Veterans: Unshakable faith

Kaila Shabat recalls her painful past and discusses the memoir she wrote to help others.

Kaila Shabat 521 (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Kaila Shabat 521
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
After many years of battling what she refers to as insanity, Kaila Shabat has written her memoirs. Today, completely cured of the mental illness that shadowed her life, she feels able to speak out about it at last, in the hope that recounting her own experiences will help other people.
“I have a lot to say about psychiatric treatment in general,” says the 66-year-old mother of two who made aliya in 1970. “My saving grace is my wonderful husband, David, who I met in 1967 when I came here as a volunteer – and who has stood loyally by my side through all my years of illness.”
The memoir – I Missed the Spring – is written under the name of Katherine Rubin and can be bought on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other websites.
“It was very important for me to get my terrible past behind me,” says Shabat.
Born into a wealthy London family in 1947, she and her baby brother were sent to live in the family’s country estate when the Chelsea apartment in which she lived with her mother and father became too crowded.
“My father and his brother were antique dealers in London and we had a beautiful country home where I and my brother lived, cared for by servants,” she recounts.
“My parents would come down at weekends and every Monday morning they would return to London, leaving us with minders. So every week I had to endure a cruel separation from them.”
Although Shabat has no clear recollection, she feels she was sexually abused during this time. As she writes in her book, referring to herself in the third person, “although the horrors of her early years were mercifully erased from her conscious mind, the details of Kaila’s ordeal were indelibly engraved in every cell of her body and ripple of her soul.’ Years of hospitalization, powerful medication and inability to function followed the childhood traumas.
Today, totally free of the illness that accompanied her for much of her life, she can talk freely about life in Israel and what she sees as her mission for the future.
In 1967, like many other youngsters inspired by the events of the Six Day War, Shabat came as a volunteer to Kibbutz Beit Alfa at the foot of the Gilboa range. She saw David, now her husband, in a jeep driving around the kibbutz, still in his army uniform. She turned to a friend and said “I’ve seen the man I’m going to marry – this will be my husband and he will be good to me and take care of me.”
Sure enough, the relationship blossomed and after the year on kibbutz was over, she and David returned to London and announced their intention to get married.
Her parents were not thrilled that their future sonin- law was a penniless kibbutznik, but faced with their daughter’s determination, they agreed. Getting the groom to dress in the traditional morning coat and striped trousers of the British upper crust proved easier than they had expected. The wedding took place in London in 1969. When the decision was taken to move to Israel, Kaila became ill with the colitis that dogged her all her life and was triggered by separation from loved ones and childhood memories.
The doctor told David he could have the marriage annulled.
“She is never going to get better,” he said. ”But if you take her to Israel, do it now while she is still unwell.”
In 1970, the couple made aliya, and once again she had to endure the separation from beloved parents that over the years had caused so much pain.
In 1973, with David away fighting in the war, a small daughter at home and pregnant with her son, it was all too much for her fragile mental health. The feeling of loss and separation intensified. She began to write poetry and produced many fine poems until the manic depression overwhelmed her.
“ I had a nervous breakdown and never wrote another word for 25 years,” she recalls.
In 2001 her medication changed, and suddenly she was writing again.
“I started a journal which I’ve been writing ever since,” she says.
Poetry flowed out of her and she has published several volumes. One, about a Holocaust survivor, was accepted at Yad Vashem.
The message she wants to convey is that people can be put on pills when they are young, and it can affect their whole life.
“I feel I lost a lot of years because of psychiatric medication,” says Shabat.
Although not raised in a very Jewish environment and with a husband who grew up in a Hashomer Hatza’ir kibbutz, she has found spiritual support from Brit Olam, a Reform congregation near her home.
“I have absolute faith that there is a God,” she says.
Shabat is very active in the synagogue – she sometimes leads the Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat prayers and sings in the services accompanying herself on the harp, which she is still learning.
She is an active member of the Voices Israel poetry group. Swimming and Pilates are other aspects of her life which she enjoys. Her daughter, now 41, works in high finance, and her son, 39, works with autistic adults.
She is happy to have put the years of mental illness behind her and to be able to enjoy life in Israel with the husband she met so many years ago.
“He’s always there for me,” Shabat says.