Born with the state

When 100 Israelis celebrated this Sunday, it wasn't your usual party.

israel 60 224 promo (photo credit: )
israel 60 224 promo
(photo credit: )
It wasn't your usual milestone birthday party. For one thing it wasn't just one person's birthday. It wasn't even two or three. It was 100 people - and no it wasn't a mass bar mitzva celebration of the kind organized by Chabad or the IDF department that cares for widows and orphans of fallen soldiers. The people celebrating this birthday were somewhat older. In fact, they were as old as the state itself - and not just because they were born in 1948 like former cabinet minister Natan Sharansky or MK Avishay Braverman. These people were actually born on 5 Iyar, 5708 (May 14, 1948), the day on which David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel's Declaration of Independence. Some were born at exactly the moment that he uttered those all-important words; others a few hours earlier or later. All were guests on Sunday of President Shimon Peres, who would have hosted them a day earlier, their actual birthday, but it was Shabbat. Some of those present had not seen each other in 40 years - the last time a president had honored them with a birthday party. Several complained that only twice in their lifetimes had they been invited to meet the president on their birthday. The first time was when they were 10 years old and they were invited by president Yitzhak Ben-Zvi to meet them in his legendary hut in Jerusalem's Rehavia neighborhood. The second time was when they were 20 and president Zalman Shazar wished them all happy birthday. The males born on 5 Iyar were honored one more time when they were the guests of Jerusalem's Great Synagogue. Over the years several of the people who shared a birthday with the state wrote to the incumbent president to ask that he receive them - and the request was never granted. Some of those who were at Beit Hanassi this week surmised that they were invited this year not only because it was a milestone year for the state, but also because the theme of the 60th anniversary celebrations is the Children of Israel, and under those circumstances, Israelis born on the same day as the state could hardly be ignored. Ruhama Avraham-Balila, the minister responsible for coordinating 60th anniversary events, has been given credit for bringing the 5 Iyar babies together. "It was a long process," said Noga Bondi, who works in her office. "We advertised asking people to send a photo and a copy of their ID card. We had a notice on the Internet. We did a lot of research and we also coordinated with the Interior Ministry to check that details sent to us were correct." The crowd gathered on the lawns of Beit Hanassi represented a large swathe of the Israel mosaic - European, North African and Middle Eastern parentage; sabras and foreign born; religious and secular; affluent and non-affluent; retirees and workaholics; people who will remain eternally young and people who were old before their time. Some of those who were born in other countries came to the nascent state as babies or young children. Among those born here was the very first Israeli, Ben-Zion Saar, who came into the world only minutes after Ben-Gurion's declaration. Saar's late mother Leah, in a 1952 interview, recalled that she was about to visit her father in the Yemenite Quarter of Tel Aviv, when she felt terrible cramps in her abdomen. The pain was so strong that she could not even call out and literally fell on the ground just as she reached the front door. She understood that she was about to give birth and, to her good fortune, a group of IZL fighters passed by and took her to Hadassah Hospital in Tel Aviv, where soon after a nurse handed her a bundle and said: "Mazal tov. Your baby is the first child to be born in the State of Israel." Saar, who is employed by the Tel Aviv Municipal Water Corporation, is married and the father of four. IF ANYONE among the 5 Iyar babies was destined to be born on that date it was hotelier Ami Federmann whose father Samuel (Samo) and uncle Yekutiel founded the Dan chain of hotels. Together with his cousin Michael, Federmann owns 66 percent of the publicly traded Dan Hotels which grew out of the flagship Kate Dan, a 31-room boarding house purchased by the Federmann brothers in 1947. The boarding house was on the Tel Aviv sea front, an area extremely familiar to Yekutiel and Samo who had pulled dozens of illegal immigrants out of the water before they were seen and traced by the British Mandate authorities. Unlike many of the other 5 Iyar kids who were excited by the event or who could parallel many things in their own lives with the history of the state, Federmann maintained an air of indifference. "We didn't do anything, it was just our luck to be born on 5 Iyar," he said, cocking a thumb in the direction of his mother Ruth. "It's all her fault. She's to blame." Golda Meir, Moshe Sharett, Zalman Shazar and others were congregated in the Kate Dan, waiting for Ben-Gurion's announcement. "When are you going to give birth?" Golda asked her anxiously. "When the British are gone," replied Ruth. And that's exactly what she did. Later in the day Ben-Gurion returned and was confronted by internationally renowned journalist Quentin Reynolds who had been poking around the hotel for a colorful side bar to the news. "How many soldiers do you have?" he asked Ben-Gurion, who, taking the tack that the nation was the army, replied 650,000. At which point Samo Federmann interjected: "Now it's 650,001." AMONG THOSE not born in Israel were Bella Diamant, deputy editor of Internet magazine Motke, and David Bianco, a second-generation cameraman, working for more than 35 years for ABC. They were both born in Paris. Bianco, whose parents hailed from Egypt, was born in Paris because his father went there to study photography. As soon as he completed his studies, the family moved to Ramat Gan, where Bianco still lives. He attributed his youthful appearance to never begrudging anyone anything. "When I was growing up in Ramat Gan, everyone knew it was my birthday. The whole neighborhood knew. They didn't celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut. They celebrated Dudu's birthday." His work with ABC included covering the Vietnam War in which he was wounded, the war in the Falkland Islands, the massacre in Tiananmen Square, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the release from prison of Nelson Mandela as well as meetings between political leaders such as Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat and the interview conducted with them by Barbara Walters. Diamant is the daughter of Polish Holocaust survivors who, after being liberated from Auschwitz, found themselves in Paris. They were placed by Aliya Bet agents in a palace in the northern part of the French capital where they waited to be taken to Israel. Diamant is not sure to whom the palace belonged but suspects that it was one of the estates of the Rothschilds or some other wealthy Jewish family. Because she was born there, she was nicknamed the princess, and on every visit to France makes sure that she visits the palace which she regrets to say is now in a state of neglect. When she was two years old, Diamant's family came here. In high school one of her teachers was a young Holocaust survivor by the name of Yisrael Meir Lau, who later became chief rabbi of Israel and is currently chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, where Diamant lives. Somewhat superstitious, Diamant consulted an astrologer some 30 years ago and asked to have her chart done. When the astrologer learned her birth date, she sent her home without a chart and told her to simply watch the progress of the state and to note the extent to which it reflected her own life. "When the country has a crisis, you will have a crisis," she was told. "When all goes well for the country, it will go well for you too." According to Diamant, that's exactly the way things turned out. "Now I'm worried about all this Olmert business, because if the country suffers as a result, so will I." Diamant has always been in the communications business, starting out at the Government Press Office where it was her job to assist foreign media. She subsequently spent a long stretch as a producer at NBC News. After that she opened her own public relations firm. Then Jeunesse Cosmetics grabbed her as an in-house PR person. When Internet publications started to develop in Israel, she was offered the job of deputy editor on Motke. "I love journalism much more than PR," she explained, "and Motke offers lots of challenge and stimulation." It also gives her amazing insights into how people who are much older than she is continue to contribute to the development of society through a myriad of voluntary endeavors and ongoing activity in a large variety of professions. RETIRED ARCHITECT Etia Freund of Savyon brought her nine-year-old granddaughter Daniella, who had told her whole class that her savta was born on the same day as the state and she was going to celebrate with her at Beit Hanassi. "My whole raison d'etre is just to enjoy life," said Freund. "My daughter-in-law always tells me that I've got style, even with my birthday." Public relations executive Amikam Shapira, who was a government ministry spokesman for many years before opening his own firm, was born in Tel Aviv. On the day that Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the state, he also undertook a couple of speaking engagements as well. Shapira's parents went to listen to him, and his mother apparently got so excited that she went into labor. When he was five years old, Shapira received a scholarship from then Tel Aviv mayor Yisrael Rokach which paid for his education until he completed university. While still a child, Shapira decided to visit Ben-Gurion at his office, but was not allowed in. Indignant at such a slight, he protested loudly, saying that it was because of Ben-Gurion that he celebrated his birthday on 5 Iyar. His argument was persuasive and he was permitted to visit the founding prime minister. In the course of his work, Shapira is occasionally invited to lecture. When he mentions that he was born on the same day as the state, the response is invariably the same. "You may have been, but you look better." Dr. Avi Hassner, who practices at Ichilov Hospital, grew up in Gedera, and like Bianco celebrated his birthday with the whole community. The impact of being born on the same day as the state did not really hit him until he was in his 20s and began to develop political awareness. Despite the country's many achievements, he's a little disappointed in the way it has turned out. "The solidarity that existed when I was younger just isn't there any more." Is there a solution? "The solution lies with the leadership. You can't expect private people to do much about it." How does he visualize Israel over the next 60 years? "Let's just get past the next 10, and then we'll talk about it." IN HER ADDRESS, Avraham-Balila noted that many of the people born together with Israel were given names such as Tikva, Yisrael and Zion - and indeed one of the proofs of this was Tikva Sasson, a Ness Ziona kindergarten teacher who is the mother of three and grandmother of six. She was born in Iraq. During April-May 1948, Jews were being beaten up in the streets because it was thought that they were Zionist sympathizers. A neighbor came to tell her father, who had a shortwave radio, that news had come through that the flag of the Jewish people was being waved in the streets of Eretz Yisrael. That must mean something of great import was about to happen. The neighbor went and got some other friends who, dressed in Arab garb, made their way to her father's house. They were stopped en route and questioned, but because of their apparel, were able to convince their interrogators they were Arabs. Meanwhile Sasson's father took her pregnant mother to the roof for safety. When the guests arrived, they too were ushered to the roof, where they all listened eagerly to the radio. They heard Ben-Gurion, and then when they heard "Hatikva" the baby was born and gave her first cry. The symbolism could not escape any of those present and she was given the name Tikva in the hope that the family would soon leave for Israel. They made aliya in 1951. In his address, Peres remarked that while his guests had already reached midlife, the state, which runs at a different pace, was still young.