Joseph and Cecilia 311.
(photo credit: Wendy Blumfield)
Avisit to Joseph Hirsh brings home the harsh side of life for many pensioners here. For unlike so many veterans featured in this column, Hirsh is not living in comfortable retirement, nor is he healthy or wealthy enough to pursue interesting hobbies or travel.
He still lives in a tiny walk-up apartment on the third floor in Sha’ar Aliya, a Haifa neighborhood built for immigrants in the early years of the state. It is in this apartment that he lived with his first wife, who died 18 months ago, and brought up his six children.
His life has been brightened over the past few months, however, by his
new wife, Cecilia, an energetic, feisty woman who immigrated from South
Africa in 1991 to look after her ailing sister.
They met at the pensioners club, another activity that brightens the
life of pensioners who would otherwise be lonely and unoccupied.ADVENTUROUS PAST
Hirsh escaped from Romania during the Second World War. He made his way
to Italy and volunteered in the Hagana, which at that time had formed
the Jewish Brigade in the British army. His family survived the war but
Hirsh came to Israel alone at the birth of the country’s independence in
1948. On the way he met his first wife, a refugee from Poland, and
together they settled in Haifa.AFTER ALIYA
Fighting in four of Israel’s wars in the Israel Navy and later as a
reservist, he spent his working life laboring in the Haifa Port.
“When I was in the navy, I worked on the Artza and the Negba, bringing
immigrants, Holocaust survivors from Europe,” he reminisces.
Cecilia reminded him that he was an officer and had been awarded medals for his service.FAMILY
One of his sons fell in Lebanon and another died later. His surviving
four children are married and he has nine grandchildren, all living in
Haifa and the North, but he says sadly, “I don’t see them very much.”LANGUAGE
Joseph speaks no English and Cecilia has very little Hebrew, so their
language of communication is Yiddish. “I never studied Hebrew,” he says,
“I just picked it up in the navy and later on in the port.”RETIREMENT
Hirsh’s resources were severely strained throughout his working life.
With six children, there were no opportunities to save or buy the
apartment. So today, in failing health, he finds it hard to cope. “I
can’t even afford to get new teeth,” a problem which makes his speech
and eating difficult. He is grateful that he sees and hears well. But he
constantly worries about paying the basic bills, rent, electricity and
medication for his hypertension.
The pensioners’ club organized by the German Immigrants Association is
the highlight of his week. It was there that he met Cecilia. “The women
were all jealous of me,” she says. He agrees that she was lucky, but
seems to appreciate a woman’s touch in the bright clean flat.
The newlyweds are transported three times a week to the club on the
Carmel and spend the day there with activities which include a cooked
“It’s nice to go there,” he says. “They have music and we tell stories from life, stories of Eretz Yisrael; we have trips.”
Cecilia who admits that she is a couple of years older than Joseph,
volunteers once a week at the club for the blind on the Hadar.
She helps the members with their handicrafts and serves the tea. She has
persuaded Joseph to go with her and wants to encourage him to do more
“We came here because we were Jews,” Joseph says. “We were lucky to
survive. I was always content to live here, but life has been hard and
it is difficult to cope.”
He explains how he scraped together the money to pay for a plot for himself next to his first wife’s grave.
“I gave my life to this land,” he concludes.