Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Yom HaZikaron 2016

Today, Yom HaZikaron, I addressed the high school students of Yeshivah College in Melbourne. I don't know if many knew about Yom HaZikaron, but I think they do now. Here is the text of my speech.

Thank you for inviting me to speak.

My brother, Yehuda Pakula, was 17 when he left Australia in 1968.
He left for several reasons.
He wished to explore his roots in Israel, as our mother’s family came to Australia from Tzefat, pre WW1.
He wanted to visit ancient places about which he had learned in the TaNaCh while at school in Yeshivah College, where he had just completed year 12.
He was inspired by the recent miracle of the 6-Day-War, and wanted to be part of the thrilling story of Modern Israel.
He had been the target of one too many anti-Semitic attacks, where he had been pushed off his bike, beaten and called a ‘bloody Jew’.

He bought a one-way ticket to Israel and swore that he would not return to Australia.
We must be careful what we wish for. He never did return.

After meeting family and doing some touring, he did Ulpan on Kibbutz Sde Eliahu and integrated very quickly into the kibbutz community, eventually becoming a Chaver Kibbutz and then a member of the ‘Yachdav’ Garin. He was expert in driving heavy tractors to till the fields for planting. He had found his niche.
He enlisted in the IDF January 1971, underwent basic military training and joined the Armed Corps as a tank driver.

He was on Miluim, reserve duty, when he was stationed at the Mezach, on the Suez, and was one of the first casualties of the Yom Kippur War, falling on the 6th of October, killed by a sniper’s bullet fired across the Suez. He had been due to be married in November of that year. He was 22.

His platoon were forced to surrender after a week of fierce fighting, under constant artillery attack by the Egyptians. They were out of food and ammunition, and the IDF had not been able to rescue them. The commander of the unit, Shlomo Erdinast, aged 21, insisted that the Red Cross be present for the surrender, which took place on the 8th day of the war, a Shabbos. The men had washed themselves and their uniforms as best they could so as to not go down in history humiliated and in tatters, rather as proud representatives of Israel.

Erdinast had also insisted that the Red Cross supervise the return of the 5 fallen to Israel for burial. But this did not happen; Yehuda and his fallen fellow soldiers were left where they fell. The bodies were not returned for burial until after the 1978 Camp David Accords.  They were left for 5 years in the desert. After the Accords, IDF soldiers with specially trained dogs were brought to find the remains which were identified with their tags and with dental records. Yehudah was brought to Kever Yisrael in Har Herzl military cemetery.

Yehuda’s death was a terrible tragedy in a terrible war, and it took a terrible toll on my parents.
 My father was a Holocaust survivor who had lost most of his family, including his first wife and 2 sons, murdered by the Nazis.

My mother never recovered emotionally and died 11 years later of cancer, but grief definitely played a part.

I was 18 and my parents were devastated. There was no such thing as grief counseling then, and we survived in our own ways.

My parents and I were flown over to Israel by the Israeli Government in December, shortly after Yehudah’s death was confirmed as his platoon which had been taken prisoner by the Egyptians was released after 5 weeks, in prisoner exchanges. We stayed on Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu where we all were assigned jobs; for my parents, my father especially, work was therapy as he was skilled with a sewing machine and mended all the kibbutzniks’ clothes.

It was a strange, difficult time in Israel after the war. People were mourning; every family had lost someone or had a wounded son.
To give you some perspective, the population of Israel at the time was under 3.5 million; 2,688 soldiers had been killed and about 9,000 physically wounded. These numbers do not take into account psychological injuries. There was a sort of numbness in the people, which ran parallel with frenetic activity and partying of the youth. The economy was pretty poor then and people were struggling. I was only 18 and spent a lot of the time on kibbutz. It took me years to even realize that I was also psychologically affected, not least because my parents, my mother especially, were prisoners of their grief and were functioning at a very low level, getting the bare minimum done in order to live; it was a very quiet house.

Fortunately I was able to focus on my medical studies and with the seeming carelessness of youth, I had a busy social life and was active on campus, editing the student newspaper, getting involved in student politics, campaigning for the release of Soviet Jewry etc. Around 1970 Ali Kazak had come as a PLO lobbyist and started whipping up pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel sentiment on campuses. There were rallies and there was violence but I feel it is far worse today.

Unfortunately, Israel has had to make too many sacrifices in fighting for her freedom and very right to exist.

But, until Moshiach comes, we must be prepared for this terrible ongoing loss of life in defence of our land; we must be strong and of good spirit, Chazak veAmatz, because Eretz Yisrael is all we have.
It was true for Yehuda and it remains true today.

Far all those, nearly 28,000, who have fallen in defence of Israel, and as victims of terror:

Am Yisrael Chai.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

One Damn Thing After Another

Suddenly the house is so quiet. Suddenly I have time to organise my thoughts and put them down in writing. And of course, I go blank.
After the torrent of events and celebrations and some glitches - good old raisins and almonds, sweet and bitter- suddenly I am drained. Depleted of adrenaline. Just plain old tired, with my 60 year old body creaking and groaning and whingeing about everything. Shut up, already! Here, take a Celebrex and leave me be!

The last of the Pesach visitors left this morning and after weeks of Party Central, endless noise, people wandering about looking for things to eat, Olympic-level grocery shopping, sampling every kosher eatery in Melbourne after Pesach at the behest of My Daughter The Chef, after the Seudahs and Yom Tovs, including all the celebrations for 2 new grandsons and a Sefer Torah, after all the 2, 3 and 4-year-old grandchildren battling for control of the toy stroller/easel/scooter/teddy- quiet.
Even my work phone has gone quiet- not complaining! Need a break!

And the weather has gone all wet and mopey, after 2 weeks of almost perfect days, children playing in the garden, meals fressed al fresco. Today- grey and windy. (Sort of how I feel.)

And Mother's Day yesterday. Bless. Mother's Day is not for mothers of young children, and if I ever hear another idiot say 'But EVERY day is Mother's Day', I will afflict them physically. All I ever wanted for MD was to be left alone for the morning and not to have to do laundry or cook or work or anything. I never wanted poxy breakfast in bed - yuk- but I was polite enough to fake it until the kids actually understood that I didn't want it. When the kids were grown and had kids of their own, we started doing brunches at home, because people who take small children out to brunch on MD are delusional. Adults can take out their mothers, do whatever they want, why not? But it is only torture to take out a bunch of young kids,  and I can assure you that the mothers of said kids are not having a good time.  I speak as a grandmother of 13, KA'H, B'H, ptu-ptu-ptu, but even one small child will make eating out unbearable as a rule. So please, be sensible, save all that for when your kids are grown up enough to actually pay the bill.

And the 'Yoms'. Yom HaShoa last week, Yom HaZikaron this week. As a member of a family of 2nd generation Holocaust survivors who also lost a brother in the Yom Kippur War, I feel bookended by misery. I still don't know how they switch from sorrow to elation the way they do in Israel, from Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzmaut; flick. From wailing sirens to dancing in the street.

So I guess this is what passes for a breather in my life! I sound like I am complaining, but I'm not. My life is privileged and amazing even if I don't go around hash tagging how blessed I am. It's just life: 'One damn thing after another', as Mark Twain put it.

But I don't know what to do with myself. So I thought I'd write about it.

(Huh, looks like the sun's out again.)

Thursday, 5 May 2016


We shouldn't exist. We should never have been born, conceived, thought of. We, the children of the survivors who lost their first families, their spouses, their children, their extended families. 
My father should have been able to stay in Dzialoszyn with his wife and sons, his sisters, their mother. He should have been a successful tailor and his 2 small sons should have grown up and learned trades or professions, along with their unborn siblings. 
My father in law should have been able to live comfortably in Sosnowitz along with his parents and siblings. He should have married a nice Jewish girl from Sosnowitz and settled down to raise a family, who would then raise theirs in turn. 
Maybe some of them could have gone to Israel - which would have been established anyway and where Jews lived even before it was declared an independent state- to live a Zionist dream. But if not, they would have probably stayed in Poland. Or maybe gone to America to seek their fortunes. 
My father's and father in law's parents should have died in ripe old age surrounded by their loving families. 
Instead, my father followed 2 of his sisters to Australia, May 1939, as the situation for the Jews was not good. He kissed his wife and little sons goodbye and he hugged his mother and other sisters and promised to get papers for them to join him. 
He tried but he ran out of time. They all perished in the Holocaust. 
My father in law and one brother were the only survivors of their family. Parents, siblings, cousins- all murdered. After a 4 year convalescence in Davos, recovering from the unspeakable horrors of the camps, he went to Australia. He married another refugee from Russia and they raised a beautiful family. 
My father married a spirited Jewish Australian girl and had two more sons, and me. 
I married my husband, children of survivors and refugees together. We have children and grandchildren. We are blessed. 
But we shouldn't exist.