Sometimes you just have to write…
He was my mother’s first cousin, quite a bit younger that she was, and quite a bit older than me. The first time I met him must have been the late 1960s, when he and his young wife, Judy, came to stay with us at our suburban split-level house in Stamford, Connecticut. I must have been about six, and was positively scandalized by these strange people sleeping on our living room floor in sleeping bags: they looked like hippies! And hippies, as my parents had made very clear to me and my sisters, were people we should NEVER have contact with: hippies did DRUGS! And here they were, welcoming two of them into our home!
My next encounter with David that I can remember was in 1985, when I visited Israel for the first time with my parents. By then, I was a young adult, with a year of Peace Corps behind me and a little more sense of my place in the world. What amazed me about David on that trip was that he said, right out, that Israel had to give up some territory to the Palestinians if they were ever going to achieve peace.
Now that may not seem so earth-shattering these days; lots of people are saying the same thing. But in 1985, that was an Israeli voice that just wasn’t heard. This was when my admiration for him started: he said what he believed, regardless of how that opinion would be received.
I also learned more about him, and was able to appreciate some of the decisions he’d made. The fact that he and Judy had decided to move to Israel – to make aliyah – didn’t seem like such a big deal to me until this visit in 1985, when I met his daughters (I think there were only two daughters at that point; correct me if I’m wrong). I learned that all citizens of Israel have to serve in the armed forces, including daughters.
My first reaction to learning this was “I’d never do that; it would put my children in danger.” Over time, I realized that that was something that David and Judy has decided consciously to do. It was a considered moral decision. And that was another thing I admired about David: that he was a man who thought carefully about moral questions, and then lived by those decisions without compromise. If making aliyah was the right thing to do, he would do it, and if that meant potentially putting his daughters in harm’s way, so be it.
And, to David, making aliyah didn’t mean accepting everything the Israeli government did without question. It meant always being an active citizen, working to bring about positive change, and to attain an ethical and peaceful society. And yet, in such an intractable political situation, he remained eager and optimistic and positive about the possibility of change. That’s an achievement in itself.
On a more personal level, David was just likeable. He was garrulous and big-hearted and welcoming. If you subscribe to the idea that all humans have canine counterparts, he was a big, friendly, sheepdog. And he was a gentleman. (I think he got that from his father, my Uncle Ben, another person I wish I’d gotten to know better. Uncle Ben was the consummate gentleman, in a suit, carrying a cane, and being kind to my grandmother even when she was at her nastiest.) When I visited some years later along with my husband and daughter and my sister and her family, David welcomed us with open arms. This applied to my husband, a Dutch gentile, as much as to me. I never got any whiff of disapproval from him. He made me feel that he trusted my choices in life. He also, despite his own considered decision to make aliyah, never pressured me or my sister to do so too. His moral choices were his; ours were ours. And that made me admire him all the more. And celebrating seder that year with him and his whole family was a delight I will never forget. The love that positively radiated from him for his wife and daughters and sons-in-law and grandchildren, was powerful and visible, and I loved seeing it.
I’ve always felt honoured and blessed to know David, even if the intervals between seeing him were measured in years. I admired him and looked up to him. That will not change. He will continue to be my model for a considered life, even if I can never really live up to that model.
[Here’s a link to an obituary]