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Martin still bringing color to our lives

Photo: Anat Belzberg

This article first appeared in The Jerusalem Post and is reprinted with permission.

Israel is not a land of lazy, lovely street names. Students, pensioners, the young and the old live on roads commemorating battles, army battalions and Biblical kings. Hapalmach Street and Ben Gurion Street crisscross cities and hamlets country-wide; no "Peppertree Avenues" in Jerusalem, no "Crumpet Lanes" in Tel Aviv. Appellations are there to set memories in stone (or tarmac), and carry the stories of heroes down as generations grow up. Children ask why their road is named "Herzl;" the explanation ensures that the names endure.

"What's in a name," Juliet famously asked; she determined that a name is not in itself a definition. "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," Juliet declares, and dreams of a divine Romeo devoid of the Montague brand. She's wrong of course. Nomenclature is just about as important as something can be: Prince Harry cavorts in strange uniforms or stripped of clothing altogether, and remains a noble Windsor; a Smith or a Cohen in the same spotlight might end up in jail.

Martin loved to quote from Pirkei Avot – the Ethics of the Fathers. In Chapter Four, Mishna 17, Rabbi Shimon proclaims that there are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of kingship. And the crown of a good name is superior to them all. Much scholarship has been devoted to minutia of meaning in this verse: is good name indivisible from Torah study or can an ignoramus on the Pentateuch still merit being called a mensch? If you have a few years, you can join a Hevruta and fill in the gaps.

Martin, or, as he liked to call himself, Moshe Martin Peled, was blessed with a good name. He had a lovely karma about him, Mart did; he came into a room and the room came alive. He was kind and he was helpful and he was warm and gorgeous; we wanted somehow, in the months after he died, to hang on to those memories and make sure his name remained a blessing. My husband was big on volunteering: he did shifts in the ESRA shop and in Yad Vashem, he manned phone lines during the Maccabiah and audited books for Lion of Judah, as well as working to establish a Heritage Home for his governmental department, until the week before he died.

My brothers and I, too, grew up seeing our parents chair every Jewish board in town. Volunteering was fed to us along with biltong and chops. Our house overflowed for weeks before school fetes with prizes for raffles and tombola stands. Our memories echo with the laugher of committees dissolving in our lounge as members practiced mock weddings and more for endless and ongoing charity do's.

So it seemed obvious that we should commemorate Martin in some hands-on way. My husband and my brothers had a very special bond; Philip, who lives ten minutes from us, had lunch with Mart most days. Philip is a builder who specializes in renovations; his work is great and he is honest and he cleans up when he's done – he's never short of repair jobs. When Martin was still reasonably well, Philip discussed his own desire to volunteer and an idea was born.

The plan was perfect: Philip would train underprivileged pupils to shpachtel and paint, Martin would write business models and manage the administration. We'd set up filing systems and have fun building the sessions; everything would skip along in the fabulous fashion of our lives. When Martin died so very prematurely, our daughters and Philip and I decided this project would honor his memory.

It was not easy getting anything established without my husband. He could write business plans and make fiscal projections in his sleep. I am less competent – but I do have friends. I enlisted the help of ESRA and its wonderful founder, Merle Guttmann. Through ESRA in Kfar Saba, we got to our municipality. Through them, we contacted an ORT school in our town; many meetings later "Martin's Men" was born. 

Presenting the ‘Martin’s Men’ T-shirts to pupils ... (from left) Yonathan Drimmer, coordinator of Volunteer Activity, Ort Kfar Saba, Philip Symon and Pamela Peled. The logo (below, left) was designed by Emmanuel Levi, from design class at Ort.

"Martin's Men" is a team of 12th grade students who've not had the best deal in life. Initially we envisaged only boys, but the team includes four young women; the name has become generic. (In Hebrew we are known as Tsevet Martin – Martin's Team). Philip is teaching them about colorance and covering and cracking and curing; the pupils are loving it. When the kids are technically adept, they'll spruce up a municipal school in town; when they have learnt to color worlds brighter without making a mess they'll be ready to turn dilapidated buildings into shiny sleek structures … Watch out for a new reality show coming from the Sharon.

The project is flying. ORT Schools provided a budget and a plan of action. Zvika Pogatz, manager of Kal Ve Chomer, a high street hardware store, donated uniforms and equipment. Tambour plied us with paint – tins and tins and tins of it – and promised more to come. Friends unbidden sent in donations. We've started raising funds for a second team waiting in the wings – a group of young Ethiopian adults just out of the army. Someone offered English lessons; a cousin suggested we take our initiative countrywide and put Israelis back into all manner of trades; two film-makers have started a documentary; each day brings a delightful surprise.

And for me, although I can't snuggle up to any of Martin's Men as I fall asleep, at least I can fall asleep knowing that we are channeling our pain into positivity, and that is a blessing in itself. And who the hell knows? Maybe the original Martin is rolling up his sleeves in heaven and coloring our world a little brighter too.

See also: the Hebrew version of the film about Martin's Men:

Martin's Men is also an ESRA community project in Kfar Saba.

Dr. Pamela Peled lectures at Beit Berl and the IDC. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 



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