Introducing a guest author on my blog — my Mum, Violet.
A few years ago, I asked my Mum to write down the story of how she and my Dad met in London in 1963. She was a Scottish woman and he was an Israeli man, she was a Protestant, he was Jewish. She was in her 20’s, he was in his late 30’s. At the time, it was an unlikely pairing, because of the difference in background, religion, and culture. As a child, my dad grew up in what was then Palestine, a territory under military British rule.
Later, my dad became a scientist and a space physicist. He did research work in the United States every summer, while the rest of the family stayed in Israel. Before long distance calling was so accessible, before voice mail, before email, text, and cell, he used to call us every Friday evening with an update. The Friday night call was a ritual — we’d stay home to take his call.
It’s Friday evening in New York, and I’m thinking of him. Shalom, Abba!
How People Come To Be In Places You Might Not Expect To See Them In
When I was sixteen, I saw my father Alex, with tears in his eyes for the first and only time in my life. I did not ask why he wept, since he was setting off for the funeral of a man whom he loved and admired, his boss Abraham. This was in Scotland in 1956. My father cut short his holiday to go back to the city for the funeral. It was a Jewish burial, which takes place as close to death as is manageable in the tradition of the Middle East.
This man, Abraham, came to Scotland from Poland and established a wholesale drapery business where he employed my father, Alex, who had been ill with tuberculosis, and spent two years of his life in a sanatorium.
The depth of my father’s gratitude to Abraham became clear many years later after my father told us for the first time that he had been ill with tuberculosis during the difficult 1930’s. He had had plans to start a building business and get his life on a financial track. In those days, a history of tuberculosis was comparable to having AIDS in the 1990’s. Therefore, his illness was kept a family secret and only divulged 25 years after his complete recovery, when my parents thought it important to let us in on our family medical history.
The amount of anxiety that Alex’s illness invoked became even clearer to me when I learned that his father, my grandfather, had died of tuberculosis when Alex was fourteen years old. Consequently, it appears to me now, Abraham played a father-like role to my father, his kindness and support fulfilling a deep need. One way or another I knew of my father’s admiration, love and strong sense of gratitude to Abraham.
Some ten years before Alex went to Abraham’s funeral, in 1944 or ’45, my husband Uri, aged 14, was sent out to the street in Tel Aviv, to flag down a British command car during curfew and ask for help for his mother who was ill with cancer and in need of hospitalization. The British officer, whom he flagged down, not only called an ambulance and waited while Uri’s mother was carried into it, he also inquired if the family had any other needs and took Uri to a military store to get bread.
Some years later, at the age of thirty two, Uri decided to go abroad to study for his Ph.D. in Space Physics, and although the obvious choice in the early sixties, when Kennedy had declared the race to the moon, would have been the United States, Uri applied and was accepted to London University. His decision was influenced by a conscious desire not to expose himself to the very real temptation of a life in the US. As a citizen of a very young country, he was determined to return with a Ph.D. and continue his life and contribution in Israel. Britain in the 1960’s was less of a magnet to young scientists and like Israel, still in a post war period of its own.
In October 1963, Uri, who was now the chairman of the Israeli Students’ Union in London (after eight months at the University), and I, met at a freshmen’s evening at the University of London. We arranged to meet again, and for me at least, it was love at first sight. Very early on in the relationship, I said to myself that I would marry this man.
He told me the story of his mother’s hospitalization in 1944, in response to a question I had about how was it he came to study in Britain after so many hard things suffered at the hands of the British during the Mandate Period. He had a positive and grateful view of that British officer whom he saw as representative of British soldiers in general. He felt as a rule, Israelis did not feel hatred towards the British.
We loved, we married and we had children and we lived together in Israel all our lives together. Uri died at the age of seventy-eight in 2009.
Over the years people have asked both of us how come we married each other, people from different cultures and religions, and the answer is not a single one. It has a lot to do with personal values and the kinds of parents we had, things that cross borders more easily than is commonly recognized. I do think, however, that part of our attraction, or at least the openness of one to the other was settled in 1936 in Scotland and in 1944 in Palestine.