“An Endangered Species”

With the passage of time, Southern African volunteers who fought in Israel’s 1948 War of independence are passing away, and with them, a living link to the genesis of modern Israel

By David E. Kaplan

Israel’s  1948 War of Independence , despite all the odds was won decisively.

So how come we are still fighting it?

Mainly because of the nature of what is “decisive”. The current theatre of battle is not “On the Ground”, “in the Air” and “at Sea” but “in the court’ of world opinion”. Today’s “Battleplan” involves documenting and securing the truth, so that the history of the War of Independence is not subverted by revisionists and purveyors of falsehood as is wont by BDS in South Africa that ‘attacks’ Israel not over its dispute over territory but its very existence. It opens the file not of 1967, when Israel conquered the West Bank in a defensive war, but the “1948 file” that transforms the Israel-Palestine debate from a negotiation over territory, into an argument about the conflict’s older and deeper roots – the establishment of a Jewish state.

Who has been spearheading the campaign of recording the role of volunteers who came to fight in Israel’s war of birth in 1948  is former South African, Smoky Simon, Chairman of World Machal, today 98 years old. (The word MACHAL is an acronym for the Hebrew, Mitnadvei Chutz L’Aretz, meaning “Volunteers from Overseas.”)

Once a fighter plane navigator, Smoky is still ‘navigating’; this time securing a flight path towards educating the young and the old, Israelis and foreigners on the existential contributions to the 1948 war by the 4500 volunteers from abroad  – over 800 of them Southern Africans – who put their futures on hold, and risked their lives to fight for a nation in the making.

Sir Winston Churchill’s apt depiction after the Battle or Britain that “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” could equally apply to the debt the State of Israel owes to these volunteers.

 They left jobs, interrupted their studies, and some even postponed weddings, while others brought  their weddings forward to come on ‘honeymoon’ to fight in Israel’s War of Independence as did Smoky and his wife, Myra, who was the first meteorological instructor in the Israeli Air Force. “Many of her graduates became squadron and base commanders,” reveals Smoky proudly.

Literally rescheduling their lives, they dropped everything to come and fight for the fledgling Jewish state. In cockpits and on board ships, in tanks and armored vehicles, treating the wounded in hospitals and on the front lines, these young idealistic men and woman – Jews and non-Jews – helped change the tide in Israel’s War of Independence and forged the birth of a nation.

One in this illustrious “band of brothers” who participated in the most exciting adventure for a Jew in 2000 years was  another former South African from Johannesburg, Joe Leibowitz, who passed away in January 2019 in Hod Hasharon in central Israel. It is important with the passing of these Machalniks to record and relate the service they performed.

Joe was born in Lithuania “where a Jew knew what anti-Semitism was” and came to South Africa at the age on nine.  Then, three years after WWII  and the prospect of a Jewish state, “I was torn to pieces inside. I had a strong feeling that we had a moral pact with the slaughtered Six Million of Nazi Europe. This was the first chance to fight back against a world that hadn’t cared.”

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War of Independence. ‘Mahalniks’ of the 72nd Battalion including many Southern Africans opposite the Syrian lines at Mishmar Hayarden in 1948.

He reveals in writings recorded in Henry Katzew’s  “South Africa’s 800 – The Story of SA Volunteers In Israel’s War of Birth” that his thoughts at the time were “mixed up with other things.”  He felt he was “in rebellion against the old supine ways. Our rabbis used to snatch us indoors when we threw stones at Gentiles throwing stones at us. The rabbis broke our spirit before we could develop it. Turning the other cheek was no answer.”

Then when Philip Zuckerman of the South African Zionist Federation approached him  to serve, 21 year-old Joe volunteered without hesitation. “The battle inside me was resolved. I could be helpful to my people.”

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Band Of Brothers. Joe Leibowitz is seen here (left) in 2012 for a photoshoot of Southern African Mahaliniks at Kfar Saba police station having borrowed the rifles. The entire police force came out to observe and enjoy a history lesson. Back row: Joe Leibowitz (SA), Maurice Ostroff (SA), David “Migdal” Teperson (SA), Moshe Amiram (Argentina) Middle row: Monty Bixer (UK), Stanley Sober (USA), Avi Grant (UK), Hymie Josman (SA) Front row: Smoky Simon (SA), Stanley Medicks (UK), Hymie Goldblatt (SA)

The ‘Plane’ Truth

Arriving in pre-state Israel on the 10th May 1948, this ex-SAAF air gunner WWII veteran with 102 sorties under his belt in North Africa and Italy, noted at Sde Dov airfield in Tel Aviv,  that the strength of the nascent State’s “Air Force” comprised “two Rapides, a Fairchild and a Bonanza (ZS BWR).”

Hardly a force to hold back invading armies coming in from all directions!

With no option of being an air-gunner, Joe teamed up with South African pilot, Elliot Rosenberg, becoming a “bomb -chucker” of one of the Rapides, a fabric covered bi-plane. “Bomb-chuckers” as they were called, carried 25 and 50 pound bombs on their laps, and on reaching the enemy target, the safety pins were released and the bombs were manually dropped onto the target.

It was a nerve-wracking business – so much could go wrong!

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Flying Scrap. South African Borris Senior braving himself for the first test flight of a Spitfire put together with scrapped aircraft bits and pieces found on former RAF scrap heaps.

With the door of the plane removed, “there was always the possibility,” said Joe that “in leaning over while chucking out the bomb to slip, and follow the bomb.” The plane carried no parachutes and communication between the pilot and “chucker” was by torch with “a flash from the pilot, indicating “Over target” , and a flash from the “chucker” “All bombs unloaded.”

Despite the lack of sophistication of the nature of this war over the skies of Israel, there was some compensation for the airman recalled Joe: “We were so admired by the local Israelis that we were always treated to free meals in restaurants and free haircuts at the barber shop.”

Joe recalled the strains of those early days of the war. One morning the legendary Moshe Dayan came striding into Airforce O.C. Aharon Remez’s office demanding to know why the Air Force was “sitting on its arse.”  He had reason to be angered; Israeli units were being hard pressed at several points by the invading Arab armies. However, the men on the ground had little understanding of the war in the air and  “how the bombs thrown out could as easily fall among the Israeli men on the ground as among the enemy.”

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Enemy At The Gates. A very worried Aharon Remez, Chief of the IAF, Smoky Simon, Chief of Air Operations, Shlomo Lahat in charge of bomber operations (later mayor of Tel Aviv) and Chris in charge of maps.

Joe recorded an experience when the Israeli forces were pinned down along the “Burma Road” to Jerusalem and a Palmach unit was surrounded and radioed in for support. “We had to drop by parachute, two Piat guns and two bags of ammunition.” Complicating the mission, “we had no wind intelligence and no calculation of drift allowance and a real danger of the Piat and the ammo falling into enemy hands.”

With the door of the Rapide removed, there was only the metal handle on the side with the ammo bags tied to the handle until ready for the push. Joe used his feet against the banking of the plane. Then, “a mysterious thing” happened over at the 4th attempt of the drop. The metal handle broke and Joe would have gone hurling into space with the bag had not the pilot, Elliot Rosenberg, at that precise moment tilted to port. “The mystery is that from the cockpit, Elliot could not see me and had no logical reason to tilt. Some mysterious instinct came into play that ensured that Joe’s passing was delayed by over seven decades – “How did Eliot know something was wrong, we spoke about it for years afterwards.”

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Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines. Prime Minister David Ben Gurion visits 101 ‘First Fighter’ Squadron. With sunglasses Modi Alon. Behind Alon’s left shoulder stands South African ace fighter pilot, Syd Cohen, who Israel’s future State President, Ezer Weizman said “taught me most of what I needed to know in a cockpit,” to the left, Gideon Lichtman and Maurice Mann, a Battle of Briton RAF pilot.. (Public Domain/Wikimedia Common)

Close shaves were Joe’s calling card, even when not in the air. On one occasion during a UN brokered truce, Joe had an unsettling encounter with Count Folke Bernadotte, the UN Security Council mediator,  known to be most unsympathetic to the new State of Israel.

“We had just landed with supplies at Sdom in the Negev desert, and who surprisingly was there was Bernadette who came up to me and asked what supplies we had brought.” Only knowing a few Hebrew words, Joe said:

Ani medaber rak ivrit” (I only speak Hebrew)

Bernadette tried German.

Rak Ivrit,” Joe repeated.

 This went on until  Bernadotte was distracted, never discovering that among the crates of carrots were hand grenades, certainly a violation of the truce agreement, “but this was a fight for survival.”

In truth it was.

The Machalniks’ contribution represents one of the proudest chapters in modern Jewish history, when ordinary people – like Joe Leibowitz and the over 800 Southern African volunteers –  behaved quite extraordinarily. As Israel’s first Prime Minister Ben-Gurion said:

 This was a war not won by heroes. It was won by ordinary men and women rising above themselves.”

 

Above and Beyond. Short clip of  volunteer fighter pilots in Israel’s War of Independence.

“The Flying Dentist”

SA Rugby Legend Wilf Rosenberg Passes Away In Israel

By David E. Kaplan

January 14th 2019 saw the passing of a legend Wilf Rosenberg at age 84 at Beth Protea, the retirement home for South Africans in Herzliya Israel.

It  was only six months ago that I enjoyed a good laugh with this illustrious Jewish Hall of Famer when  following a string of recent defeats by the South African ‘Springboks’, I suggested “they should recall you to the squad!”

The octogenarian, who immigrated to Israel in 2009, replied:

 “Yes they should; they have nothing to lose.”

Considered one of the greatest South African rugby players of all time, Wilf was dubbed “the flying dentist,” because of the way this periodontist would fearlessly hurl himself over the try line.  The son of a rabbi, he first made it big with the South African Springboks and later with the Leeds Rugby League Club where in 1960-61 he broke the single season scoring record with 48 tries – a record that still stands nearly five decades later!

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True Colours. Wilf Rosenberg in his Springbok colours.

The other record that still stands is that Wilf is the only Jew to have ever played Rugby League.

Jewish people came out in droves to see me, a Jewish boy, playing rugby league. It was wonderful,” recalled Wilf.

This Jewish rarity on the English playing fields was not the case in South Africa where there have been ten Jewish rugby Springboks, amusingly referred to as the “Minyan” (the male quorum required for Jewish communal worship):

Morris Zimmerman, Louis Bradlow, Fred Smollan, Dr. Cecil Moss, Prof. Alan Menter, Joseph ‘Joe’ Kaminer, Ockey Geffin, Syd Nomis, Dr. Wilf Rosenberg and Joel Stransky.

So how did it happen that Wilf emerged an all-time rugby great that earned him an induction into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1994?

No Stopping Rosenberg

Born in Sea Point,  Cape Town in 1934, Wilf spent his childhood in Australia where his father Phillip was the Chief Rabbi. It was there where he began to play rugby at the age of six and was quickly singled out as “an exceptional talent”. In my interview in 2012 with Wilf at Beth Protea, he recalled every last detail, how his coach at the Sydney Grammar School asked Ron Rankin, a decorated WWII airman and a fullback for the Wallabies, to visit the school and assess the best players. “Pointing to me – and I was 13 at the time – Rankin said, “Look after the boy. He will play for Australia”.”

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Mighty Men. At a gathering at Beth Protea, Herzliya recording the contribution of South African Jews to sport were these three world famous Springboks (left-right), Aubrey Kaplan (water polo), Wilf Rosenberg (rugby) and Teddy Kaplan (weightlifting).

That prophesy would never “play” out as Rabbi Rosenberg moved his family back to South Africa despite  a “very upset” Sydney Grammar offering “to put me in a boarding school. My mother was adamant, ‘No way, my son comes with me‘.”

Returning to South Africa, the Rosenberg males were making a name for themselves in Jeppe, the father as the new rabbi and the son at Jeppe High School where he developed his “three-quarter play”. Soon Wilf played for his province, Transvaal, at under-19 and then senior level.

“We had a great schoolboy back line,” he recalled. “Playing centre, I’d swing away outside my opponent, then, when I got the ball I’d dummy the full back and be away. Opponents used to shout, ‘Stop Rosenberg‘.”

Literally, there was no stopping Rosenberg.

His big break came in 1955, when the legendary Danie Craven took a fateful decision and: Wilf was well on his way!

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Willful Wilf. Clutching the ball, there was no stopping this running Rosenberg.

Don’t Cross Craven

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Clash of Titans. Poster for the 3rd test at Loftus Versveld, Pretoria following Wilf Rosenberg’s début match at Newlands.

A stellar player, coach, administrator and one of the most influential figures in the history of the sport, Dr. Danie Craven believed that South Africa would not win a test series without a Jew in the side. “He not only believed this passionately” said Wilf, but “put it to the test with me during the  British Lions tour of South Africa in 1955,” the first Lion’s after the Second World War.

Following defeat by one point in the first test at Johannesburg by what rugby history buffs consider to be the best ever Lions team to visit South Africa  with the likes of Cliff Morgan, Geoff Butterfield and Phil Davies – the ‘Boks’ needed to change things around. At the selectors meeting for the 2nd test, “Craven threatened to resign if they did not pick me.”

While Wilf at seventeen had been the youngest player in the Transvaal squad, “I was largely unknown, but they knew Craven and went with his instincts.”

It paid off.

“We beat them 25-8 at Newlands,” with Wilf scoring, as the newspapers at the time described – “a stunning 50 yard try.”

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New Horizons At Newlands. Wilf Rosenberg’s début performance as a Springbok at the 2nd test against the British Lions at Newlands in 1955.

Scoring on his Springbok début, it was also noted in talk and print at the time, that “Wilf won the hearts of the segregated black spectators” who cheered  him wildly when he ran out to play.  Was it because he was a Jew, whose people like them had endured insufferable prejudice? Who knows? Wilf responded  by directing his waving at the segregated section of the stadium making as well his début statement against Apartheid. He would later cherish his meeting with Nelson Mandela when ‘Madiba’ ascended from prison to president. “He invited me to his house for tea and we spoke about his days on Robben Island where he spent 27 years in exile.”

But here was the irony that did not escape Wilf who at the time was also promoting boxing in South Africa, a sport Mandela excelled in as a youth.

“Mandela was a mad keen boxing fan,” Wilf related and “we always had ringside seats for him and his staff.”

This was a far cry from when Wilf made his début for the Springboks in 1955 in Newlands and there were no preferential but segregated seats for South Africa’s Black majority. Acknowledging this inequality, Wilf waved to those who were honouring him.

“I think about my début often,” recalling how ecstatic fans jumped the fence when he scored before being restrained by police.

With the game only five minutes old:

  “I sensed their strategy – to target me, the smallest guy on the field.”

As if it was yesterday, Wilf recalled in minute detail how Davies, a giant of a man, “called for the ball and set off. I took off and hit him. Bang! The crowd erupted.” The plan was “to keep it from the backs and attack in the second half. I cut right through the Lions back line for my try. Fans still say it’s one of the best they’ve seen.”

The Springboks won 25-9 and at full time, the Lions lined up and started clapping. “I wondered why and then the Springboks stepped back and clapped. It was for me.”

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A Star Is Born. Magazine covering the 1955 majestic series which ended in a draw but propelled Wilf Rosenberg to rugby stardom.

By the Grace of god

And so began Rosenberg’s career as one of South Africa’s most beloved players, where he dazzled the crowds with his speed, fearlessness and signature stunts. With his head thrown back, he would outsmart his opponents with a “dummy” – a fake pass –  by cutting through the backline and then diving over the try line to score. “It looked as if I was diving into nothing,” said Rosenberg, who was now well on his speedy way to earning the sobriquet – “The flying dentist.”

So how did the son of a rabbi (Jeppe synagogue) end up being allowed to play on Shabbat (Sabbath)?

The rabbi had a smart answer:

My son is born with a G-d given talent. Who am I to argue with G-d.”

This rationale proved reminiscent of a test-winning decision by the great Louis Babrow during the victorious 1937 Springbok tour in New Zealand. The final test fell on Yom Kippur but Babrow decided to play, arguing that, with the time difference, he would have played the match before the Day of Atonement dawned in South Africa.

He displayed the same cerebral maneuverability as he did physically on the field!

Twice inducted into the Jewish Hall of Fame at Wingate, Wilf’s Springbok jersey, socks and boots are there on display. It was a proud moment when “I led the SA delegation, carrying the flag in the 1997 Maccabi Games.”

Wilf might have participated in the 1957 Maccabi Games had he been allowed to join Nachal (Fighting Pioneer Youth in Israel) in 1956. “Craven would not hear of it, insisting I could not let South Africa down with the upcoming 1956 tour to New Zealand.”

Taking on the All Blacks was “manageable” compared to “taking on Danie Craven; that was bordering on suicide – he nearly exploded when I suggested it.”

‘Tackling’ the Past

It was Wilf’s father, the rabbi, who clinched the deal for Wilf to go professional.

While on honeymoon in Durban with his first wife, Elinor,  he received a telegram from “my Dad that read ‘Pack your bags. I’ve signed you up for Leeds’.” It transpired that while on a visit to England, agents for Leeds surprised Rabbi Rosenberg at the airport and offered his son an astounding ₤6,000 to sign with them – an offer Rabbi Rosenberg could not refuse.

“I knew about rugby league growing up in Australia, but I never had any dreams of playing the game until my father made it a fait accompli,” revealed Wilf.

Adding to the allure was the fact that Rosenberg would be the only Jew to play rugby league – a distinction that holds to this day.

A Jew playing rugby league? Unheard of!” said Rosenberg.

While playing rugby league, Wilf was also in dental school, earning the highest marks and specializing in periodontics. As he remembered it, “I lived a very fast life, juggling my dental practice with rugby and a growing family.”

To the day of his passing, Wilf remains fondly remembered with fans recalling matches well over half a century ago as if they were yesterday.

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Ducking and Diving. Wilf Rosenberg’s trademark dive as he scores for Leeds in the early 1960s.

Writes Hull FC Pete Allen a club that Wilf had played for as well: “He was my first real hero. I was eleven when he signed for the club and it was at the time when the great team of the 1950s had all-but fizzled out. It was a tough time for the club. He made his debut against Bramley and scored twice, featuring the amazing dive he did in the corner. From that day onwards, he’s been a lifelong hero of mine. He’d take off two or three yards away from the line and dive horizontally over. There were always a bunch of photographers hoping to catch one of his famous dives. It was his trademark.”

Another describing Wilf’s inimitable talent is Len Lillford who recalls as a schoolboy watching Wilf in a game against Huddersfield. “He ran along the right wing and just had their fullback, Frank Dyson, to beat. Wilf lobbed the ball over the fullback’s head and ran round him and caught the ball to score under the posts. This was one of the best tries I had ever seen.”

Lawyer Charles Abelsohn of Kfar Saba, Israel, who played rugby at Stellenbosch University and later refereed rugby in Israel, describes his meeting with Wilf at Beth Protea in 2014, as “the second time in history.”  Their first “meeting” was “when I was 11 years old sitting in the stands at Newlands watching with my Dad that famous 1955 Springboks match against the British Lions.”

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Blast From The Past. News cuttings from the 1955 British vs Springbok series.

“Yes, that was when Craven took a chance with me,” said Wilf.

“No, it was not a chance; Craven recognised talent and you proved him 100% right,” said Charles.

Wilf’s glory days at Leeds was well recalled by Derek Hallas who said:

“Wilf was such a nice guy and the best winger I played with. For a man of his size, he was one of the bravest players I have played with and he was a terrific finisher.”

Small in stature, Wilf was a giant of a man on the field.  “One of the bravest players” and “a terrific finisher”, Wilf crossed the line of his life at 84 remembered fondly by fans all over the world.

Of Heaven And Earth

Israel Mourns Rona Ramon

The saying “It’s not the number of years in your life but the life in the number of your years,” resonates in describing the relatively short but extraordinary lives of three members of one heroic Israeli family – Ilan Ramon, son Asaf Ramon and today’s sad news, wife and mother – Rona Ramon.

By David E. Kaplan

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Rona Ramon (1964 – 2018)

He has never left us – his spirit, his values and his message to future generations lives on for all time,” said Rona Ramon in an interview with this writer in 2014 about her late Israeli astronaut husband, Ilan Ramon, who died in the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster in 2003. She could so easily as well be referring to her beloved son Asaf Ramon, who followed in his father’s footsteps becoming a pilot and was tragically killed in an Air Force training accident in 2009.

And sadly, as the news broke  that Rona too, was taken before her time – passing away at age 54 from cancer – the Jewish world can say about Rona, “her spirit, her values, and her message to future generations lives on for all time.”

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Match Made In Heaven. Rona and Ilan Ramon (Photo: Craig H. Hartley

In the years following the tragic passing of her husband and son, Rona showed the same bravery, determination and grit as she spearheaded the perpetuation of the family legacy through the Ramon Foundation.

A life characterized by triumph and tragedy, the writer sat down with Rona Ramon for an exclusive interview for a major magazine in Israel.

 Colonel (Aluf Mishne) Ilan Ramon perished at the age of 48 when the Columbia space shuttle disintegrated on its re-entry into earth, killing all  seven astronauts on board. An ace Israel fighter pilot, in 1981 Ramon was the youngest – participating in Operation Opera, Israel’s impressive strike against Iraq’s near-completed and threatening nuclear reactor in Osirak.

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Space Shuttle Columbia: Mission of Hope. Front (L-R): Rick Husband, Kalpana Chawla, William McCool, Rear (L-R): David Brown, Laurel Clark, Michael Anderson, Ilan Ramon

A global icon, Ramon is the only foreign recipient of the United States Congressional Space Medal of Honor which he was awarded posthumously in 2004.

With Israelis enjoying a love affair with the Ramon family – the surname embedded in the minds of most – my first question opened with their ‘love affair’.

How did you and Ilan meet?

“We met on my 22nd birthday party at a friend’s house in Kiryat Ono. My friend’s eldest sister invited her neighbor – this 32-year-old good looking guy with a million-dollar smile – and to this day I always say, “Ilan was my 22-birthday present.”

Six months later they were married.

“Why wait, we were in love,” the couple thought at the time, and nine years later with their four children, they were living in a suburb close to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. All this would come to a crashing, cataclysmic end as billions of people stared in disbelief at their television sets as the Columbia space shuttle disintegrated in flame as it reentered the earths atmosphere.

This nation was unprepared.

It was just not possible!

After 16 days of almost constant news coverage about “our Ilan’s” exploits in space – from how he spent Shabbat (Sabbath), the various experiments he was conducting in space and what special mementos he took with him such as a prayer book to recite the Kiddush (blessing) as well as a Kiddush cup, a picture drawn by a 14 year-old boy who perished in Auschwitz and a Torah scroll that survived the Holocaust – Israelis felt they knew him personally.

He was family!

As one newspaper at the time expressed it:

“He represented us all – our country, our people, our past and our future. He was our hero at a time when we sorely needed one.”

The son of Holocaust survivors, he represented a nation’s rebirth – the young, proud modern Israeli rising from the ashes of the Shoah (Holocaust) to a child of a new nation, reborn in its ancestral homeland and who in one generation was seeking answers to earth’s problems in the heavens.

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Israel In Space. Israel’s first astronaut, Col. Ilan Ramon

How perceptive and prophetic were Ilan’s words from space:

“The world looks marvelous from up here, so peaceful, so wonderful and so fragile.”

From a prolonged high to a sudden low, how did Rona cope?

“Before finding answers, I had to understand the questions. I felt such conflicting emotions to a situation I was unprepared. I was not only dealing with a profound personal loss but a national loss, so while having to keep my young family together, I also could not forsake my national responsibilities and obligations all under the international spotlight.”

Hard for anyone to be prepared, how did you find the strength?

“My family – my wonderful kids who brought me to a place that I found I was not afraid and I found the strength to shift from thinker to doer.

Did it make it easier or more difficult that all Israel shared in your grief?

“It added to the huge weight on my shoulders as I was representing Israel not only symbolically but physically. I was compelled to channel my grief through action. I had to present myself before several investigation committees relating to the accident; addressed conferences and attended commemorative ceremonies, such as accepting from President Bush in 2004 the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. Ilan is the only non-American to have ever received this prestigious award.”

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From Pilot To Astronaut. Ilan Ramon with his F-16

Was it stressful taking on all these responsibilities?

“Actually the exposure to so many people and situations gave me strength, and after returning to Israel from the USA, I found solace in returning to academia. I took my Masters in Holistic Studies through Lesley University, Boston. My thesis dealt with how personal loss impacts on our lives – physically, emotionally, spiritually and cognitively. Through my studies, I navigated my return journey home to normalcy.”

Trying Times To Ramon Foundation

If losing her celebrated husband was not enough, Rona would be tragically tested once more. In June 2009, President Shimon Peres had awarded Captain Asaf Ramon his air force wings at Hatzerim base in southern Israel. The President had been close to the Ramon family and it was Peres who has encouraged President Clinton to include an Israeli astronaut in a future NASA space mission. “Peres felt at the time,” said Rona, “that the country needed a boost; that there had been much division in the society following the Rabin assassination and that an Israeli traveling in space would unite the nation like no other event.” This proved correct. The nation did unite around this spectacular venture.

Inspired by his father, Asaf had excelled in his training and had expressed the hope that he, too, would one day become an astronaut.

It was not to be.

On the 13th September 2009 Captain Asaf Ramon, age 21, was tragically killed when his F16-A jet crashed during a routine training exercise.

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Asaf Ramon, left, with President Shimon Peres upon his graduation at Hatzerim air force base in June 2009, several months before he was killed.

The way Rona dealt with this further blow was to channel all her energies in founding the ‘Ramon Foundation’ which would honor both her husband and her son.

“The foundation,” said Rona, “promotes and initiates projects that can influence our society for the better. We focus on the field most associated with the Ramon name – space and science, as we view these fields best to inspire children and young people to dream, to pursue, and to make their dreams a reality. Just like his father, Asaf fulfilled his dream of becoming a fighter pilot, and just like his dad, he graduated from the flying academy with honors.”

Rona quotes from both Ilan and Asaf, whose writings from their diaries were the inspiration for her founding the Ramon Foundation. Ilan wrote: “The children and youth are the future of the development and advances in space research, especially since they are open to new creative ideas and not prisoners to old ways and therefore so important to our future in space.” And following his graduation, Asaf wrote: “My siblings and I were lucky to grow up with parents who helped us to fulfill our dreams and reach our unique potential.”

Rona says she was “humbled and moved reading this,” and took this short appreciative passage of Asafs’ as her Magna Carta in founding the Ramon Foundation.

So what are some of the programs?

“We have many and use the world of space and aviation, associated with Ilan and Asaf, to encourage personal excellence and community involvement. We support groundbreaking excellence in academic achievement among Israeli youth and promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education involving scientists, pilots and young leaders, all determined to make these goals a reality.”

Do you work with schools?

“Yes, we are working with 20 schools all over the country and including all the communities – Jews, Arabs, Druze and Bedouin. We look beyond ethnicity to enthusiasm. All who want to excel are welcome. So for example in our elementary schools, we have set up Aviators Clubs where squadrons from the Israeli Air Force adopt a school and where the students are inspired by the pilots who serve as role models.

We have witnessed trouble-makers transform into outstanding students. All they wanted was to excel and we provide the tools and the inspiration to follow their dreams. The pilots inspire the children to strive for excellence and be better students, citizens and leaders of their society.”

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Ramon Legacy. Rona Ramon (left) visits a school in Modiin named after her husband, Ilan Ramon, along with two NASA astronauts in February 2008

Projects Out Of This World

For the older students, I understand you have a program called the Ramon Space Labs. Can you explain the program?

“Imagine the excitement of a school kid knowing that an experiment he is working on will be tested by a real astronaut onboard an International Space Station (ISS)! There are currently 100 students in four schools who are planning an experiment soon to be launched, while some have already watched their experiment launched into orbit. Basically, students design and build an experiment to be performed on the International Space Station. They watch it then being launched into space, performed by the astronauts on the ISS and then on the return to earth, the results are analyzed and published.”

 Rona was also working with the Conrad Foundation, named after the late Apollo 12 astronaut, Charles “Pete” Conrad, who had struggled academically due to dyslexia and only because of a perceptive headmaster, saw Pete’s spark of genius and gave him the confidence he needed.  He went on to earn a scholarship to Princeton University and in November 1969, Pete became the third man to walk on the Moon.

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Spearheading The Ramon Legacy. Rona Ramon, speaking at a Space Convention.

We too are looking for that ‘spark of genius’ in our Israeli students and this year, twelve of our schools are participating in the Conrad Foundation’s

‘Spirit of Innovation Challenge’ which invites high school students from all over the world to its annual competition.

Using science, technology, engineering and math skills, teams develop innovative products to help solve global and local problems while supporting global sustainability. We are sending our best students to represent our country and hope to reach the semi-finals. The finals, where the participants will present their products and vie for seed grants, patent support and commercial opportunities will be held as a space camp in Houston.”

Can you foresee future Israeli astronauts like Ilan?

“We need to equip the dreamers to emerge as doers. Everyone has their own calling. I have a son who is a talented musician composing his own material.  Our foundation helps young people identify their talents and explores ways for them to reach their full potential. We are offering opportunities to kids which would not otherwise have them. However, as our young participants grow older, we zone in on those who have the potential to make a global impact.

For such individuals we have a program called ‘Ramon Breakthrough’. This program is open to those who can through innovative technology, improve the lives of one million people in Israel. The prize is a scholarship to Singularity University in California where the student will together with other students from around the world will explore solutions aimed at solving some of the world’s most pressing challenges.”

 It would seem you are busy now than ever before?

“Well, from losing members of my family, I feel the Ramon family is expanding as we are touching the lives of so many kids. Today, I have a large family.”

There are parks, sixteen streets alone in Israel, museums, schools, playgrounds, departments at hospitals, soon the renaming of the airport in Eilat and even an asteroid named after Ilan Ramon. How special for you is the new Ramon Museum at Mitzpe Ramon?

“When the government decided to honor Ilan with a national memorial, I pressed for the focus to be less about a memorial and more about education. I also felt that Mitzpe Ramon would be the ideal location. The crater has a surreal space quality about it and on the personal level – Ilan was a child of the Negev having grown up in the desert’s capital, Beersheva. With the crater below and the space above, the museum’s exhibits project both the heaven and earth.”

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Reach For The Stars. Rona Ramon with Kiryat Yam Mayor Shmuel Sisso join children at the inaugural World ORT Space and Science Seminar last year.

Rona’s Proudest Moment

After the first anniversary of her husband’s death, Rona received the program of the first anniversary ceremony of the Columbia tragedy to be held at Arlington Cemetery in Virginia. She saw that it did not include the Hatikvah – the national anthem of Israel – so she called her friend at NASA who explained to Rona that the protocol at such ceremonies allows only for the American national anthem.

In which case, I will not be attending,” Rona replied.

There was silence at the other end of the phone “and my friend replied he would call back. It apparently went all the way to President Bush who approved. It was the first time a foreign national anthem had ever been played on such an occasion. I felt truly proud when I stood at Arlington Cemetery listening to Hatikva.

The personal legacy of Ilan for me is his wonderful smile. I suspect wherever he was that day looking upon me having stood my ground defiantly, he was smiling.”

On behalf of a mourning nation, Israeli President, Reuven Rivlin said today, “Rona Ramon left us as she lived among us noble, pure, full of faith.”

Rona joins her husband and son but leaves a legacy that will  forever enrich the lives Israelis today, tomorrow and into the far future.

 

Feature picture credit: AFP

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The King Is Dead

By David E. Kaplan

Legendary SA ocean swimmer known as the “King of Robben Island’’ dies suddenly in Cape Town

Swimming in the ocean is my ultimate joy,” he once said of his favourite pastime. “There are no boundaries, no lane ropes to constrain me and very few people to disturb me.”

Having faced off the perils of the open sea from dangerous currents, Great White sharks, poisonous giant jelly fish and sheer exhaustion,  it was  a routine check-up in Cape Town  on the 17 October for asthma that surprisingly struck down South Africa’s legendary ocean swimmer Theodore Yach at the young age of 60.

Holding the record for the most crossings to Robben Island – hence his nickname in the ocean swimming fraternity as “The King of Robben Island” –  Yach made quite a splash in Israel in 2016 when he swam across the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee)  “not the width like most long-distance swimmers but the LENGTH – 22 kilometres from south to north,” says Stanley Milliner from Kfar Saba Israel who has been a friend of the Yach family since childhood.

“It was a tough swim because he was more accustomed to swimming in the cold temperatures off the Atlantic Cape coast and not the 26 degrees of the Kinneret and thus took him over 8 hours,” recalls Milliner. “There was great excitement at the time as members of the Israeli Swimming Association joined him for sections along the way.” Apart from the famed St. Peter’s fish, “He appreciated the human company.”

“It’s been such an unexpected shock for his friends and fans. He was a titan in the water and an example to future generations of ocean swimmers.”

Away from the water, the Yach family name on terra firma is synonymous with philanthropy supporting causes both in South Africa and Israel.

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Theodore Yach (right) with Stanley Milliner at the 2005 Maccabi Games in Israel

Leading Light

A leading member of Cape Town’s general and Jewish communities and an inspiring role model of philanthropy, Theodore Yach’s mother, Estelle has been a devoted friend of Israel and the Hebrew University whose benevolence significantly advanced the University and enabled hundreds of its students to pursue a higher education.

It all began in 1938, when Theodor’s grandfather, Morris Mauerberger, established the Mauerberger Foundation Fund, which his son-in-law and Theodore’s late father Solm Yach went on to head. His mother chaired the Foundation for over twenty years; thereafter passing over the reins to his sister, Dianna Yach.

Since the 1960s, the Mauerberger Foundation has lent its support to a wide range of projects at the Hebrew University, including the Mauerberger Medical Bursaries, the Morris and Helen Mauerberger Chair in Agricultural Entomology, research projects in diverse areas and, notably, numerous research fellowships and scholarships for Israeli and international students, many from underprivileged backgrounds.

Africa Israel – A Pulsating Partnership

Africa is benefiting today from the launch in 2017 of a prize by Haifa’s Technion-Israel Institute of Technology together with the Mauerberger Foundation Fund in South Africa. Each year, Israeli scientists now compete for a $500,000 prize for suggesting ways of addressing a major development priority in the African continent – and in doing so, also advance the role of women in science.

Dianne Yach called on scientists to collaborate in tackling impediments to the full development of people and societies, while Technion president, Prof. Peretz Lavie committed the Technion to fostering Israel-African partnerships “with purpose and impact.”

The new prize builds on 80 years of the Mauerberger Foundation Fund support for those areas in Israel and South Africa that include the initial support for the Technion’s Soil Engineering Building in 1955; chairs in nursing, preventive cardiology and neurosurgery at the University of Cape Town; and the advancement of public health at the University of the Western Cape.

Theodore’s grandfather and founder of the Fund first visited the Technion in 1955.

Technion
https://www.jpost.com/Business-and-Innovation/Health-and-Science/Technion-S-African-foundation-launch-prize-498245

Today, the Helen and Morris Mauerberger Soil Engineering Building is home to ‘Engineers without Borders’, a programme that the fund continues to support, and that enables Technion students to initiate community projects in Israel and abroad and promote the University’s goodwill in Africa.

In Cape Town, Theodore Yach with his expertise in property development, was one of the key strategists behind the Central City Improvement District, “which helped the city avoid the inner-city decay that has affected so many other cities in South Africa and across the world.” In keeping with the family tradition of Tikkun Olam (Hebrew: “repairing the world”), Theodore Yach has over the years, raised millions of Rands for various charities.

During office hours, Yach was a divisional director at Zenprop, one of South Africa’s top property development and investment companies. He has also been a director of his family’s philanthropic Mauerberger Foundation and supporter of the Cadiz Open Water Swimming Development Trust.

The Cadiz Freedom Swim is an extreme 7.5 kilometres open water swimming race from Robben Island to Big Bay, Bloubergstrand. It takes place annually close to Freedom Day  – the 27th  April, the date of SA’s first democratic elections in 1994 when Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa, marking the end of Apartheid.

The Cadiz Freedom Swim is recognised as one of the world’s most extreme sea races due to the extremely cold water characteristics of the Atlantic Ocean, unpredictable sea and weather conditions, and the presence of the Great White Shark.

Legacy of a Legend

Deserving of the moniker “The King of Robben Island”, Yach had at the time of his passing, 108 Robben Island crossings to his name – more than any other swimmer in the world. He has also swum across the English Channel, and he is the first person to swim from Cape Town around Robben Island and back, taking 11 hours. Despite the freezing temperature of the water, the area is popular for sharks, including the Great White. This never deterred Yach who always took the necessary precautions.

Yach comes from a family of swimmers and his love for swimming was nurtured from an early age.

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Theodore the Titan. Theodore Yach emerges from the water after his epic 30km Ultra Swim from Three Achor Bay, around Robben Island and back in a trip that took approximately 11 hours wearing only a regulation swimsuit, cap and goggles while being totally exposed to the elements. (Stephen Williams, Gallo Images, Foto24, file)

In His Element

Theodore’s late father Solly, himself a champion swimmer, “told me as a kid to keep a record of my swimming achievements, which I did,” and led to his internationally acclaimed autobiography.

Titled, ‘In My Element’, it is an inspiring story that brings alive the sport of open water swimming and reveals how the boy matured to a man with every stroke.

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“I planned a simple paperback book until my editor looked at all the photographs and material I had, and she convinced me otherwise,” he reveals in his preface to the book.

The world of ocean swimming in South Africa is not for the faint of heart. “It requires guts, training and a sense of adventure, all of which characterized Theo,” says Milliner.  “It was no wonder,” continues Milliner, “that his book was nominated in the ‘World Open Water Swimming Offering’ of the year category,” which recognises innovative products or services that have made a positive impact on the world of open water swimming.

Set in the backdrop of the wild waters off the South African coast, In My Element is filled with photographs, memories and personal highlights of his often-risky open water sea-swimming exploits undertaken since the 1980s, including stories about swimming with sea life such as sharks, seals and dolphins.

The autobiographical book sets out to motivate other swimmers and offers training advice.

An unrivalled pastime

“Swimming in the ocean is my ultimate joy; there are no boundaries, no lane ropes to constrain me and very few people to disturb me.”

Long distance open water swimmers are always exposed to the threat of hypothermia, jellyfish stings, bluebottles and the ever-present danger of sharks, yet Yach enjoyed every opportunity to get into the water.

“The best part of swimming in open water is that it isn’t structured. I don’t want structure in my leisure time,” he said. “I like the solitude and the fact that I am in the middle of nature and I like the possibility of a Great White that can come visit!”

But he was never reckless. He always swam within two metres of his support crew and with a shark shield that hung off the boat. The device created an electronic force field around him that kept sharks away.

He maintained that open water swimming was a tough sport that involves as much psychological preparation as physical endurance.

“The mental aspect of ocean swimming is more important than physical preparation because you are dealing with the sea, the cold water, currents, sea life and the fear of what is under the water.”

“Hypothermia and heart failure are biggest risks for open water swimmers – even more than shark attacks.”

Yach noted that South Africa was becoming the preferred destination for top open water swimmers to train, “as the water on the Cape coast is so cold.”

He explained that training in water with optimal temperatures was critical for open water swimmers who were preparing for races. “A swimmer’s ability to cope with cold water is essential and this is why they train in our waters for races such as the English Channel.”

The cold water of the Cape has lost its warm friend.

SOUTH AFRICAN JEWS AND THE FOUNDING OF ISRAEL

By David Saks

To mark the 70th anniversary of the birth of the State of Israel, the editorial board of Jewish Affairs, a journal published under the auspices of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies since 1941, decided to devote the Rosh Hashanah 2018 issue of the journal to the topic. Contributions, particularly personal memories relating to the founding and early years of the Jewish state, were invited, and people, both from the local Jewish community and former community members now living abroad, took up the invitation. The result was a true landmark issue of the journal, one providing much original material and many fascinating new insights into Israel’s establishment and the noteworthy role that South African Jews played in its birth and early struggle for survival.

Fighters and Founders’

The first section features first-hand accounts of South Africans (mainly, but not exclusively Jewish) who participated in the tumultuous early months of Israel’s existence, when the fledgling Jewish state was faced with critical challenges from both within and without its borders. All of them volunteers, they included soldiers, kibbutz workers and medical personnel. The section includes the memories of six South African Machalniks – foreign volunteers who fought in the Israeli War of Independence – namely Leslie Marcus (as recorded and written up by Leila Bloch), Eddie Magid (based on extracts from a recent biography on him by Michael and Suzanne Belling), Ellie Isserow, Audrey (Benedict) Meyersfeld, Henia Bryer (by Veronica Belling) and Elie Zagoria (with an introduction by David Solly Sandler). Marge Clouts records what it was like to work on a kibbutz in the years 1948-9.

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Leslie Marcus (left) and Mike Isaacson as Mahal volunteers serving in Moshe Dayan’s battalion in 1948.

Some excerpts:

Says Leslie Marcus: “My late brother Sam had a clothing shop, so I got a few shmattes together in a suitcase. There was a fellow called Solly Levin (from Claremont kosher butchery) who had a car; he came and fetched me at six the next morning and took us to the airport.

There were two of us, me and Max Korensky from Paarl. I had never been on a plane before It took us four days to get to Israel We had to stop every four hours to refuel. When we landed…we were taken straight away to some camp in Haifa. Two days later I was in the army, fighting. I was all of 21 but I was ready for it.

There were 32 of us in our unit of various nationalities. I was second in command. There were eight South Africans. We were the first to go into battle. Why did we go into battle first?

Because we were the most trained.”

 Marge Clouts who spent two and a half years in Israel soon after the founding of the state records: “The excitement of landing in Israel was intense. We did not land at Lod (now Ben Gurion Airport) but on some very small airstrip. We were then transported by truck to the army base at Tel Levitsky. A few days later, in Tel Aviv, we visited the welcoming and comforting South Africa office. The kibbutz they found for us was called Bet Keshet, a four-year-old basic settlement of about seventy Sabras located in the foothills of Mount Tabor in the lower Galilee. The settlement had recently been traumatised by the deaths in an ambush of seven of its leading members.

Our first Sunday at Bet Keshet we heard the church bells of the monastery on Mount Tabor, and at the same time the ominous sounds of distant gunfire.”

“One Sunday Morning in May 1948…”

Part II looks at perspectives from Diaspora Jewry in the period leading up to Israel’s establishment. Glenda Woolf’s memoir of how Bloemfontein Jewry celebrated the inauguration of Israel’s independence is reflective of how South Africa’s fervently Zionistic Jewish community will have greeted the much longed and hoped-for occasion.

I remember waking up early one Sunday Morning in May 1948, and hearing, “Wake up. Quickly, get up. Today is a very special day. We Jews have our own country again. Soon we are going to shul to celebrate. The children must wear fancy dress. Hurry, we don’t want to be late.”

Glenda continues, “….The flag was raised. We sang Hatikva, and slowly a murmur of sobs came from here and there among the crowd. It was then that my mother said, “You must always remember this day. For the first time in thousands of years we Jews have our very own country. Your generation will be different to our generation.”

Veteran contributor and editorial board member Gwynne Schrire has made available the recollections of her mother, Mary, a stalwart worker for the women’s Zionist movement first in Kimberley and later in Cape Town. Florrie Cohen recalls her days on hachshara – an agricultural training programme for prospective olim – in the English countryside in the early days of World War II. As with all the memoirs in this issue, one gets a sense of the powerful spirit of idealism and self-sacrifice that underpinned the Zionist movement during those crucial years. Another veteran JA contributor, Cecil Bloom, evaluates the impact made on Zionism in the UK by Haham Moses Gaster, at the time a prominent figure in the Zionist movement but today largely forgotten.

The deeper significance of Eretz Yisrael in Jewish religious thinking, as well as how this history is being distorted by those driven by an implacable hatred for the reborn Jewish state, are the subjects of Part III of this issue. Artist and poet Abigail Sarah Bagraim reflects on the meaning of the Patriarch Abraham’s spiritual journey and connection to the Holy Land, a thoughtful piece complemented by one of the writer’s most recent paintings on Jewish religious for which she is justly renowned. (As will be recalled, another of A. S. Bagraim’s paintings, “The Welcoming of Shabbat”, graced the front cover of the Pesach 2018 issue of Jewish Affairs. The artist’s work can be viewed, and prints ordered, at www.abigailsarah.co.za).

We next have reprinted an address given by the late Chief Rabbi B M Casper on the spiritual and historical connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem, an analysis that is both erudite and deeply felt. Finally, Rodney Mazinter, also a regular JA contributor, considers how contemporary antisemitism and hard-line anti-Zionism – to the extent that they can be separated at all – overlap with and inform one another. It is a sobering reminder that while Israel has to date emerged triumphant in its battle for survival, final victory in that struggle is still to be achieved.

Writes Mazinter: “Antisemitism did not just disappear with the end of World War II. Like most Jews, we got used to having ugly things said about us from time to time. Mostly we were lucky and grateful for the many Christian friends who stood up for us, and still do. But nothing prepared us for today’s misinformation, demonization of Israel, and the gut-wrenching anti-Israel, antisemitic hostility expressed by many students, professors, church members and even established “liberal” newspapers – and now, even Jews who act out their anti-Israel stance for whatever reason. The new form of bigotry against Israel is called the :new antisemitism” which replaces “Israel” with “Jew”…”

On a more positive note, Mazinter continues, “Meanwhile, venture capital continues to pour into Israel. The business world, the engine of growth, education and prosperity, is voting with its feet to seek investments in the only reliable country that constantly points the way for the future of humanity.”

The special “Israel at 70” issue of Jewish Affairs, as well as all previous issues of the journal from the beginning of 2009, can be freely accessed on http://www.sajbd.org/pages/jewish-affairs. Those with a particular interest in Israel are referred to the Rosh Hashanah 2017 issue, which likewise is very much focused on the Israel-themes.

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David saks

David Saks is Associate Director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and Editor of Jewish Affairs.

 

Feature picture: South African volunteers, engineers at the Sodom Camp, meeting with some of the 7th Battalion Infantry soldiers who walked down to Sodom through the waids and reached it a while before our jeeps did. First and second on left – Dov Golanty and Zvi Sikoler (Israelis), third on left – Hymie Kurgan (SA), extreme right – Sydney Bellon.

 

 

 

South African ‘Flower’ Flourishes in Israel

By David E. Kaplan

As Beth Protea Retirement Home Celebrates 26 years it’s a story not about bricks and mortar but about people.

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For the Young at Heart. The outdoor patio of Beth Protea

What are you guys planning to serve for lunch?”

“Can you believe it? That was the first question asked by a bunch of South Africans at our first fundraising campaign in Haifa in 1985. We had no land to build on; we hadn’t raised a dime, and people wanted to know what we would serve for lunch,” relates Walter Robinson the founding chairman of Beth Protea, a retirement home in Herzliya primarily for the Southern African community in Israel. Dublin-born Robinson was quick off the mark.

Well, if you don’t start donating, there will be no dining room in which to serve lunch!”  replied the masterful fundraiser.

Nearly three decades later, and today himself a resident at Beth Protea, it is now Walter who asks:

What’s for lunch?”

In October 2018, Beth Protea celebrates its 26th year.

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Dynamic Duo. Joel Katz (left) and Walter Robinson

South Africans in Israel have every reason to be proud. For a community that was the first to establish an immigrant organization (Telfed); pioneered the concepts of Absorption Centers and acquiring property to rent to their new Southern African immigrants at below market rentals, as well as initiating and promoting housing projects from the city of Ashkelon in the 1950s to the town of Kochav Yair and the community village (Moshav) of Manof in the 1980s, it was only natural, that at the dawn of the 1980s, serious thought was given to leaders in the community for the wellbeing of their seniors.

At that time there was a group who were “toying with the idea” – mainly to cater for parents who were left behind in South Africa. The concept found little traction until Robinson made Aliyah (immigrated) from Cape Town in 1981. Well known and respected for his communal work back in his adopted South Africa, the ad hoc group roped him in and within a few months of his arrival in Israel, he was chairman of a steering committee. “They allowed me to unpack my suitcases first,” he bellows with a boisterous Dublin guffaw.

 Right Man For The Job

Walter once nearly ended up in jail and was rightly proud of it!

The year was 1944 and Walter and his Zionist chums at the university in Dublin started a newspaper called the Dublin Jewish Youth Magazine. One day, Walter opens the evening paper, and “I see this MP, Oliver Flanagan, questioning whether the directors of the DJYM have a license to publish and whether our articles had been submitted for censorship as required by wartime regulations. Both were serious offences, carrying prison sentences. Of course the answer to both was – NO,” says Walter, delighting in his mischievous past. Flanagan was a notorious anti-Semite who in his maiden speech in the Irish Lower House the previous year, had urged the government “to rout the Jews out of the country.”

Well Flanagan was not about to “rout” Robinson. “The owner of the paper’s printers was a great friend of Prime Minister Eamon de Valera and so if the printer could not go to prison, neither could we.” Walter’s Zionism continued to soar, culminating nearly fifty years later in his finest communal achievement – the opening of Beth Protea in 1992.

“We quickly changed the focus – not a retirement home for prospective immigrants but for the community in Israel. People, who had quite literally rolled up their sleeves and helped build this country.”

Now it was time to build a home for them. However not just a home,  “but one that’s DNA was South African,’ said Robinson, “a home that felt like home.”

Benchmark of Excellence

Robinson quickly roped in a younger feller “who had a knack of asking the most intelligent questions.” And so began the partnership between Walter Robinson and Joel Katz that would steer the Beth Protea project in its formative years.

Bricks and motor ‘sprouted’, and like the ‘protea’, started to grow. The architect was another South African, Gert Gutman and while still  under construction, South Africa’s State President, F.W. de Klerk visited where he was wined and dined in a ‘dining room’ on a floor of cardboard over sand and mud and between mounds of rubble.

While in the throws himself in transforming South Africa, de Klerk predicted amongst the rubble “this South African community is transforming the landscape of Israel.”

How right he was.

Beth Protea in Herzliya became the benchmark  of excellence in caring for seniors, and in a few years the name ‘protea’ resonated across the land as its ‘seeds’ sprouted with other retirement complexes carrying the brand name –  such as Protea Village further north and Protea Hills near Jerusalem.

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Entertainment nearly every night, residents enjoy an outside concert on the patio.

 The Magnificent Many

Joel Katz would become the first chairman of the Management Board and at the official opening in 1992, the guest of honor was the President of Israel, Chaim Herzog who expressed:

One is never surprised at the admirable level of volunteering and performance on the part of South Africans in Israel. You have done it again by establishing Beth Protea, a golden retirement home for those in their golden years.”  Paying tribute to the volunteers over the years, Katz spoke of the “lonely few” that grew to become “the magnificent many.” This 1992 observation holds even more so today as “volunteers from all walks of life continue to give freely of their time, energy, expertise and of course, their generosity, to upholding Beth Protea as a glowing example of retirement living and private initiative,” says current chairman Michael Silver.

Sensitive to the initial apprehension that the project would become elitist and only available to the wealthy – a feature of most new retirements homes in Israel today –  the founders were determined that Beth Protea would be a non-profit association and  established a  fund, Keren Beth Protea to assist those in financial need. This is what distinguishes a community project such as Beth Protea from commercial, profit-motivated senior citizen facilities. The total financial assistance given by Keren Beth Protea over the last 26 years, is in itself a revelation of beauty.

Out of Africa

Wanting to learn firsthand about Israel’s specialized health care of its seniors, Dr. Harriet Chapasuka, a doctor from a clinic in South Africa’s northernmost province Limpopo, visited Beth Protea. Her husband Pastor Reuben Chapasuka, is President of the Cape to Cairo Israel Mission with churches across Africa that welcomes the Blue & White flag of Israeli innovation and ingenuity flying in the African breeze. “When I visit Israel,” says Pastor Reuben, “I always return to South Africa not with Israel’s ‘holy water’ but Israel’s ‘holy ingenuity’.”

Harriet, who shares her husband’s desire of tapping into Israel’s expertise “for our people”, visited Israel to explore its best practices of health care that could be replicated in rural South Africa.

With so many of the residents and staff at Beth Protea being former South Africans, Dr. Chapasuka felt, “quite at home.” Taken on a tour by the Director Lynn Lochoff, she visited the three sections: independent, the assisted living, and frail care unit. She met doctors and nurses and learnt about Israel’s unique health system where everyone is covered.

She visited the art studio and was amazed to see many of the paintings and sculpture reflecting the memories of the artist’s South Africa. “We remain so connected,’ she remarked and hoped the connection will be strengthened, particularly in the field of medical health.”

And the best answer to the first question asked way back in 1985, Dr. Harriette Chapasuka answered it after a desert, “the lunch – WOW! I loved it.”

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The South African Connection. Dr. Harriet Chapasuka who runs a family clinic in Limpopo South Africa engages in some ‘rigorous’ exercise in Beth Protea’s gym with Director Lynn Lockoff (right) before enjoying a sumptuous lunch in the dining room.

Living History

For this writer, it’s the residents that makes Beth Protea special. Having interviewed many of them over the years, they all represent a microcosm of the history of modern Israel. There was the late Julie Slonimnée Levinson) who arrived in 1946 from Johannesburg and recalls the day Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, declared Israel’s independence in Tel Aviv. Newly married to a lawyer, “we joined in the festive mood that had gripped the city and on Allenby Street’s Moghrabi Square, masses of people were dancing and shouting. Later we went to the fashionable Café Pilz overlooking the sea where we danced on the tables and our partners lifted us into the air.”

Reality set in on the drive back home to Haifa “where we were shot at by Arab snipers. Luckily we escaped harm. The coastal road between Tel Aviv and Haifa was no longer safe, and motorists were suddenly running the gauntlet. There we were earlier dancing with joy and now we were now officially at war.”

When Beth Protea opened its doors in 1992, one of its first residents was Rona Baram née Moss-Morris), a law student and trained nurse, who arrived in Palestine from South Africa in the mid-forties. A member of the Habonim youth movement, she joined Kibbutz Kfar Blum in the northern Galilee. During 1948, settlements in “our area were like fortresses, surrounded by trenches and barbed wire,” says Baram. “The Arabs ran a water canal across the only approach road to our kibbutz cutting us off entirely from the outside world. Post, food and medicine were dropped from a single engine plane that flew in low. Aside from having to deliver babies and care for the sick and wounded, it was a cold winter and we didn’t have enough food or fuel.” Baram recalls the letter from her parents in Durban, with the memorable line “We hope you’ve dug yourself in Rona and have enough ammo to last out the siege.”  Baram would go on to establish Tipat Chalav, the first child-care clinic in Kiryat Shmona.

On the 6th June 1948, the late Maurice Ostroff, and fellow ‘Machalniks’ from South Africa, all volunteers responding to the call to fight in Israel’s War of Independence, were flying into Israel in a P.A.A.C. Dakota. Not sure of his position, the pilot radioed in that he was coming in on an emergency landing. Of all the places to land, he brought the plane down at the last remaining British-controlled enclave of Haifa.  “The British officer on duty was baffled by the arrival of these “tourists” and asked Ostroff:

“Whatever makes you want to come to Palestine at this time. Are you crazy!”

“Just passing through,” replied Ostroff.

“We are pulling out of here,” the officer shouted, “but it won’t be more than two weeks before the bloody Jews will be yelling at us to come back.”  While the British officer soon left never to return, Ostroff would serve out the war as a signaler, commanding a radio station near the Weizmann Institute. Nearly six decades later, Ostroff still had his antennae out and still locking horns with Israel’s enemies. From his fifth floor apartment in Beth Protea he daily monitored the world media on its coverage on Israel, responding to unfair bias by writing to newspapers, TV networks and political leaders around the world.

The late Sam Solomon was another first resident to Beth Protea. He had little interest in  Zionism, but “I did have an interest in girls.”  In the late 1930’s he was a young man living in Bloemfontein in South Africa. “I asked a pretty girl out on a date, but she told me she would only go out with me if I picked her up after  a meeting at the Zionist Hall where an important leader from Palestine was talking. I was not keen to attend thinking it would be boring, but I arrived early and so with nothing to do, I sat in and was so taken up with what I heard about the Halutzchik (pioneering) way of life that three weeks later I was on a plane to Palestine.”

“Whatever happened to the girl?” I asked.

“Who knows”” replied Solomon. “After that night, I never saw her again and my first job in arriving in Palestine was building the road from Tel Aviv to Haifa.”

At a special Beth Protea event some years ago, the late Herman Musikanth, a “financial whiz” who worked very closely with Walter to get Beth Protea literally “off the ground”, quoted the words of Albert Price written in the early 1800s:

What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and this world is – and remains – immortal.”

He concluded with, “I believe that Beth Protea is probably as immortal as one can get.”

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Beth Protea. Pride of the Southern African community of Israel.
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The writer, David Kaplan (left) conversing with President F.W. de Klerk on his visit to Beth Protea still under construction in 1991.

Cashing in on Terror

By Rolene Marks

A perverted “pay for slay” scheme sponsors environment of terror.

It takes a lot to fell a lion. Several weeks ago, a 17 year old terrorist felled one of Israel and the Jewish world’s most recognized activists, the Lion of Zion, Ari Fuld.  Ari Fuld, was 45 years old, a father of four, slain while he shopped in a nearby supermarket. Mortally wounded from the stab wound in his back that hit a major artery, Fuld managed to chase and shoot his murderer before succumbing to his wounds.

The Lion of Zion, who roared his support for Israel across social media and inspired legions of activists was no more.

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Lion of Zion. Ari Fuld at the Western Wall, Photo, FB

Teenage Terrorists

Teenage terrorists are sadly, not a new or unusual phenomenon. Over the last two years this has been a common occurrence. Motivated by a growing hatred that is indoctrinated into them from baby-hood, these killers have claimed many innocent lives.

It is not just the steady diet of hatred that is consumed but a whole industry has grown around terrorism. It even has a fancy name that rhymes – “pay for slay”. In a nutshell, there is a scale “of benefits” that determine how much of a monthly stipend the family of a terrorist receive.

If you kill a Jew AND get killed then  – jackpot – you get the most cash. If you stab a Jew and kill him/her but are merely wounded then second prize, a lot less money.

It is money for jam for aspiring terrorists – and this comes with an instructional “how to stab for maximum casualties” videos.

The “pay for slay” industry is growing so much that the Palestinian Authority even has a name for the millions of dollars in supposed aid that they have re-budgeted to pay their young terrorists – The Martyr’s Fund.

Death Dollars

Foreign aid that countries earnestly donate to the Palestinians with the hope that it will go towards improving the lives of Palestinians is re-routed to the Martyr’s Fund to support this “pay for slay” economy. This is a rough breakdown of how the economy of terror funds are allocated according to an expose published in the Washington Post:

The Washington Post’s analysis showed that in 2017, $160 million was paid to 13,000 beneficiaries of “prisoner payments” ($12,307 per person) and $183 million was paid to 33,700 families in about in “martyr payments” ($5,430 per family), of which:

  • $36 million is estimated to be paid to prisoners serving sentences of >20 years
  • $10 million is paid to former members of the security forces
  • $1 million is estimated to be paid to families of the 200 suicide bombers
  • $10 million is paid to the families of the Palestinians with life terms, lengthy sentences and in the security forces
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Pay to Slay. The PA paid almost $300,000 to Muslim terrorists behind the Sbarro restaurant massacre in Jerusalem with the family of Izz al-Din Al-Masri receiving $50,124 as a reward for his suicide bombing. The dead Israelis included seven children.

Economy of Death

Stipends are paid to families of both prisoners and Palestinians killed in political demonstrations that turn violent where protesters are killed by non-lethal riot control methods (such as being hit by a tear gas canister) and to individuals imprisoned for “common crimes”. The fund also pays $106 a month in “canteen money” to all imprisoned Palestinians, including those imprisoned for non-political crimes such as car theft and drug dealing, for prisoners to spend in the prison canteen. This must be where Marwan Barghouti got his money for his chocolate he was eating during his hunger strike…

Families of individuals killed by Israeli security forces are paid stipends of about $800 to $1,000 per month. The families of convicted Palestinians serving time in Israeli prisons receive $3,000 or higher per month.

Yossi Kuperwasser, an analyst with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, estimated that in 2017 half of the $693 million that the Palestinian Authority receives as foreign aid, $345 million, was paid out as stipends to convicted terrorists and their families

How many schools, hospitals and other infrastructure that would be beneficial could be built with this money? Asking for a friend….

Instead, this money continues to fuel terror. Incitement to hate and kill Jews is manifesting itself in these ongoing spates of stabbings and shootings perpetrated by teenage terrorists.

Incitement of hatred that motivates children to become stealthy killers and not nation builders falls under the remit of child abuse and the international community is starting to take notice.  The United States has started to cut funding dramatically. On 23 March 2018, U.S. President, Donald Trump, signed the Taylor Force Act (named for victim of terror, Taylor Force) into law, which will cut about a third of US foreign aid payments to the Palestinian Authority. This is on the provision that the PA ceases making payment of stipends to terrorists and their surviving families and Australia has followed suit. In July 2018, Australia stopped the A$10M (US$7.5M) in funding that had been sent to the PA via the World Bank, and have decided to send it instead to the UN Humanitarian Fund for the Palestinian Territories. The reason given was that Australia did not want the PA to use the funds to assist Palestinians convicted of politically motivated violence. Other governments are starting to review their funding as well.

The Lion of Zion may have been silenced but in his memory and for those who have been slain our voices will not be. We say loud and clear the jig is up – perpetuating a cycle of violence and terror is no longer going to be profitable.

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It’s All About The Money. Palestinian contribution to the future – Pay to Slay

 

Feature picture credit: Yishai Fleisher