Saved by art: How one man’s skill got him through seven Nazi camps and the difficult years that followed


Kalman Aron is a prolific artist. Even during his internment at seven Nazi camps, he didn’t stop drawing — and his artwork saved his life.

“I probably have in Germany a hundred drawings, drawings of soldiers,” the 92-year-old artist said during a recent interview. “They wouldn’t pay me anything, but I would get a piece of bread, something to eat. Without that, I wouldn’t be here.”

Speaking in the living room of his modest Beverly Hills apartment, Aron was surrounded by his artwork, collected over decades. Paintings are stacked five and six deep against each wall, with more in his bedroom and even more in a basement storeroom.

Aron immigrated to Los Angeles in 1949 and built a life, a career and a circle of friends. They were artists and musicians. Now, apart from his wife and a part-time caretaker, it’s his paintings that keep him company.

“I don’t have anybody to talk with,” he said. “All my friends are gone. I had probably 15 friends. They were much older than me. I was the youngest one. And then suddenly, nobody here. I have drawings of them. A lot of drawings in the back there. Filled that room downstairs, filled up completely.”

Aron was born with a preternatural talent for portraiture. At 3, he was drawing likenesses of family friends in Riga, Latvia. At 7, he had a one-man show at a local gallery. At 13, he won a commission to paint the prime minister of Latvia. He was 16 years old and a student at Riga’s art academy in 1941 when the Germans occupied the country.

Seven camps, four marriages and nearly 80 years later, he’s proven to be a resourceful and dogged survivor. In the long and circuitous course of his life, art and survival have gone hand in hand.

Kalman Aron in his Beverly Hills apartment in June. Photo by Tess Cutler

It began in the ghetto in Riga, when he did a pencil drawing of a guard and showed it to him. The guard liked it enough to spread the word about his talent. The formula repeated itself over and over in the coming years of persecution and hardship.

Still, for a Jew to have writing materials in the camps was considered a risk, so German troops who wanted a likeness would hide him in a locked barrack while he drew them or worked from a photograph to draw their relatives.

“Once I did a portrait and other people liked it, they would do the same thing: lock me in the room, not let me out,” he said.

Aron managed to leverage his skill anywhere he spent a significant amount of time, particularly the Riga ghetto and the labor camps of Poperwahlen in Latvia and Rehmsdorf in Germany. In each place, he attracted a clientele of rank-and-file soldiers and high-ranking officers who rewarded him with scraps of food and pulled him out of hard labor.

What seems like lifetimes later, he believes painting still keeps him alive today.

“Friends of mine, they get old and they don’t know what to do, and they die of boredom,” he said in his dining room, his eyes widening with intensity. “Boredom! And I’ll never die of boredom, as long as I have a piece of paper.”

‘Mother and Child’

Decades before he spoke openly about what he saw during the Holocaust, Aron painted it.

Until 1994, when he was interviewed by the USC Shoah Foundation, he tended not to describe what he had seen. But during those long decades of silence, he produced a number of artworks — in oil, watercolor, pastel and charcoal — depicting his memories of that trying time.

“Mother and Child” (1951), pastel on paper on a board

There was Aron at the head of a line of inmates on a forced march. There was Aron at Buchenwald, sleeping outside with a rock for a pillow. There were haggard portraits of fellow inmates.

But the most well-known of these paintings is “Mother and Child,” which now hangs in the lobby of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.

Aron moved to Los Angeles in 1949 with a young wife, $4 in his pocket and zero English proficiency after finishing art school in Vienna. In 1951, he had a job illustrating maps in Glendale when one day, he decided to glue two city maps to a board to create an 8-foot-tall canvas.

He brought home the oversized sheet, and after four or five nights of laboring past midnight, he finished a pastel, showing a scene he had witnessed many times in the camps: a mother clutching her child tightly to her face, as if they were one, bound together no matter what abuse they might have to face.

As he worked on the painting, he recalled, “I wasn’t feeling. I saw it happening.”

He went on, “I just said, ‘I’m going to put it on paper.’ I wanted to draw them. That’s why.”

“Mother and Child” sat in his studio for nearly 60 years as he found himself unable to part with it, the glue he used to create the canvas bleeding slowly through the paper to create a brownish tint. Today, it is considered one of his masterpieces.

At the time he painted it, Aron was unable to put his trauma into words. During his later Shoah Foundation interview, as a videographer switched tapes, Aron chatted with the interviewer, a fellow survivor, apparently unaware that audio still was being recorded, and described his difficulty.

“About 30 years ago, I couldn’t do it,” he said. “I couldn’t do it. I would choke up if I did it. I’m fine now.”

Sherri Jacobs, an art therapist outside Kansas City, Mo., told the Journal that art sometimes enables survivors of trauma to express what they otherwise could not. Jacobs has conducted an art therapy workshop at a Jewish retirement home near Kansas City for 15 years, working with many Holocaust survivors. Though they rarely paint explicitly about their Holocaust experience, as Aron has, creative expression nonetheless helps put shape and form to their trauma, she said.

“They can express things in a metaphorical way,” she said, “in a way that it’s leaving their mind, leaving their body and going on paper.”

Painting men and monsters

Drawing in the camps, Aron said he was not thinking of his hatred or fear of his subjects — only of surviving.

In Poperwahlen, for instance, the camp commandant gave Aron a photograph of his parents and ordered him to draw a miniature that could fit in a locket mounted on a ring.

Aron had seen Jews randomly beaten or shot by guards at the camp. More than anything, he was thinking about his own survival  as the commandant locked him in a barrack with a pencil and paper.

“I mean, in my head is, ‘Am I going to be alive tomorrow?’ ” Aron said in his apartment nearly eight decades later. “Watching them killing the Jews was terrible, terrible, terrible. I have very bad nights sleeping here.”

The task could have taken him two days, he said. But he stretched it over more than a week for the exemption it afforded him from back-breaking labor.

It’s difficult for Aron to estimate how many portraits he drew. He knew only that the same interaction repeated itself many times with Nazi troops.

“Wherever I was, I made sure I had a piece of paper and pencil,” he said.

As the months passed, he parlayed his skill into gaining more materials, piecing together a sheaf of drawings that he carried with him. Observing his assured manner and his materials, camp guards mostly left him alone.

“When they saw that, they knew, ‘Don’t touch this guy, he’s doing something for us,’ ” he said.

By the end of the war, his skill accounted for perhaps an extra 5 pounds on his skeletal frame, he told the Shoah Foundation interviewer — a small but critical difference.

“There also were people that were tailors and shoemakers,” he said in 1994. “They would also get fed much better. They were indoors. They would sew, you know. These are the kind of people that had more of a chance of survival than a guy who was digging ditches.”

Reclaiming a world of light and color

Jacobs, the art therapist, said understanding Holocaust survivors as the product of a single experience can be misleading, traumatic though it may have been. And in trying to understand Aron through his art, putting the Holocaust constantly front and center would indeed be a mistake.

Of the hundreds of paintings that line his apartment, relatively few deal with the Holocaust. More often, they are landscapes of the places he’s visited, views from his balcony looking out at downtown L.A. and portraits of the women he’s loved. Prominently displayed is a 2006 oil portrait of Miriam Sandoval Aron, his fourth and current wife, straight-backed, wearing a baseball cap during their honeymoon in Hawaii.

His earliest landscapes in Los Angeles are often devoid of color: A rambling house in Bunker Hill is rendered in shades of gray with no sign of life; a monochromatic landscape of Silver Lake shows not a single inhabitant. But soon enough, he took to painting colorful tableaus of the city at various times of day.

Eventually, he made enough money to rent a West Hollywood studio with high ceilings and northern light, where he hosted parties that lasted until sunrise. Over the years, his art has been exhibited at several museums and galleries, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Los Angeles Art Association and the Seattle Art Museum. He has painted a number of celebrities and public figures, including novelist Henry Miller, pianist and composer André Previn and then-Gov. Ronald Reagan of California.

For months at a time, he traveled through North America and Western Europe — though never to Germany — stopping whenever he was moved to paint.

His third wife, Tanis Furst, described one such incident to author Susan Beilby Magee for “Into the Light: The Healing Light of Kalman Aron” (2012), a book of Aron’s art, framed by interviews with the artist.

In 1969, driving through Montreal during a trip across Canada, Aron pulled over in a rundown part of town to paint a house where a woman lived with dozens of cats.

“This happened all the time on this trip,” Furst said. “He would drive along and stop: ‘Gotta paint that.’ We had a lot of fun.”

A short while later, Aron’s only son David was born.

“I was a very happy guy when my son was born,” he says in the book. “In fact, it was the happiest day of my life.”

Telling his story

Even in 2003, when Magee first set out to write “Into the Light,” she said she found Aron profoundly ambivalent about telling his story of sorrow and survival.

In an interview with the Journal, Magee said that while part of Aron seemed to be saying “It’s time to tell, the pain of not remembering is greater than the pain of remembering;” another voice was telling him “You survived because you were invisible; do not tell your story; do not be seen; to be seen is to be killed.”

Magee had spent more than a decade in Washington, D.C., working in government, before quitting in the late 1980s to pursue hypnotherapy, meditation and energy healing. One thing she was not was a writer.

But that didn’t deter Aron. Sitting down for lunch in Palm Springs in 2003 with Magee and her mother, one of his earliest and most ardent patrons, he suddenly fixed upon Magee with his blue-eyed gaze.

“Completely out of the blue,” she recalled, “he turns to me and says, ‘Susan, will you write my story?’ He is a highly intuitive man, and somehow he knew he could trust me to do it.”

“Self Portrait” (1954); “Self Portrait” (1967), oil on canvas; “Self Portrait” (1994), oil on foam core

Although he had produced numerous paintings dealing with the Holocaust, he had been hesitant to speak about it, even with those closest to him.

“Kalman shared some things about his family and the Holocaust, but not in a great deal of detail,” Furst says in the book.

Nonetheless, after his 2003 encounter with Magee, he consented to 18 hours of interviews with her. Later, she traveled to Europe to retrace his steps. Nine years after she set out, the book was published, with a release party at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

Recently, Aron agreed to be featured in an upcoming documentary about his life and art, backed by television producer Norman Lear.

“We’re going for the Oscar on this thing, and you can quote me on that,” said Edward Lozzi, Aron’s longtime publicist who introduced him to the documentary’s director and executive producer, Steven C. Barber.

Aron said he hopes the extra publicity will help him sell paintings and pay rent, which even at his advanced age continues to be a concern. But in general, he’s content to sit at home and paint.

Though Aron sometimes struggles to remember words and names, he remains spirited enough, painting for hours each day and eagerly engaging visitors in conversation. “I can manage six languages,” he said. “But I can’t remember people’s names.”

Magee said she believes that through telling his story, Aron has at long last found peace.

“His willingness to tell his story — to finally remember after suppressing it all those years — gave him that freedom to paint for the joy of it,” Magee said.

These days, his paintings are mainly non-objective rather than representative.

“I used to go to the park,” he said, sitting in an airy corner of his apartment, next to the kitchen, where he keeps his home studio. “I used to meet people. Now, I’m not allowed to drive at my age. So I’m here all the time.”

Lacking subjects for portraiture, Aron paints sheet after sheet of shapes and colors.

“I enjoy the design, the design,” he said, holding up a recent painting, a set of undulating neon waves. “Movement, movement. This moves, it doesn’t stay still.”

Aron considers himself lucky to have a gift and a passion that keeps him occupied into his old age.

“My situation may be a little bit better than some people who came out of the camps,” he told Magee during their interviews. “They may have nothing else to do but watch television and think about those bad days in the camps. I did that in the beginning, but I got away from thinking about it by doing portraits, landscapes, traveling and painting. I think that kept me away from all this agony of ‘How did I survive?’ or ‘Why did I survive?’

“I did, and that’s it.” 

Holocaust trauma, other gene changes during life, may be inherited


Every generation of Jews, it is thought, must learn the trauma of the Holocaust anew from parents or community.

But a new study has provided the strongest proof yet that some of the trauma is passed along genetically, and that other genetic changes people accrue during life also get transmitted to their children.

The study, by researchers at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital, looked at the genes of 32 Jewish men and women who survived a Nazi concentration camp, witnessed or experienced torture or hid during World War II, and the genes their children.

“The gene changes in the children could only be attributed to Holocaust exposure in the parents,” Dr. Rachel Yehuda, the head of the team of researchers, told the Guardian.

Yehuda, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist, and her team’s work is the clearest example in humans of the transmission of trauma across generations through “epigenetic inheritance” – the idea that genetic changes caused by the environment over a lifetime can be transmitted to offspring.

Genes contained in DNA are thought to be the only way to pass biological information from parent to child. But environmental influences – like smoking, diet and stress – modify genes all the time via chemical tags that attach themselves to DNA, switching genes on and off.

Recent studies suggest that some of the epigenetic tags might somehow be passed from parents to their children.

In their study, published this month in the journal Biological Psychiatry, Yehuda and her team focused on one region of a gene associated with the regulation of stress hormones and known to be affected by trauma.

They found tags on the same part of this gene in both the Holocaust survivors and their children. The correlation did not show up between the control group and their children.

Further genetic analysis ruled out the possibility that the epigenetic changes were a result of trauma that the children had experiences themselves.

“To our knowledge, this provides the first demonstration of transmission of pre-conception stress effects resulting in epigenetic changes in both the exposed parents and their offspring in humans,” Yehuda told the Guardian.

Other studies have less robustly linked the genetics of parents and their children.

How exactly parents could be passing the epigenetic tags to their children remains a mystery. Tags on DNA were thought to be wiped clean soon after conception. But recent research has shown that some slip through to leave their mark on the next generation.

Boston hospitals scramble to care for wounded after blasts


At Boston Children's Hospital, the list of the wounded included a 2-year-old boy with a head injury, a 9-year-old girl with leg trauma and six other children under the age of 15.

Over at Massachusetts General Hospital, which was caring for 29 victims, injuries ranged from cuts and bruises to serious shrapnel wounds. Trauma surgeons said they had performed several amputations by mid-evening on Monday.

In total, three people lost their lives and more than 100 were injured when two bombs ripped through the crowd on a resplendent Monday afternoon at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, creating a gruesome scene of panic and carnage.

The explosions, which authorities said were 50 to 100 yards (45 to 90 metres) apart, knocked runners at one of the nation's most storied long-distance races off their feet and sent dozens of gravely injured spectators to the city's emergency rooms.

Images showed blood spattered along the street.

“It's really too easy to say how everyone is going to do,” said Peter Fagenholz, a trauma surgeon at Massachusetts General, who personally operated on six patients, none of them runners.

Boston Children's Hospital did not provide additional details about the children in its care. Most of the victims, who were sent to hospitals across Boston, have not yet been publicly identified by name.

Many runners were heading for the finish when a fireball and smoke rose from behind cheering spectators and a row of flags representing the countries of participants, video from the scene showed. The cheers turned to screams and panic.

Fagenholz said the most serious cases – none of them children – arrived at the hospital within the first 15 minutes. And while he said the injuries were not “other worldly,” the scale of the incident caught him off guard.

He said the oldest patient he cared for was 71 years old.

“We take care of accidents all the time. It's just depressing that this was intentional,” he said.

Fagenholz said many of the patients would have a difficult recovery.

“A number of patients will require repeat operation tomorrow and serial operations over the next couple of days,” he said. “People, they are pretty brave, you know. It's a terrible thing and most patients attitude is, do what you need to do and try to make me better.”

Reporting by Stephanie Simon; Writing by Edith Honan; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Eric Beech

Israeli film ‘Waltz With Bashir’ has an anti-war beat


“Waltz With Bashir” is a startling hybrid of a movie vehicle which came from behind to become Israel’s entry for Oscar honors, announced last month, and may well pull another surprise when the Academy Award for best foreign-language film is announced.

The oddly titled film combines state-of-the-art animation, an anti-war documentary theme and a psychoanalytic approach to recover the memory of a traumatized Israeli soldier.

The mixture may sound odd, but it comes together as an integrated and haunting autobiographical movie, which will be screened for the first time locally on Nov. 1 at the American Film Institute Fest 2008.

Ari Folman, the film’s writer, director and producer, is also its central character as a 20-year-old infantryman, whose unit spearheaded the Israeli advance into Lebanon in June 1982 with the announced goal of stopping incursions and rocket attacks on northern Galilee towns by the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Going beyond the original Israeli plan to establish a 25-mile buffer zone in southern Lebanon, Folman’s Golani Brigade is ordered to the outskirts of Beirut, awaiting orders to take the city.

In confusing night actions and bitter street fighting, the young soldiers encounter fear and death. Their sometime allies are the Christian Phalangist militia, led by the young, charismatic Bashir Gemayel. (The film takes its title from a scene in which an Israeli soldier, dodging bullets while crossing a Beirut street, goes through strange, waltz-like motions, while huge posters of Gemayel look down.)

When Gemayel is killed in an explosion, the revered leader’s militia takes over the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps on the outskirts of Beirut, while Israeli soldiers, including Folman, are positioned around the camps’ perimeters.


The trailer

After three nights of killings, shell-shocked civilians stumble out of the camps, leaving behind murdered corpses, whose estimated numbers range from 700 to 3,000.

The years pass, and one day Folman meets a former army buddy who talks about a strange, recurring dream, rooted in his battlefield experiences, and Folman realizes that he remembers nothing of his own actions in the war.

He decides to seek out six veterans from his old unit, a TV journalist who covered the war, and an expert on post-traumatic stress disorder, to help him restore old memories.

To create his script, Folman said in an interview that he recorded the witnesses’ stories on video and cut the recollections down to 90 minutes. Next, his team created a storyboard and 2,300 illustrations, which were turned into animation through a combination of Flash, classical animation and 3D.

Speaking by phone from his Haifa home, Folman said that his production costs were $2 million, mostly underwritten by Israeli, French and German film funds. When he exhausted the grants, he mortgaged his home and took out a large loan.

During the four years that went into the making of “Waltz,” the psychological and financial strains were unrelenting, Folman recalled, not made easier by the birth of his three children during that period.

Folman said that there was never any question in his mind that the film would be animated, noting, “If you look at all the elements, the dreams, the hallucinations, the surrealism of war itself, that’s the only way I could make it work.”

Only in the last 50 seconds of the 87-minute film does Folman switch to newsreel footage to show the bloody toll of the Phalangists’ massacre.

“I didn’t want the people in the audience to come out feeling that they had seen a film with some really cool animation and great music,” Folman explained.

The film is infused with Folman’s conviction that war is senseless and his visceral dislike of Israel’s leadership during the Lebanon War, particularly of Ariel Sharon, then minister of defense.

So intense is Folman’s feeling that he sees his film as a kind of legacy for his young sons, so when the time comes, “They will make the right decision, meaning not to take part in any war, whatsoever.”

On questioning, he qualified the statement by saying that it referred to Israel’s two Lebanon wars and America’s invasion of Iraq, but not to such “defensive” battles as the Six-Day and Yom Kippur wars.

“Waltz With Bashir” won high praise at the Cannes, Toronto and New York film festivals, and, perhaps more surprisingly, in its home country.

The Israeli government’s film fund subsidized the movie, there was no criticism from the political right, and only some on the left objected that the film’s anti-war message wasn’t strong enough.

“Israelis are very tolerant toward their artists,” Folman said.

AFI will screen “Waltz With Bashir” on Nov. 1 at 3:45 p.m. and again Nov. 7 at 7 p.m., both at the Arclight Theatre in Hollywood. The film will be released in general theaters on Dec. 25.

Other titles at the AFI Fest (Oct. 30 – Nov. 9) on Jewish themes or by Jewish filmmakers include “Acne,” “Adam Resurrected,” “Defiance” and “Of All the Things.”

For ticket and other information, visit http://www.afi.com/afifest or phone (886) AFI-FEST.

Tel Aviv trauma expert assists U.S. military


An Israeli professor studying the long-term effects of war on the soldiers who fight is now sharing her knowledge with United States counterparts in an attempt to provide better therapy for American servicemen and women returning home from the battlefields of Iraq.

During the last 20 years, Tel Aviv University professor Zahava Solomon has conducted research into the psychological consequences of war and terror. She recently returned from a conference in Florida — the second annual National Symposium on Combat Stress Injuries: Addressing the Challenges, Explaining the Solutions and Managing the Injuries — where she spoke about managing stress while still in combat.

“It’s important to understand the long-term consequences of war and to minimize [them],” Solomon said.

While people tend to perceive war as only taking place on the battlefield, according to Solomon, a professor of Psychiatric Epidemiology and Social Work and the Head of the Adler Research Center for Child Welfare and Protection, for many the effects linger long after the battle is over.

“The war does not end for a considerable portion of these individuals, and relatively high rates of combatants continue to suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). They continue to experience the war in nightmares and flashbacks. We pretty much liken it to cancer of the soul,” she said.

Solomon’s research has revolutionized the way Israeli soldiers are treated in battle, suggesting that the best way to combat stress is to give immediate treatment while soldiers are still on the front lines.

“Our 20-year follow-up study has actually documented that if this very simple treatment is applied on time, then the consequences are very favorable and this relatively simple treatment can actually save years of agony and pain,” said Solomon. “The first study was published in The American Journal of Psychiatry in 1986, and it’s follow-up in 2005. It’s the only documented empirical study that has supported the doctrine that has been used by the American, British and all western armies.”

Solomon, who has published five books on psychic trauma-related issues, more than 200 articles and more than 50 book chapters, has received numerous international awards for her work in the field of PTSD and has been one of the few researchers worldwide to carry out long-term studies on the effects of combat on solders. She began her career as head of the research branch of the mental health corps of the Israel Defense Forces medical school, conducting her first studies of PTSD on soldiers during the first Lebanon War in 1982.
“Nobody anywhere has data sets where they follow individuals for 20 years, from the battlefields onwards,” she said. If we get enough funding, we will be able to do this for many years to come.”

Solomon’s research has focused on three different population groups: soldiers, Holocaust survivors, and former prisoners of war. The lessons Israel’s ‘natural laboratory’ provides offers valuable material for researchers, helping them discover new solutions to help treat those who suffer from PTSD and a range of other psychological illnesses.

According to Solomon, it’s easier to conduct studies on soldiers in Israel than in the United States, due to the concentrated population, smaller size, and a more global acceptance of soldiers. But despite a more welcoming environment in Israel, it has not always been easy for Solomon to get the soldiers to cooperate.

“When we started, it wasn’t much of an honor to be a traumatized soldier. Many of our initial interviewees were reluctant to participate,” she explains. “Despite the availability of benefits for soldiers, many of them went out of their way not to ask for help. In macho cultures, seeking help is seen as failure. Obviously, over time there’s been a major change in culture and the way Israeli society views these things. As a result, people go on interviews, reveal their stories and ask for compensation and help right away. Even more so, we’ve seen parents whose children had a psychotic breakthrough and now they want their children to be recognized. It’s a complete change of heart.”

Solomon’s U.S. counterparts have been surprised at the respectful way that Israeli society treats its soldiers, even those suffering from the aftereffects of battle or those who fought in unpopular wars, such as the first Lebanese war in the early 1980s, often described as “Israel’s Vietnam.”

Solomon is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts in combat trauma. She’s served as an adviser to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a handbook published by the American Psychiatric Association and used by mental health professionals, which lists different categories of mental disorders.

Her personal background as a second-generation Holocaust survivor led her to this field.
“My mother spent her childhood in Auschwitz,” she said. “The issue of trauma has not just been an academic issue but also a real-life, personal thing,”

She first became involved in studying trauma and war as part of her military service.

“There, I became convinced that these individuals paid a heavy [price] for man’s proclivities to solve conflicts via war and aggression. It became clear that these individuals need to be seen and heard and their suffering has to be documented, and it’s become kind of a life mission.”

Siblings of Fallen Israeli Soldiers Take a Camp Break


Ester was hoarding her snacks.

Each day after canteen at Camp Ramah, Ester, a 12-year-old Ethiopian Israeli, would take her potato chips and chocolate bars and squirrel them away in her suitcase back in her bunk.

She was saving the free treats for her seven younger brothers at home, because she was worried that they weren’t being cared for. Since her older brother was killed two years ago while serving in the Israeli army, her parents haven’t been the same.

Living with the trauma and sorrow of losing a brother or sister in the Israel Defense Forces has scarred all of the 30 12- and 13-year-olds who spent 10 days at Camp Ramah in Ojai earlier this month.

The Legacy/Moreshet program, sponsored by Friends of the IDF (FIDF), gave kids who lost a sibling or parent in combat a bar or bat mitzvah present that allowed them to have an American-style summer blast — if not to forget, then at least to enjoy a respite from the sadness that follows them at home.

But despite the fact that Ester (FIDF prohibits the kids’ last names from being used) and her friends were having a great time, one morning Ester cried to her counselor that she needed to go home to take care of her family.

“I told her, ‘your family wants you to be here. You are entitled to enjoy life,'” said Rachel Binyamin, the overseas coordinator for FIDF in Israel, who accompanied the kids on the journey.

Binyamin packed up a box of goodies for Ester to take home to her brothers, and told her, “This is for your brothers. What you get, you eat — it’s for you to enjoy.”

For most of the trip, enjoyment wasn’t hard to come by. The kids raved about the packed days at Ramah and special trips to Universal Studios, the California Science Center and the Santa Monica Pier.

Those trips, along with spruced up gift bags, got added into the program after sponsorships kept pouring in even after the $3,600 per kid price tag had been raised.

Marci Spitzer, chair of the Southern California region of FIDF and a camp mom at Ramah, said there is enough money left over to seed a program for next year or to contribute in other ways to FIDF’s widows and orphans programs.

One donor wrote a check for $18,000. The Men’s Club of the Jewish Federation of Palm Springs donated more than $60,000, and promised more if FIDF needed it.
Ramah camper Ethan Wolens sponsored a child as his bar mitzvah project.

“I have a blast here at camp, and it’s like a home away from home for me. I wanted the Israelis to have camp as a home away from home also,” Ethan said, standing outside the chadar ochel (dining room) before lunch one day.

Behind him, the Israelis and Americans had their arms slung around each other as they belted out a cheer the Israeli kids had taught them. The Israelis were going home in a couple days, and they posed for photos with their new American friends.

“When we got here, the Americans were so welcoming and so warm. They really embraced us and it made it so much easier to become a part of things,” said Miri, whose brother was killed last year.

On the day the Legacy group arrived, Ramah’s Israeli staffers welcomed them with songs and signs, and the entire camp stood to sing them “Hatikvah” after their first lunch.

The Israelis joined up with a unit their age to swim, sing, weave lanyards, learn hip-hop, play basketball, baseball, soccer, volleyball and football, and to go to daily prayer services — a first for about two-thirds of the Israeli group.

But their schedule differed somewhat from the Americans’: the Israeli kids didn’t get any down time, because too much time to think wasn’t what these kids were here for.

The Israelis didn’t talk with the Americans about why they’re here — about the huge holes torn into their lives. Instead, they talked about regular teen stuff.

“I don’t want to bring it up, because I don’t want to make them sad,” said Hanna Port, an American camper who practiced her Hebrew and became good friends with the Israelis. “They’re sad enough that they have to leave soon, and we’ve become such good friends.”

But among themselves, the Israeli kids — who met each other through this trip — have talked about their losses, and, along with counselors trained to deal with their trauma, the kids offer each other an important network of support.

Sitting in the sun on a colorfully painted bench outside the art room, Naama, whose brother was killed just last December, began to cry when the subject was brought up. Naama’s head immediately fell on Miri’s shoulder, and Shir grabbed her hand, stroking it as she talked about what this trip has done for them.

“In the beginning, we weren’t really bonded,” said Shir, who lost a brother.

“Naama and I didn’t even speak to each other, we didn’t really understand each other. But now, we’re like sisters. We really support each other.”

The counselors have been doing a lot of hugging and hand-holding throughout the trip, but the trip is not meant to act as group therapy.

“Even though they all came here for this reason, we don’t want to make them talk about it if they don’t want to. We’re not here to instigate dialogues and discussions,” said Ori, one of six counselors, all of them active duty soldiers (IDF regulation prohibits them from giving their last names). “We are just here for them to have a great time and to enjoy life, even though it is clear that they can’t forget and it is always on their hearts and minds.”

Ariel, also a counselor, has a strong connection to Avraham, a Legacy camper, whose brother was Ariel’s commander. Another of Avraham’s brothers also died while serving in the army.

“I told Avraham that if his brother were alive, he would have done everything he could have to give him a trip like this,” Ariel said.

The soldiers, who got a few weeks off from duty in Gaza and the north, feel that this mission — to comfort the families of their fallen comrades — is as important as anything they will return to after this trip.

It has also given a renewed sense of mission to the 25 Israeli staffers, also mostly army-aged, who spend their summer bringing a little bit of Israel to California — a difficult task as Katyushas fall at home.

“They are struggling with being here and representing their country, knowing what their brothers and sisters are doing back in Israel,” said Zachary Lasker, assistant director at Ramah. “For them to feel they are again connected, and that they have their eyes on these kids, has been very powerful.”

Despite the situation in Israel, the kids have not been getting detailed updates, because each loss hits too close to home.

“At home we read the papers and it’s so hard to read, ‘this one was killed and that one was killed,’ and you see their faces in the pictures and you know this person was a friend or a brother,” Miri said. “I just hope things start getting better now.”

For information on Friends of the IDF, go to www.israelsoldiers.org.

Oprah … Shoah … Shoah … Oprah


This is how naive I am: I never understood why Primo Levi killed himself. I’d long admired and devoured the works of the Italian chemist who wrote of his experiences surviving the Holocaust. When he committed suicide in 1987, at the age of 67, I couldn’t fathom it. Hadn’t he survived the worst? Hadn’t he transformed his suffering into art? Hadn’t the worst memories softened over time, the worst scars healed?

That’s the American way of grief: stuff happens, you get over it.

Maybe for some people, in some situations, that’s true. But the Holocaust is different, too, when it comes to memory. Its shadows darken and lengthen; its pain grows more, not less intense.

This may be the result of the process of recovering memory, something writers like Levi must feel compelled to do. When historian Iris Chang also took her life in 2004, at the age of 36, she left a note blaming her immersion in the horrid details of the Japanese occupation of China, which she chronicled in “The Rape of Nanking.”

But it’s not just a professional hazard. A study published in Israel in August found that elderly Holocaust survivors are “at an increased risk for a reactivation of the symptoms of trauma, depression and suicide.” The study of patients at a psychiatric hospital in Tel Aviv found nearly 25 percent of the Holocaust survivors studied attempted suicide compared to 8.2 percent among those with no World War II experience.

Or, as Elie Wiesel said at the news of Primo Levi’s death: “Primo Levi died at Auschwitz 40 years later.”

Just a month before Auschwitz Liberation Day, which takes place on Jan. 27, Oprah Winfrey selected “Night,” Wiesel’s own memoir of his internment in Auschwitz, as one of her Book Club books, guaranteeing that slim, searing volume a new audience of millions of people whose exposure to the Shoah might, until now, not extend beyond those clips of nominated documentaries they show during the Academy Awards. Boy, will that ever change.

I walked into Barnes and Noble on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade last Sunday afternoon and was confronted by a stack of “Night” a yard tall. And that’s the beginning: Oprah will accompany her Book Club selection with a televised visit to Auschwitz, guided by Wiesel, discussions on air with survivors and experts, plus additional readings and segments on the Holocaust.

Good for her, really. People are ascribing all sorts of nasty motives to Oprah for picking “Night,” such as the need to choose a real, factual memoir when her last pick turned out to be, at best, faction. Any way you can get the Holocaust and its lessons down the gullet of an anti-historical nation, good. Her challenge, I suppose, will be how she can she give her audience a taste and still leave them, as shows like hers must, with an ultimately uplifting, life-affirming and commercial-selling message. In an age and a format where every sorrow must have its silver lining, every tragedy its release, the Shoah is stubborn: there’s nothing therapeutic about confronting the Holocaust.

Last week I had dinner with Hannah Lessing, the woman in charge of the Austrian government’s reparation funds to Holocaust survivors and their descendants. Lessing is vibrant, young, quick-witted (that means she laughed at my jokes) and articulate.

Austrian Consul General Martin Weiss, who with his wife, Susan, hosted Lessing, began his toast to her by repeating an old, tongue-in-cheek aphorism: “It used to be said that Austrians are Germans who don’t apologize.” But thanks to a series of proactive measures by the Austrian government — beginning with a much-belated statement of apology to Shoah victims in 1991 and continuing on to this week’s much-belated decision to return priceless paintings to their rightful Jewish owners (see story on page 14) — that perception has changed.

And for that Weiss also credited Lessing, the Viennese-born granddaughter of survivors. For more than 10 years she has traveled the globe, meeting with Austrian Holocaust survivors, collecting and processing their claims, hearing their stories.

Lessing said that success takes its toll. She and her staff of more than 100, “almost all non-Jews,” undergo regular therapy. Generations removed from the horrors of those years, they often find themselves unable to shake the darkness to which they’ve been exposed.

In “The Truce,” Primo Levi wrote of a recurring dream, in which he wakes up to find that his normal life is but a dream, and the reality is he is still in Auschwitz.

“I am in the Lager once more,” he writes, “and nothing is true outside the Lager. All the rest was a brief pause, a deception of the senses, a dream; my family, nature in flower, my home. Now this inner dream, this dream of peace, is over, and in the outer dream, which continues, gelid, a well-known voice resounds: a single word, not imperious, but brief and subdued. It is the dawn command, of Auschwitz, a foreign word, feared and expected: get up, Wstaw?ch.”

I’ve found the more I read about the Holocaust, the more survivors I speak with, the less I get it. This is what the Holocaust is for the rest of us: a journey into sadness, with no end, no meaning, no exit. Welcome, Oprah’s Book Club members. Hope you enjoy the show.

To link to more information on Hannah Lessing and the Austrian claims process, see this article at www.jewishjournal.com.

Circuit


Friends in Deed

On Feb. 17, David Nathanson hosted a silent auction at his L.A. home for more than 100 young executives – and special guest 5th District L.A City Councilman Jack Weiss – to benefit nonprofit Yemin Orde Youth Village in Israel.

Located just south of Haifa, the 500 children who call Yemin Orde home come from 22 different countries. These immigrant, disadvantaged and refugee children, who have experienced trauma of one form or another, are defined as at-risk youth, and the Village provides them with a home, high-quality care and an education.

“Yemin Orde never closes and we never turn a child away who has nowhere else to go,” said Dr. Chaim Peri, director of Yemin Orde Youth Village, during his two-day visit. “Support from the Los Angeles community will help us to continue our care, and support our alumni.”

“It’s very clear that Angelenos are interested in learning more about the incredible work of the Yemin Orde Youth Village,” Weiss said. “Yemin Orde is turning at-risk youth into productive members of Israeli society. It’s an organization worthy of support, and a model for Los Angeles to study.”

High Hopes

As trumpeters heralded the moment, City of Hope supporters entered the sleek new Betty and Irwin Helford Clinical Research Center in Duarte on Feb. 13. The futuristic hospital replaces a building constructed back in 1937.

“As we open the doors of this magnificent facility, we recognize that we are metaphorically and literally opening the doors to the next century of this institution’s existence and its service to humanity,” said Dr. Theodore G. Krontiris, executive vice president of medical and scientific affairs.

Completed just weeks earlier, the 347,000-square-foot center is slated for patient occupancy this spring and incorporates innovative features to meet the needs of patients with compromised immune systems.

Honorees Irwin and Betty Helford were recognized for providing a $36 million gift that fueled development of the $200 million center.

“We’re very proud to be part of City of Hope, and grateful to have the ability to do this,” said Irwin Helford, chairman emeritus of Viking Office Products. He said he viewed the gift not only as a contribution, but also as an investment in the people of City of Hope, and recounted many acts of kindness and generosity he witnessed by hospital staff over the years. – Nancy Sokoler Steiner, Contributing Writer

A Humbled Humanitarian

In accepting the Ambassador of Humanity Award from Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, former President Bill Clinton described the refusal of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration in 1939 to admit 900 Jewish refugees aboard the German ship, St. Louis, as “one of the darkest chapters in United States history.”

Clinton, who addressed a star-studded audience of some 750 on Feb. 17, also apologized and asked forgiveness for his failure to intervene in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, in which 1 million victims were slaughtered during a three-month period.

Established by Spielberg following the global success of his film, “Schindler’s List,” the foundation is currently processing the last of nearly 52,000 videotaped testimonies of Holocaust survivors and witnesses.

In his brief and thoughtful address, Clinton explored his longstanding concern with the roots of human hatred, thanking his grandparents for “growing up to despise racism” in a small, segregated Southern town.

One of the country’s most accomplished politicians himself, Clinton ascribed the cause of ethnic hatreds mainly to power-hungry politicians indoctrinating their followers with “the fear of the other.”

“How can we survive in a global society in which we have to have enemies?” he asked.

Clinton paid special tribute to assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as “A man I loved as much as anyone I know.”

The annual event, was held on the Universal Studios backlot under a huge tent, occasionally shaken by gusts of rain and wind.

Actor Tom Cruise served as master of ceremonies and such Hollywood stars as John Travolta, Sharon Stone and Scarlett Johansson were in attendance.

Stand-up comic Robin Williams, in one of his patented multiaccented monologues, welcomed the fashionably dressed guests to “Temple Beth Prada” and assured them that the dinner had been prepared under dietary laws separating milchig (dairy), fleishig (meat) and sushidik ingredients. – Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Diamonds Are Forever

Jim and Laura Maslon and Shirley and Edgar Phillips received Lifetime of Service Awards at the Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) 75th anniversary diamond-studded gala on Jan. 29 in front of 400 guests at the Loews Santa Monica Hotel.

The Maslons began their volunteer life together at the Venice Art Walk and Jim Maslon is a former president of JVS. Laura Maslon serves on the JVS Marketing Committee as well as the board of the Contemporary Art Council at LACMA, and the executive committee of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Edgar Phillips has been a board member of JVS since the 1970s and is co-founder of the JVS Jewish Community Scholarship fund. Shirley Phillips is devoted to The Helping Hand that runs the nonprofit gift shop at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

The gala event, hosted by Monty Hall, was attended by local elected officials and longtime agency supporters City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo; mayoral candidate and former Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg; City Councilman Jack Weiss; L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and his wife Barbara; Jewish Federation President Harriet Hochman; and Michelle Kleinert, deputy director of community affairs for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“We believe that putting people to work and assisting them to have meaningful careers is the key to achieving our core mission,” said JVS CEO Vivian Seigel.

Beyond Rebbitzen

Women rabbis from Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and Arizona gathered on Feb. 24 at the University of Judaism’s (UJ) Gindi Auditorium in Bel Air to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Conservative movement’s first ordained female rabbi.

As part of the celebration, “Women in the Rabbinate” was the topic of this year’s Torah Fund Study Day, held by the Torah Fund Campaign for the Pacific Southwest Branch of Women’s League for Conservative Judaism.

The day, which focused on what the coming decades hold for women as they make their voices heard, included a panel discussion with Rabbi Leslie Alexander, community chaplain for the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley; Rabbi Sherre Zwelling Hirsch of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles; and Rabbi Sally Olins of Temple B’nai Hayim in Sherman Oaks. Gail Labovitz, Talmudic scholar and assistant professor of rabbinic studies at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the UJ, was the keynote speaker.

The day began with greetings from UJ President Robert Wexler and

Ziegler School Dean Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson.

Real Treasures

Elsewhere on the UJ front: On Feb. 22, the University Women of the UJ presented a check for $30,000 to UJ President, Robert Wexler. The proceeds, raised from sales at the Treasures of Judaica Gift Shop at the UJ, are part of the group’s annual grants allocations program, which supports student scholarships.

After the event, four UJ students discussed their scholarly goals: second-year Gershom Sizoumu, spiritual leader of the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda; first-year Gary Buchler, who has led more than 150 college-age students on their first visit to Israel; first-year Penina Podwol, who graduated cum laude from UCLA and is the daughter of a Chicago-area Conservative rabbi; and fourth-year Michael Werbow, who has worked with Jewish youth programs around the country.

A Challenge to Cowards


 

In the play “2 Across,” a man and a woman — who have nothing in common but their crossword puzzles — are on a 4:15 a.m. train leaving San Francisco International Airport for the East Bay. She takes crosswords (and life) very seriously; he treats everything like a game. By the time they reach East Bay 80 minutes later, their lives have changed. And it all starts with the man taking the first step: making a light comment to her.

It got me thinking about the times in my life when I failed, for various reasons, to take that first step of reaching out to someone I wanted to meet. Coming back from college one day, I struck up a conversation with an attractive woman my age at the bus station. We had a nice rapport but when it came time to part, I couldn’t bring myself to ask for her number. So our brief relationship ended there — and, of course, I’ve never seen her again.

This was back when I was still shy. I’ve since gotten over my shyness. These days, I’m perfectly comfortable crossing the room to ask for a supermodel’s phone number while she’s chatting with Hugh Grant. After all, she can meet wealthy and famous movie stars any day. How refreshing would it be for her to hang out with a struggling Jewish writer. I’d even let her use my apartment’s parking space and access to the building’s washer and dryer. I’m a giver.

But say I had reached out to that woman at the bus station that day, asked for her number and called her. There might have been one of many responses. She could have said, “Thanks but I’m already in a relationship.” She might have said, “Thanks but I’m not interested.” She might have offered her phone number but when I called it, I find I’m connected to her local police department.

Of course, something positive might have resulted, as well. We could have gone out, hit it off, entered into a long-term relationship, gotten married, had kids, lived happily every after.

The point is, I’ll never know what might have happened with that woman who could have turned out to be the love of my life — simply because I was too chicken to ask for her number. And when you think about it, my cowardice doesn’t make sense, because in a situation like that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It’s all about taking that leap of faith and reaching out.

OK, so if you’re rejected, perhaps your self-esteem takes a little hit. If you’re rejected a lot, perhaps it gets bruised. And if you experience nothing but rejection, maybe your self-esteem ends up in the trauma ward of Love General Hospital. But enough about my pain.

Eventually someone is going to open her arms and her heart.

Let’s get back to that supermodel. How many times have we read interviews with supermodels, gorgeous actresses and other high-profile beauties, in which they complain that they sit home alone, because for whatever reasons — fear, intimidation, assuming women that lovely must already have boyfriends — they’re just not asked out on dates?

Well, I say to my fellow male daters — let’s end that fear here and now. Whether she’s an average woman doing a crossword puzzle on a commuter train, or Gisele Bundchen doing a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue shoot on a Jamaican beach — reach out. Put those insecurities on hold.

The Talmud states: “To facilitate a union between man and woman is as difficult a task as parting the Red Sea.” Granted. But if you don’t take that first step, the union is downright impossible.

“2 Across” is on stage at the Santa Monica Playhouse through Dec. 19. $25. 8 p.m. (Fridays), 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. (Saturdays), 6 p.m. (Sundays). $25. 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica. For tickets, call (800) 863-7785.

Mark Miller has written for TV, movies and celebrities, been a professional stand-up comedian and a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. He can be reached at markmiller2000@comcast.net.

 

Emergency Room Serves as Memorial


 

The gleaming digital tracking board that dominates Shaare Zedek’s new emergency room, with its color-coded system for monitoring patients, has Dr. David Applebaum’s fingerprints all over it.

So do the more private individual rooms for patients, the improved nurse-to-patient ratio and an area for paramedics to rest and grab a cup of coffee between calls.

Applebaum was director of the Jerusalem hospital’s emergency room until a suicide bomber blew up the cafe where he was dispensing fatherly advice to his daughter on the eve of her wedding. His daughter, Nava, also was killed in the Sept. 9, 2003, attack at Café Hillel in Jerusalem.

In October, a new, cutting-edge emergency room opened at the hospital, which has been on the front lines of treating the injured from terrorist attacks in Jerusalem. Hospital staff traveled to top hospitals around the United States before designing the Weinstock Department of Emergency Medicine in a bid to give Jerusalem patients world-class care and attention.

Word of the new emergency room has spread quickly in the city, and there has been a 20 percent increase in the number of patients, according to hospital staff.

The new emergency room is three times the size of the previous one and houses its own shock and trauma unit. The memory of Applebaum hovers over the space, and his photo hangs at its entrance.

“It was his baby. I look at” his picture “and I can’t believe he’s gone,” said Emunah Hasin, a nurse and director of external affairs for the hospital.

Dr. Todd Zalut, acting director of the emergency department, still speaks in the present tense about Applebaum who for years was his friend and mentor. Like Applebaum, he made aliyah from the United States after completing his training in emergency medicine.

Zalut stands over one of the beds in the spacious trauma unit, showing off its features, which include a hydraulic arm with shelves full of equipment that can be brought closer to the patient as needed, heart monitors and a device to keep fluids warm.

“It’s very user-friendly,” Zalut said.

The user-friendly ethos extends to the entire emergency room. The digital tracking system, for example, was developed by Applebaum and Zalut, along with the hospital’s computer expert. It tracks how long the patient has been in the emergency room, which doctor has seen the patient, the status of lab work and the age and reason the patient was admitted.

When there is a terror attack in Jerusalem, almost half of the injured are rushed to Shaare Zedek’s emergency room, because it’s the only hospital in the center of the city. The other main hospital in the city for terror victims is Hadassah Ein Kerem.

Zalut said an emergency room cannot be built specifically to accommodate the victims of terrorist attacks, but that the new emergency room will help streamline the hospital’s ability to respond to mass trauma, in general.

The cost of building Shaare Zedek’s new emergency facility was about $30 million. It is built in rings, with the most severe cases treated in the inner ring and less urgent cases in outer rings of rooms with their own nursing stations.

There also is an infection-control room and digital X-ray and ultrasound facilities on site, plus a huge storeroom filled with equipment in case of a chemical attack.

Surveying the equipment, expertise and thought put into the hospital’s emergency room, Hasin made a wish she knows is not likely to come true: “We don’t want to have to use it. We want to keep it all at the level of theory.”

 

The Soldier I Could Have Saved


Thirty-three years ago an Israeli soldier was killed during the War of Attrition in Fort Kantara on the Suez Canal. The soldier’s name was Kobi; he was 19. I think about Kobi every day, and sometimes I don’t sleep at night. Thirty-three years have passed, and I still live with it like it happened recently.

Do you think I am insane? Disturbed? Suffering from post-war trauma?

I don’t know, I was never treated by a doctor for it.

During the war I was a staff sergeant at Fort Kantara. I was there for more than a year. I saw young Israeli soldiers come and go. In Hebrew we called them “cannon meat.” They came to us from boot camp, 18 years old. Wanting to see the blue water of the Suez Canal, they raised their heads above the sandbags and were killed instantly by Russian snipers. The next day they were sent back home in caskets. Just like that, within seconds, they were alive and suddenly gone. We told you not to raise your heads. You didn’t listen to us. By then it was too late.

But this is not what happened to Kobi. Kobi could have been saved, but something else happened. A short time after Kobi arrived at Fort Kantara, a new officer joined us — Lt. Moti. Moti came directly from officers school, with a lot of energy, and let us feel that he was the new boss of the place. We didn’t make a big deal of it at first. He seemed to be a nice guy from from a good family. He was from the town of Hadera, wanted to go up the ranks fast and acted a little like an oyber chuchem (smart ass).

Time passed, and except for a few disputes Moti got along with most of us, including myself — until the horrible day came. It was Kobi’s shift to watch the Egyptians on the other side of the canal from the observation post. Moti and I were in the war room below. The phone from Kobi’s post rang.

“The Egyptians are looking at me with binoculars and aiming a bazooka at me,” Kobi said.

“Get off your post right now,” I yelled to him. I knew what was going to happen, and a gush of fear went though me.

Moti yelled, “Stay there and keep looking. Do not get off your post.”

I yelled again, “Get off right now, let’s go, now, now, now. There is no time.”

Moti yelled, “If you get off, you are going straight go jail.”

I yelled, “Kobi, please come down. Moti doesn’t know what’s happening here, I’ve been there before. Do me and yourself a favor, come down now.”

Moti kept going: “If you come down now, you will be in trouble for the rest of your service, I am the officer in charge, do not listen to Yoram.”

It was too late. The bazooka from the other side was launched. Kobi was dead. Another 19-year-old kid was gone. Moti and I looked at each other for five solid minutes and did not say a word. We froze. Afterward I told Moti, “You will pay for this someday.”

I went to the post and collected what was left from this cute kid from Ashkelon who wanted to be a doctor.

The newspaper wrote that Kobi was killed by heavy Egyptian artillery. His grandfather was killed in the Warsaw Ghetto. His parents were Holocaust survivors. His uncle was killed in the Israeli War of Independence in 1948.

Kobi’s parents didn’t know the truth of how he died. Maybe it’s better that way.

Moti completed his service in the army after three years. He did not want to be a big shot in the army anymore. He attended the Technion. I saw him a few times in Haifa. We never talked about what happened. It was more like “Hi” and “Bye.”

Thirty-three years have passed since then. Even today I say to myself “Why didn’t I go to his post and drag him down?”

I could have called him today in Israel and say “Doctor, how are ya? How’s the family? Remember that day on the Suez Canal? Wow, what a mess. You almost got killed. Luckily you got off the post.”

I heard that the Israeli Department of Defense decided to give the soldiers who served during the War of Attrition a new medal of courage.

Suddenly, just like that, they want to give a medal to the “cannon meat?”

We served there from 1967 to 1973, and every day 20 to 40 soldiers, just kids, were killed. My medal will arrive at my last address in Israel — Kiryat Tivon. Maybe I should ask Jojo, the mail carrier, to forward it to Moti’s family in Ashkelon.


Yoram Samuel lives in Los Angeles.

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