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Dear Diary

diary Credit: Emmanuel iKwuegbu on Unsplash

I have a diary that's over sixty years old. I'm almost 80-years-old. I kept the diary from September to December 1961, during my year of study in Israel. The diary contains some interesting historical information to which I have added some more recent personal reflections.

During my year in Israel, I attended several sessions of the Eichmann trial, including the one in which Judge Landau read out the verdict. This is what I wrote on December 12, 1961: "At day's end, Judge Landau asked the accused to rise. The judge convicted Eichmann of all the charges against him, including "Crimes Against the Jewish People." These included plundering of property, deportation, and extermination. One incident moved me very much. During the reading an elderly bearded Jew began to talk loudly. He could not contain himself. The judge stopped speaking. Everyone in the courtroom turned around, but Eichmann, damn-damn Eichmann, never turned his head." All these many years later I would add – "he had hardened his heart to the suffering of so many Jews in the past, how could one expect him to soften it for just one broken-hearted Jew now?"

The program I was on was called the Haim Greenberg Year Course for Jewish Educators. (It sounds better in Hebrew.) We were a group of about twenty students from Hebrew Teachers College of Boston. This was our Junior Year Abroad program. One day we received an invitation to meet with the Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion. This is what I wrote on November 4, 1961: "I arrived at the office of the prime minister an hour before the meeting. I joked with the receptionist while in a state of great anticipation. About 25 minutes before our meeting, I saw Ben Gurion climb the stairs up to his office - he was walking so fast that his bodyguard was running after him. The meeting lasted one hour. Ben Gurion kept probing and probing

in his search of how we can bring American Jewish youth closer to Israel. I'm sure that he had his own answer and asked these questions only to stimulate us. I didn't need any stimulation - I have been thinking about this for a long time...I didn't say one word the whole time." Now, so many years later, I ask myself why I didn't say one word during that hour-long meeting. I'm pretty sure I know. I'm sure I thought to myself: "Who am I to speak to this great man?" There were others who spoke, feeling that they were his equals on this particular topic. I just couldn't. I was too much in awe of him. But I wonder what Ben Gurion would say today about the wonderfully successful and innovative program called Birthright Israel which brings so many college age Jews who had never been to Israel before for an all-expenses-paid-ten-day educational trip to our country.

Our program in Jerusalem consisted of classes taught at our residence and also regular courses at the Hebrew University. Some wonderful and inspiring teachers taught our group: Mr. Meshullam Tochner taught us Agnon; Mr. Gabriel Cohen taught Bible and Judaism; Dr. Ben-Arieh taught "Getting to Know Israel." I wrote about him in my diary: "Today we had our final class with Dr. Ben-Arieh. He was such a fascinating teacher- his history of modern Israel up to the War of Independence was so interesting, so vivid. After class everybody applauded! He blushed. It must have made him feel great." 

Surprisingly, the least charismatic of our teachers was the one we could have expected the most from - the acclaimed poet Yehuda Amichai, who was just starting out on his illustrious literary career. Admittedly, Hebrew grammar does not lend itself to much excitement, but he didn't engage us emotionally, taught in a monotone, and almost never smiled. One of our classmates, a woman a few years older than we were, once asked him why he teaches so dispassionately (we all knew he was a highly regarded young poet). He answered that he saved his passion for his poetry. This was the first and perhaps the only time I had ever heard that expending passion in one activity diminishes it in another, and I'm not sure I agree. But even if this were the case, he did his students a disservice. A teacher has an obligation to give his all to his students.

Rereading my diary after sixty years awakened many memories in me. I devoted many pages to the question of where my future home would be. That year in Israel was very instrumental in helping me make my decision to return here with my own family 20 years later. 

 

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Sunday, 21 April 2024

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