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Jerusalem, 1965. What does it mean that you are the mayor, I asked my father? "I will be the senior street cleaner," he said.
That is when the life-long love story between my father, 54 years old at the time, Viennese by origin and culture, and the 3,000-year-old, oriental, poor, provincial and holy city, began. Always with hope for tolerance and mutual respect among the citizens.
I was five years old at the time, and witnessed no end of quite unbelievable situations in the decades that followed. Some of them seem to have been taken from a good comedy, and they stem mainly from my father's endless energy, his spontaneity, and his total identification with and devotion to the city and its people. It might also, better, be described as an obsession:
It is 1974. Snow in Jerusalem. I enter the kitchen following a strange smell, to find my father frying his boots in a pan, and heating his socks in the toaster. "I have to get back on the road as quickly as possible," he is explaining to my shocked mother. "Not all the neighborhoods got supplies of bread and milk."
1980, Central Park, New York. I am 20-years-old. It is my second visit to the city, and my father is there on one of his tireless fund-raising trips. I am longing to spend some time with him, a very rare occurrence. We take the horse and buggy ride. How wonderful the park is. Look, a squirrel! "Yes, right," says my father, "but why do we drive so slow? Coachman, let's run, I've got so much work waiting for me. What do you mean, we can't run? Whip the horse!"
At home, 1975. Abba, why don't you slow down a bit? The doctors say you will collapse soon if you keep working so hard.
"The work is not hard for me at all. There are so many things that need to be done in Jerusalem. I can't rest now, and to exercise would be such a waste of time. In a few years I will rest forever."
November 1986. The maternity ward at Hadassah hospital is crowded. Today brought the first heavy rains, and many women rushed to the hospital to give birth. I am having my first child, Shira - my parents' first grandchild. My father is coming to see the newborn. The other mothers show him their babies, and he is happy with all the new babies. Once again it strikes me that my father is a father for many others.
He is 85. We talk daily on the phone. How are you?
"Not so well. I went to the doctor today, as I wonder what is happening with me. Why do I get tired after a day of work? This never happened to me in the past. I am frustrated."
Well, what did the doctor say?
"He fell sobbing into my arms, saying he wished he had my energies."
Winter 2003, the Cardiology Department of Sha'arei Zedek Hospital. My father, 92, is hospitalized after a heart attack.
"I need to have a small party here," he explains to the stunned nurses. "It is crucial. I have a meeting with an important donor who has flown in especially from the States. We will be only 28 people."
The nurses and doctors manage to persuade him this is impossible... as is smoking a cigar in the department.
"If I only was a few years younger," he used to tell me, "I would run again for mayor of Jerusalem."
December 2006. I visit my parents in their small apartment in the home for the aged. My father is lying in bed, breathing heavily, weak. I kiss him and he holds my hand firmly. I try to cling to the false feeling he'll get stronger and healthier, as he did many times before. How are you today, abba? I hope he doesn't see my tears. My eternal optimist never fails: "Extraordinary," he answers.
"If there is anything I can help you with, just let me know," he used to tell everyone, "I am here day and night."
Dear, beloved father, there is nothing you can do anymore. We had to depart, although we were so afraid of this moment. So may you rest in peace, finally - my hand in your big warm hand, your kind eyes with me always. Your words: "Never give up hope for Jerusalem's future."
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