their Kibbutz. Aryeh was badly wounded in Gaza and was hospitalized, fighting for his life, in the Barzilai hospital of Ashkelon, where we then lived. I remember my father coming back shocked from the hospital after visiting with him. I remember his wife Mucky staying with us for a while and I remember the moment, two weeks later, when they told us that he didn’t make it.
My father’s dear friend Aryeh was Nir Meir’s father. Like our own fathers, Nir and I were born in Kibbutz Shiler and spent our childhood together at the “children’s home.” Although we hadn’t kept in touch, our stories are integrated into one.
When I read Alon’s blog last week and the quote from Nir Meir about his father not coming back from Gaza, I happened to be in Budapest with my parents. I showed them what he said and we all recalled the difficult days of 48 years ago. My father corrected Nir: “Aryeh did come back from the battlefield but couldn’t survive his wounds. He was heavily burned on his entire body.” Then my father told us the story of his last visit with his friend: “Aryeh couldn’t move or talk. In the special Kibbutz sign language, he was able to tell me that his body is boiled and burning and he is eager to have... an ice cream. So I went to the cafeteria, snuck in a big ice cream, and fed my brother Aryeh. He passed away the next day.”
I wrote to Nir Meir, congratulating him on his election, and told him my father’s story. Now, on top of knowing where his father took his last shower, he knows what he had for his last meal.