Veterans: The first 50 are the hardest

A fascinating journey through half a century of aliya.

David Herman met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2014 to sing a tribute to his brother the late Yonatan Netanyahu (photo credit: Courtesy)
David Herman met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2014 to sing a tribute to his brother the late Yonatan Netanyahu
(photo credit: Courtesy)
On February 27, 1966, David Herman and his wife, Valerie, made aliya – encouraged, he says, “by my late parents, Reuven Guy and Rachel Leah Herman, who themselves made aliya in 1969” – to the Bet Giora Absorption Center in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood.
Shortly after, they moved into an apartment on the newly named Avraham Stern Street in Jerusalem, “we little foresaw the transformation that was about to be wrought for Israel, for the Jewish people, and the map of the Middle East by the miraculous, momentous events of the Six Day War,” Herman says.
These events, he goes on, “introduced us to the dark side of living in the young State of Israel as we spent several anxiety- filled weeks in the basement of our building with other new immigrant tenants from around the world before the IDF achieved an incredible six-day victory on land and sea and in the air.”
Over the next seven years, Herman taught English at Kiryat Noar and at the Hebrew University’s Mechina program.
He also began a doctoral thesis in the university’s Spanish Department about the poetry and plays of the prominent 17th-century Amsterdam Marrano poet and playwright Daniel Levi de Barrios.
Although he never finished his thesis, he did manage to translate one of Barrios’s plays, Contra La Verdad No Hay Fuerza (“Nothing Can Withstand the Truth”), a three-act allegory about the victims of the Inquisition, which was subsequently published.
His wife became, he says, “queen of the cuisine.” Her numerous activities included cookery demonstrations with WIZO for new immigrant mothers; cookery courses for child-caregivers at the Emunah Training School; and basic cooking courses for brides at the Shmuel Hanavi Community Center.
“On top of all this, she also found time to be chairperson of the Beit Hakerem Emunah group,” he says.
Together with “my printer-friend and partner, South Africa-born Rafi Dobrin,” Herman founded English News, “a series of simplified English newspapers for the elementary, junior high, high-school and matriculation levels.”
However, he goes on, “we barely had time to prepare and go to print with the first issue when the alarms went off for the start of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and we were both mobilized; I was called up to serve in the Rabbinical Corps, ending the war stationed on the other side of the Suez Canal, but without having seen real action.”
On October 17, 1973, Herman received news that his beloved stepbrother, Zalman (who survived the Holocaust in Poland while hidden in monasteries), had been killed by Syrian sniper fire during a tank attack on Mount Hermon. Zalman was buried on Mount Herzl, leaving behind a young wife and two sons, Yaron and Yair, one of whom is today an adviser to the IDF chief of staff. Zalman himself, Herman notes, achieved prominence as a financial adviser at Bank Leumi.
After the Yom Kippur War, Herman and Dobrin, along with cartoonist Baruch Berniker (“and our devoted packer, Moshe Israeli”) continued with their newspapers for schools: the ABC Times (elementary school level), Just for You (junior high), English News (high school) and Bagrut Times (matriculation level). They also published simplified newspapers for pupils studying French and Arabic.
In the mid 1990s, he began to write songs.
“Among them were a song I wrote for Natan Sharansky before he was released from Soviet prison, and the ‘Sabraman Theme,’ in tribute to the legendary Israeli comic-book superman Sabraman, with story line by Uri Fink – whom I discovered at age 14, and is today Israel’s leading comic-book artist,” he says.
“Another song I am proud of is my tribute to Yonatan Netanyahu and the [1976] Entebbe rescue,” he continues.
“In April 2014, I had the honor of singing it to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his office. An additional wellknown song of mine is called ‘Jerusalem Rock,’ which is the only rock and roll song I know of about Jerusalem.”
In more recent years, Herman wrote “Popeye Oleh Le’yisrael” (Popeye Makes Aliya) and developed one-man musical shows on Jerusalem, Zionism and the Bible (Sing Jerusalem 3000; If You Will it, It is no Dream; It Says So in the Bible) and Beacons in the Dark, songs in tribute to rescuers of Jews such as Raoul Wallenberg.
Herman’s connection to the Wallenberg saga began in the 1980s with the establishment of the Jerusalem Raoul Wallenberg Rescue Committee.
He himself organized demonstrations calling on the Soviet government to release Wallenberg or at least tell the truth about his disappearance and fate in the gulag. He is still in contact with Wallenberg’s nieces, Louise and Marie.
“Failing to make musical headlines in Israel,” he says, “I was forced to turn to my writing and linguistic abilities, for which I had been well prepared by my youthful years at the French Lycée [Lycée Charles de Gaulle] in South Kensington, [London] prior to winning a scholarship to Selwyn College, Cambridge – the first full kippa-sporting Jew to be accepted there and eventually become chairman of the University Israel Society.”
He became a freelance translator and wrote “a couple of serio-comic novels – Bestseller (based on my experience as a publisher preparing for the Jerusalem International Book Fair), and The Golden Eggs of Sacramontes, “about an ordinary Englishman whose parents reveal to him the fact of their Marrano background, and that he is in fact Jewish, which leads him to go back to the Portuguese village of Sacramontes with the Israel Air Force in tow to rescue all the Marrano villagers there and bring them safely to Israel.”
Sadly, tragedy struck his family again.
“Nothing had prepared me for the blow I suffered on December 11, 2013, when I received a phone call telling me that my beloved stepson, Lee Yoel, had died aged 39,” Herman says. “I read a poem I had written as a eulogy to Lee at the shloshim by his grave....”
APPROACHING THE 50th anniversary of his aliya, Herman “suddenly found myself on my back at 5:30 a.m.
in my apartment, unable to move or call for help until 8 p.m., when help arrived thanks to the intervention of my dear brother, Jonathan, and his son, Amnon,” he says.
“They had me whisked off to the Shaare Zedek [Medical Center] emergency room by an amazingly well-organized Magen David Adom ambulance team, and there I remained for a couple of days, subject to a battery of tests by a wonderful and caring emergency room staff,” he says.
“Here I am now,” he adds, “50 years on, a divorced man, wedded to Jerusalem and the Land of Israel, proud father of a very talented musician daughter named Sara Malka, and grandfather of two delightful children named Talia and Aryeh.”
He hopes they will join him soon in this country.
“For a Jew,” he concludes, “there can be no greater joy in this world than to walk in Jerusalem and inhale the sweet air of the Holy Land, and be surrounded at every step by my Jewish brothers and sisters.”
David Herman is currently recording the catchy “English Is Easy,” to encourage pupils. It will be produced in time for the English Teachers’ Association in Israel Conference in Jerusalem, March 30, and be available on YouTube.