"I told them: None of you will leave this country!"
From left to right:
Daniel Cohen (80)
David Levy (85)
Meni Rubin (82)
Location: Shderot Hen, Herzliya
The encounter: Shderot Hen, a pedestrian street in the center of Herzliya, is a gathering place for retirees. There are people playing chess, having coffee, drinking beer, or just dozing in their wheel chairs. Meni, David, and Daniel spoke with the ease and intimacy of people who have been friends for a lifetime, interrupting each other freely and picking up arguments that they had begun decades ago. Every once in a while, David and Daniel slipped into Ladino, the language of the Jews who were expelled from Spain, now a language in danger of dying out.
What are you doing here right now?
Daniel: We get together here every day to have some beer, pass the time, talk politics and and reminisce...
David: And in the afternoon we go home to rest.
Meni: We've known each other for more than fifty years!
What's your occupation?
Daniel: We’re all retired! We deserve to relax a little now!
David: I used I to work in the grocery industry. I delivered supplies.
Meni: We’ve worked hard all our lives! We didn’t have food, we didn't have money. For twenty-five years I worked in a textile factory.
David: But we have raised our children; we have grandchildren... Everything is well now!
Can you tell me a bit about your family?
David: I’m a widower. I have a son and a daughter and six grandchildren. In a few months, I may have a great-grandchild! All my grandchildren went to university, and my oldest grandson is a CEO at a high-tech company. He travels all over the world!
Meni: I have five children and 30 grandchildren. I live alone now.
Daniel: I’m the only one who’s still married. My wife is waiting for me at home... She’ll be jealous if she finds out I’m being interviewed by a pretty young woman! Ha! Ha!
Where is your family from?
David: I'm from Istanbul, Turkey. I’m a Sephardic Jew. I grew up speaking Ladino: Jewish Spanish. My family has lived in Turkey since the expulsion from Spain in 1492. I came to Israel in 1949, at the age of twenty. When I was drafted into the Turkish army, my father told me to run away to Israel. He said that if I must be a soldier, I might as well serve in the Israeli army.
Daniel: I'm from Istanbul too. I was fifteen when I immigrated to Israel. It was in February 1949. For the first two years, I lived in a kibbutz. Later, the rest of my family joined. My parents arrived after I had already gotten married.
Meni: I’m from Libya. We, Libyan Jews, suffered terribly! First we were persecuted by Mussolini, and then by Hitler. Then, after the Second World War, there were Arab pogroms against the Jews. I fled to Israel in 1949, when I was 17. Life was difficult. We didn't have a house. We didn't have work. I never finished school because I had to support my parents.
Daniel: You see, most Jews who came to Israel didn’t have a choice: they were refugees. But for me it was different! I came here out of pure idealism! The Jews of Turkey were never persecuted. Never! We had a good life in Istanbul! The Turkish Jews who immigrated to Israel did so for only one reason: we were true Zionist!
How do you describe your religious or national identity?
Meni: We’re all completely secular.
Daniel: Not true! I’m traditional! My wife came from a secular family, but when we got married I told her I would like to light candles every Shabbat... and that’s the way it has been. We don’t have to pray, but it doesn’t hurt to light candles!
David: I was a religious prodigy back in Turkey. I already read from the Bible when I was nine years old! But I lost my faith when I came to Israel. Guess who turned me against religion... the orthodox! When I saw them in their long black coats and their ridiculous hats I said: "Now I understand why the Jews in Poland were disliked so much! Who in their right mind walks around like that?
What are your hopes and expectations for the future of this land?
David: I think my grandchildren will have a better life than me. They belong to a more privileged generation: they have money; they have an education; they have good jobs...
Meni: On the contrary! I see the future pretty grim. I don't think my grandchildren will have a country. The Arab population in this country is growing faster than the Jewish population and soon the Jews will be pushed out.
Daniel: But we can't afford to be pessimistic! We must believe that after two thousand years of exile we can live here for another two thousand years. An Arab friend once asked me if the Palestinians don't have a right to this land. And I said: “Yes, you do! But we waited for two-thousand years, now it's your turn to wait!”
Recently, the Spanish government decided to give citizenship to all Jews, like me, who can prove that their ancestors were expelled from Spain. My children tried to convince me to apply, so they’d be able to get European passports through me. But I refused. I told them: “None of you will leave this country! You won’t move to Spain or anywhere else! This is our country and you’ll stay here!”