Veterans: Edna Hefetz, 77, From Montreal to Jerusalem, 1949

Edna Hefetz was married to an extraordinary Israeli, Uriel Hefetz, who lost his life in an attempt to save the children of Ma'alot during the 1974 terror attack.

edna hefetz 298 (photo credit: courtesy)
edna hefetz 298
(photo credit: courtesy)
Edna Hefetz was married to an extraordinary Israeli, Uriel Hefetz, who lost his life in an attempt to save the children of Ma'alot during the 1974 terror attack. "When you want to know about my life, I have to tell you about my husband," says the aristocratic Canadian, with tears in her eyes. "He had a strong impact on my life. Beside his regular business as a leather manufacturer, he was an inventor who developed hundreds of patents for the developing Israeli arms industry and he won the Medal for Israel's Security 10 times. He was a member of the IZL, detained by the British in Africa for five years before the state." So how did a 19-year-old girl from Montreal meet such a man in the first place? PREPARATION Edna was born into a Zionist family in 1930. Her father taught his children Hebrew and, as a member of Bnei Akiva, she took part in a huge demonstration in Madison Square Garden which even preceded David Ben-Gurion's declaration of independence. "There was great joy," she remembers. "It was obvious that I would go to Israel. My older sister was already established on a kibbutz and I had finished my teaching diploma. I just packed up and left." THE JOURNEY "We were a whole garin of Bnei Akiva and we traveled on the S.S. Neptunia. We called it the Schleptunia because the journey took forever and the food was terrible. We used to have long discussions about what awaited us and it wasn't at all certain that everyone would stay." ARRIVAL She was met by her sister, who took her to her kibbutz in Western Galilee. "I knew I wouldn't stay. Kibbutz life in those days meant sharing everything and was definitely not for me. Frankly I don't think it's a natural way of life for anyone." SETTLING IN After about a month, Hefetz moved to Jerusalem and got a job as a teacher. "I couldn't teach English, as my Hebrew was not good enough, so I taught singing - without a piano," she recalls. The school was far from the room she was renting in Katamon - it took two or three buses to get there - and had been damaged in the War of Independence. Rain came through holes in the roof and buckets were placed around to stop the floors from flooding. There were 40 impoverished children to a class and the discipline was nonexistent. "I used to go to work in a skirt and white gloves and they laughed at me. I simply didn't realize how unacceptable this was in those days, but they thought it was a riot and they quickly let me know I didn't fit in. After two months of this nightmare, my future husband, whom I'd met through friends one Saturday night in Jerusalem, said: 'Why suffer? Come and work for me.' Soon after we were married and I became an Israeli housewife." DAILY LIFEM "It was all quite primitive," she says. "I was 19 and had no idea how to cook and there was little food to be had. Everything was rationed, even the moldy-looking apples and rotten tomatoes. Once a week you could get a chicken, but you had to buy it live and take it to the shohet [ritual slaughterer] and I couldn't touch a live chicken, so my husband used to go. "Luckily we got care packages from my father in Canada. We used to receive a letter with a ticket, and you could go to a warehouse and pick up tins of salmon and peas, nothing fresh. "Everyone had a Wonderpot and cooked on a paraffin stove. My father came to visit and was aghast when he saw me cooking with paraffin. He went back to Canada and sent me a gas stove, a refrigerator and a washing machine. "It wasn't that bad - everyone was in the same boat and you accepted the situation. We felt that we were young and it could only get better." OBSTACLES "All of life was an obstacle because of the lack of amenities, but at the time I didn't look at it that way. There was very little money and no one had anything, but we were all equal. There wasn't the gap between rich and poor that you see today. "We were aware that something good was happening for the Jews and that was more important than the difficulties we encountered in our lives." LANGUAGE Hefetz picked up spoken Hebrew very quickly, having had a good basis in Canada. She spoke Hebrew with her husband and her five children. She read a Hebrew newspaper every day to improve her knowledge of the language. LIFE SINCE ALIYA Hefetz enrolled in night courses at Bezalel Academy of Art in the early 1950s. "They were looking for students, so it wasn't difficult to get accepted," she says modestly. "We were taught everything - painting, drawing and sculpture - and the teachers were some of the best painters of the day, people like Yossi Stern, Isidor Ascheim and others." In 1974 her husband traveled to Ma'alot as his inventive brain had come up with an idea for extricating the children being held hostage by the terrorists who had infiltrated from Lebanon. When Edna is asked what idea, she replies tersely, "Chutes as in an airplane." The rescuers were unable to put Uriel Hefetz's plan into action and he was shot in crossfire. "He was in a wheelchair for five years, completely incapacitated. I ran the factory for all that time but eventually sold out and, after he died, I moved to Tel Aviv." It was in Tel Aviv that she took up her art again, producing her marble and some bronze sculptures. One of her daughters, Sari Pomeranz, inherited her talents and is a well-known glass artist, and another daughter is a sculptor. Ten years ago, Hefetz moved to Kfar Saba to be nearer to some of the children and grandchildren. BEST THING ABOUT ISRAEL Hefetz looks at me long and hard before replying. "I can't answer that question. It is a big disappointment to me. In the last few years, things have deteriorated so much and the politics is completely rotten. I hope and pray things will improve - we need a strong positive leader. When I look back to what we put into this country, the results have been terrible with the corruption everywhere." ADVICE TO NEW IMMIGRANTS "They should be more modest in their expectations, then they won't be disappointed. I don't regret being here even though I'm disappointed in the country. It was wonderful to be able to contribute to building the country. My husband did so much and one of my sons-in-law was a pilot who took part in the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor. They didn't do what they did for rewards but to help the country, and I hope it will still have been worth it." To propose an immigrant for a 'Veterans' profile, please send a one paragraph e-mail to: