A tale of two brothers

A tale of two brothers

December 13, 2009 03:12
shalom doron

shalom doron. (photo credit: Steve Linde)


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Shalom Doron, 92, is all smiles as he sits in his luxurious lounge on Jerusalem's Saadia Gaon Street, gazing at the superb view of the Israel Museum and the Valley of the Cross through the large window, and in perfect English, he lucidly recalls his productive life. But his smile disappears as he tells the tragic tale of his brother, Yaakov (Cuba). His own biography is primarily one of dreams fulfilled, while his brilliant brother, three years his elder, had his aspirations shattered. The two brothers were separated when Doron, then named Fritz Dikman, took the dramatic step of leaving his family in Poland for Palestine in 1936. Because of a stroke of bureaucratic luck combined with his strong Zionist fervor, he came to Jerusalem after being accepted to the Hebrew University, while his brother never received a response to his application to the university and remained at home to face the rise of the Nazis, Stalin's pogroms against Jews and World War II. Doron made aliya by himself on the basis of what he calls "a certificate" of acceptance he had received from the university. He later earned a degree from the British law school in Jerusalem, served as an officer in the British Army during the war, and climbed the corporate ladder in the newly formed Jewish state, becoming one of the country's top bankers as well as director-general of Hachsharut Hayishuv, the Israel Land Development Corporation. From his Jerusalem home, Doron has served as honorary consul for Swaziland for the past four decades to advance bilateral economic ties, a position he still holds. He has also performed a range of leadership roles in a volunteer capacity, most notably for Bnai Brith's World Center and Children's Home and The Hebrew University's Hillel House. In recognition of his enormous contribution, Bnai Brith appointed him its honorary chairman and gave him an outstanding volunteer award, The Hebrew University named him an honorary fellow, and the Jerusalem Municipality presented him with its prestigious Yakir Yerushalayim (Worthy Citizen of Jerusalem) prize. Doron lives with his wife, Carmella, whom he married in 1952, and they have two sons, Gal, 53, a prosperous businessman who owns the Jerusalem-based Gal Conventions & Tourism company, and Adi, 50, a prominent psychiatrist in Pardesiya, each of whom has three children. Despite his advanced age, Doron is alert and articulate, charming and engaging, and respected in the business community for his sharp acumen and leadership. He is regarded as an expert on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, has testified before Knesset committees, given countless media interviews and recently published a booklet on the early years of the boursa. His brother, Cuba, was - according to Doron - a stellar student with the promise of becoming a top medical professional, but unfortunate circumstances kept him from both practicing medicine and making aliya. After his incarceration in a mental hospital in the Soviet Union under Stalin, he seems to have led a depressed and lonely life until his death in 1989, shortly after visiting Israel for the first time. Unbeknown at the time to his brother, Cuba too had applied to the Hebrew University from Poland before the war, but never received a response, something Doron remains angry about to this day. Doron wasn't even sure that his brother was alive for most of his life, until he managed to track him down by traveling abroad to investigate his fate. The tale of the two brothers, Shalom and Yaakov, is a fascinating one, which Doron has decided to reveal publicly for the first time. "The dramatic story is that of my brother, not mine," he says modestly, in a typically understated way that masks his own exceptional career. ALTHOUGH he was born in Vienna, Doron and his brother grew up near Lvov in eastern Poland, where his parents moved when they were young boys. "We were a very Zionist family, and I was very involved in the Jewish youth movement, the Scouts," he says. "My brother's biggest dream from childhood was to be a doctor," says Doron. "His best friend in high school was a boy named A.J. Beller, who later became the director of neurology at Hadassah." Despite being an outstanding student with excellent high-school grades, Cuba was accepted neither to a medical school in Austria or Poland because of an anti-Semitic quota system dubbed "numerus clausus" in which almost no Jews were accepted nor to the Hebrew University, apparently because he had applied after the application process had closed for the year. But he ended up studying medicine for a year at the University of Dijon in France and then at the University of Cracow for a couple of years. Doron, rejecting his parents' pleas to stay in Poland and emigrate with the whole family when his brother completed medical school, decided with the encouragement of his maternal grandfather (who was active in the Hovevei Zion movement), and a sympathetic uncle, to realize his Zionist dreams and travel to Palestine alone. After his graduation from high school, he bid his family farewell and sailed to the Holy Land. "My dream was law," he says. "One of the reasons that I decided to study law was a famous legal case in Poland of a Jewish boy who was accused of trying to throw a bomb at the car of the Polish president while he was visiting Lvov." The Polish Jewish newspaper articles on the case in which the boy was ultimately acquitted fascinated the young Doron. After arriving in Jerusalem, he made money to finance his studies by, inter alia, working during the morning as a road construction worker for the Public Works Company and as a night watchman at the now-defunct Vienna Hotel on Jaffa Road. He passed his Hebrew examination for acceptance to The Hebrew University thanks to his learning of the language from a private tutor in Poland, and began studying two years of Jewish history, Hebrew literature and language (taught by the eminent Prof. David Yellin) and international affairs (under the instruction of the first Jewish British attorney-general of Palestine, Prof. Norman Bentwich). The law faculty at the university had not yet been established (it opened only in 1948), so he applied and was accepted to the British-mandate law school, for which he also had to pass an entrance examination, this time in English. "I had two friends and we lived together and studied together and we decided to improve our pronunciation by finding an intelligent, well-bred British cop who used to come and talk English with us over coffee for an hour every week," he says, putting on an upper-class British accent. "Very unfortunately, the two of them failed the test, and I was admitted." His studies were interrupted, however, by the Second World War, during which he and his friends in the Bnai Brith youth organization rallied at the request of the Jewish Agency to join the British Army to fight the Nazis. With high recommendations from his professors but no military experience, he was admitted to the officers' course after returning the keys to the bank and receiving the blessing of its manager, Frank Winkler. He notes, as an aside, that Winkler then lived in the same house on Saadia Gaon in which he now resides with his wife. Doron remembers, with an impish smile, that the officers' course admission test entailed speaking in English on a particular topic, and he had delivered a lecture on personal hygiene, which he had begun by humorously writing on the blackboard, "PPWC," immediately amusing the panel of senior officers at the King David Hotel, the British Army's headquarters. He was one of just a dozen Jews and Arabs from about 60 candidates to be accepted to the course, and was dispatched to the British Army base at Sarafand, now Tzrifin. "Years later, after I had become an officer," he laughs, "I looked at the files and my recommendation for commission read, 'A witty man will always be a good leader of men.'" Doron says the officers' course was extremely difficult physically, but after becoming commissioned officers, "we had an easy life." During his service in the Sixth Company of "the Buffs," (the Royal East Kent Regiment) he stayed in Palestine and among other things, was put in charge of establishing a kosher kitchen for observant soldiers. "The food in the kosher kitchen was much superior to the other food in British Army messes, and soon all the Jewish soldiers were eating in the kosher kitchen," he says, smiling again. "Every Friday we had a festive Shabbat meal, with singers and entertainers, and I remember Yaakov Orland one night singing a song he had just written about the Kinneret [Hayu Leilot], which later became very famous." UPON his discharge at the end of the war, in accordance with Jewish Agency legislation, Doron returned to his job as a night watchman at the Vienna Hotel. One night, he met two German men staying at the hotel, and impressed them with his language skills - he now spoke fluent Hebrew, English and German. Doron accepted a job from them, initially as a translator, at their newly-formed Jerusalem Bank. They later taught him about the capital market as well as foreign and local securities, and discussed their plans to establish the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. After working his way up to the position of manager of the bank, he finally decided to leave it in 1962. "I needed a change, and at that time an angel appeared named John P. Chase," Doron says. "He called me and said he wanted to see me at his hotel in Tel Aviv that night. It was a horrible night, but I drove down to Tel Aviv, and he told me that he wanted to open a branch of his Boston company to develop the Tel Aviv stock market." Chase revealed that a group of wealthy American Jewish entrepreneurs had formed the First American Israel Mutual Fund to invest $18 million of shares and bonds in Israel. Soon Doron's life changed radically, and he found himself flying frequently to the US to encourage investment in the Holy Land. To gain acceptance to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, he was asked by the head of the group, former New York State attorney-general Nathaniel Goldstein, to write up profiles of Israeli banks and companies willing to issue bonds and prepare for a presentation of the stock market proposal to the SEC. "One Friday I received a call from General Goldstein - that's what we called him - and he said we had received a date this coming Monday to meet with the SEC. He said I had to do all I could to make it to New York by Monday. It was not so easy in those days to jump on a plane. But I managed to make it and took all the material I had prepared," he says. During his presentation, he says. the first question he was asked came from the only Jew among the five members of the panel, Manny Cohen, who wanted to know if a huge investment of $18 million would not cause an economic earthquake to the Israeli economy and even crash the local market. Doron replied that he had reached a written agreement with the Israeli government that all the money from the issue of shares would be deposited with the government at a set interest rate and linked to the dollar, and could be withdrawn and converted to Israeli currency only under tight supervision at the existing rate. He also revealed that he had signed deals with 18 Israeli banks and companies ready to issue new shares on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange to strengthen the market. "I saw relief on Manny's face," Doron says, "and they told me I would be informed of their decision at a later date. One day, a few weeks later, a got a phone call, saying we got the 'Red Herring,' the approval of the SEC. It's called the 'Red Herring' because on the printed paper of the original paper of the prospectus, there is a stamp of approval from the SEC in red print. So we could begin working full force." A delighted Chase enlisted some 200 brokers and bankers to underwrite the sale of the $18 million in shares, and the process got underway. But, Doron laments, it was abruptly called off at the last minute. "One day I got a call from Chase who said he had bad news for me, and we couldn't go ahead with the project because circumstances had changed and he could not talk about it too much," Doron says. "Later I discovered Arab countries had found out about the banks which had made a commitment to underwrite us and apparently had threatened to liquidate all their assets if they invested in Israel." In 1964, Doron accepted a job offer at Hachsharat Hayishuv, originally established by the World Zionist Organization as the Palestine Land Development Company to buy and develop property in the country. Within a year, he was appointed its director-general and later became chairman of its board. When the WZO decided to sell off its founding shares in the company in 1988, Shalom resigned in protest. "I wasn't even consulted," is all he is prepared to say. "Since then, I have had no contact with them." SWITCHING suddenly back to the subject of his brother, he sits in silence for a moment, and then says, with some bitterness in his voice: "I only found out 50 years later that my brother had applied to the Hebrew University. He was a silent type and never talked about these things. "One day, Daniel Auster [who became the first Jewish mayor of Jerusalem], visited our home town in Poland, and my father - they were in the same class at school - asked him why the university had not responded to my brother. We later found out that the application had come two weeks too late, but I still don't know why why they never sent him a letter of explanation." At the start of the world war, Cuba had visited his parents in Poland, and could not get back to the University of Cracow, but the Russian authorities helped him conclude his medical studies in Lvov. After receiving his medical certificate, Doron heard from his brother for the first time since his arrival in Palestine. Cuba had sent two postcards to "Fritz Dickman" with no specific address in Jerusalem, one to the university and another to a bank. Both reached Doron, miraculously he says, but there was no return address. In one postcard, his brother told him he planned to join the Russian Army. FRITZ Dikman officially changed his name to Shalom Doron in 1948, he says, at the request of David Ben-Gurion. He had not heard again from his brother after the war, and feared he might have been killed. Yet he never gave up hope, and in the late Eighties, when Israelis were issued visas to Russia with the fall of the Soviet Union, Doron and his wife took a trip to see if they could find out what happened. They traveled first to Austria, and discovered via a friend in Vienna that his brother had accepted a job as a doctor from a Jewish professor at a top hospital in Kharkov, but then Stalin launched his murderous campaign against Jewish doctors, and after the professor disappeared mysteriously, Cuba was informed that he was being transferred to another hospital. Doron later learned that the Russian authorities had confiscated his doctor's license, confined him to a mental institution, injected him with all kinds of drugs, and kept him a virtual prisoner there for 20 years. "When I finally found him and we met, we had no common language, and had to talk to each other through a translator. I begged him to come to Israel, and he said he would come the minute he got back his doctor's license, but he refused to come back with me immediately." The two decades he had been kept in the mental hospital had seriously harmed him psychologically. Cuba had never married and had lost touch with family and friends, leading a mostly isolated life. In 1989, though, he accepted his brother's invitation to come for a short visit to Israel for two weeks, and enjoyed his time here with his newly-found family and his old friend, Prof. Beller. During the visit 20 years ago, the two brothers inaugurated the first of seven gardens to mark Doron's 25 years of service for Hachsharat Hayishuv, in memory of their parents, Leon and Sophie Dickman, at the Kedoshim Forest in Jerusalem. A short time after Cuba left Israel, Doron received news of his brother's death, from a heart attack. Wiping his eyes under his glasses, Doron reaches a photograph from a coffee table of the two brothers at the dedication ceremony. "This is a picture of the two of us," he says, sadly, but then adds later, with a smile: "I have learned to appreciate my fate."

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