Vetrans: No regrets

“My first time in Israel, I felt more at home here than I had ever been in England.”

(photo credit: ALAN ROSENBAUM)
Trim, bearded and armed with a rumbling baritone, Philip Marcus sits in his comfortable living room, holding court. This expression is used advisedly, since Marcus enjoyed a long and distinguished legal career here in Israel, both as an advocate and as a judge in Jerusalem’s Family Court.
Born in Birmingham, England, Marcus grew up in a traditionally minded family where kiddush was recited every Friday evening. He attended synagogue every Shabbat with his grandfather, and his parents kept a kosher home.
Marcus attended heder, and was a member of Jewish Youth Study Groups in high school, a pro-Zionist religious group. “It was there,” he says, “that I got the feel that there was something missing in my Jewish education.”
In March 1968, Marcus traveled to Israel for a five-month program at Kibbutz Shluhot, a religious kibbutz located near Beit She’an. Chuckling, Marcus recalls that the work they were given “was not appropriate to a townie from England.” “Injecting chickens at 3 a.m. and laying irrigation pipes at 40º centigrade in cotton fields was not my idea of a good time,” he says.
After six weeks, Marcus, who has a talent for languages, had picked up a reasonable amount of Hebrew, and left the kibbutz. He worked for the Israel Electric Corporation, climbing telegraph poles and painting pylons, and learned colloquial Hebrew from the work crew. The turning point in his five-month visit, he says, was the Jerusalem Independence Day parade in 1968. Marcus sat in front of the main post office on Jaffa Road, watching the troops marching, accompanied by tanks, as well as weapons captured in the Six Day War. Viewing the parade, he decided that Israel was the place where he wanted to live.
“My first time in Israel, I felt more at home here than I had ever been in England.” Interestingly, Marcus’s father had visited Israel once before, while serving as a soldier with the British Eighth Army in 1942, during the North Africa campaign.
Philip, who had spent a few weeks studying Talmud in Kfar Chabad, was fully observant by the time he returned to England. In the fall of 1968, he began his undergraduate studies in law, and was active in the Jewish student federation, as well as the campaign to free Soviet Jews. In 1972, he met Miriam Colman, and they married in 1974. By 1977, Philip and Miriam, with their three young children, were ready to move to Israel.
In December 1977, Zvi Tal, then a prominent Israeli lawyer, and later Supreme Court judge, had addressed their synagogue’s young married group, and told Marcus to inform him when he was coming to Israel. On August 1, 1978, Marcus and his brother made an unusual aliyah journey, complete with his car, a yellow Ford Cortina. They drove to Dover, then boarded a boat with the car that sailed to Calais, France. From France, they drove to Venice. They then boarded the boat in Venice, again with the car, and disembarked in Haifa, with their Ford. “It was, he says, “a classical aliyah on a ship, seeing Haifa at first light.”
The following day Marcus answered a knock at his door at the aliyah absorption center in Mevaseret Zion.
It was Tal, true to his word, who came to offer him a job. Marcus, who had been in Israel less than 24 hours, was stunned. After completing his training, he did his apprenticeship with Tal in the Jerusalem District Court.
Miriam and their children joined him in Israel a few days later, and they began their new lives in Israel. They enjoyed the absorption center and “made a fantastic group of friends.”
They eventually moved to Jerusalem’s Neveh Ya’acov neighborhood, and in 1984 relocated to Har Nof in Jerusalem, where they have remained since.
In 1979, Marcus opened his own law firm, and spent 15 years in private practice. In 1995, the government instituted the Family Courts Law, which concentrated all family law jurisdiction in a single, specialized court. Marcus, who had specialized in family law in the later years of his practice, applied to be a judge, and was accepted. During his judicial tenure, he studied at the University of Haifa in 2007-2008, earning a master’s degree in law. “I enjoyed being a judge tremendously. I enjoyed every minute of it.” The most rewarding part of serving as a judge, he says, was “being able to straighten things out for families, and particularly for the kids – resolving disputes in a way that would make sure that they would not reoccur, making order out of chaos.”
By 2012, he felt “burned out,” and he wanted to return to the world of academic writing and research. He retired, and since then, has lectured on family law at conferences in Israel and around the world, has written numerous articles, and is a permanent expert invited to meetings of Knesset committees on family law.
Marcus is outspoken on the modern concept of rights. “I came to the conclusion many years ago that there is something wrong about the doctrine of rights... In my court, the father would say, ‘I have the right to educate my child the way I see fit,’ and the mother would say ‘I have the right to educate my child the way I see fit.’ I would say to people, look, you have no rights. You have a joint responsibility to educate your child for his benefit, and therefore you have to work together on deciding what’s the best education for the child.”
Marcus and his wife have seven children. Five served in various branches of the IDF, and they are employed in varied professions: the head of a kollel, educator, paramedic, sound engineer, businessman, social worker and restaurant manager. In his free time, Marcus enjoys studying the daf yomi, as well as spending time with his 30-plus grandchildren.
Marcus has a deep regard for his Israeli beginnings. He proudly points to a photo of his son among a group of soldiers marching on Jaffa Road at the Independence Day Parade of 1992, taken from the very same spot where he had sat 24 years earlier at the 1968 parade, which had marked his decision to move to Israel. This August, he and his wife plan to visit Apartment 3b in the old absorption center in Mevaseret Zion, with the family, to mark the 40th anniversary of their aliyah, and to remember where it all began.
Comparing Israel of 1978 to Israel today, Marcus says emphatically, “It is miraculous. There’s no other word for it. We haven’t regretted our aliyah for a second.”