Compassion, determination and paprika

In memory of my parents.

Ariel Sharon, then defense minister, with his wife Lily and their son, Gilad, while visiting the Suez Canal area in Egypt on January 19, 1982 (photo credit: GPO/REUTERS)
Ariel Sharon, then defense minister, with his wife Lily and their son, Gilad, while visiting the Suez Canal area in Egypt on January 19, 1982
(photo credit: GPO/REUTERS)
On flowers and paprika (and the other three pillars of Hungarian cuisine: poppy seeds, melted butter and goose fat): In many ways, my mother was a Hungarian stereotype.
She had a great sense of humor and a passion for flowers, with which she filled our house and garden.
She was always cooking and baking wonderful delicacies, but she never followed a recipe precisely. She just did what felt right. In fact, feelings were a large part of who she was. Everything was emotional in the extreme.
“In the end a Rottweiler will let go of a child,” my brother used to say, “but not a Jewish mother.” She was a woman who never did anything by halves. There wasn’t an ounce of anemia in her. And like everything else she did, her devotion to us, to the family she loved with every fiber of her soul, was total.
On love and marriage: My mother accepted my father for who he was, except maybe for the issue of the diet she kept urging him to go on. And that’s despite the fact that our house was always bursting with her excellent food, which didn’t help her cause. He respected her, relied on her and had utter faith in her. As for her, she knew him to the depths of his soul.
“He can’t be alone,” she said to me before she died.
“He needs someone from the family around him. It gives him strength.”
She knew what he was going through, waited for him when he went off to war, was beside him in victory and tragedy. She knew the kind of lion she had in the house, and she didn’t try to tame him.
On compassion and determination: My father was tough. His toughness was matched only by his compassion. To those who met him on the battlefield, the compassion may not have been obvious, but when he came home he was carrying a heavy burden on his heart.
“He was a changed man when he returned,” my mother said after the Six Day War. The triumph and glory he brought back with him did not dull the pain he felt at the sight of every casualty and every grieving family, at the fate of the soldiers of Egypt’s Sixth Division and the Second Division he had wiped out. He was not indifferent to the bitter fate of the enemy.
“You learn to return to old habits / But your face, my boy, remains altered,” wrote David Atid.
From a young age, he felt a deep bond with the bereaved families of fallen soldiers.
“Dear Gulliver,” he wrote at the age of 22, “I was asked to write a few words in memory of our men who lost their lives. Since I haven’t finished them all and I’ve been called out for a week, please write about Mordecai Dutchiner, Ya’akov Zilberstein, Shalom Udi, Shlomo Glidai, and Elyakim Zamir. If you have pictures of them, send them too. Please note that these people have no family in Israel, and if we don’t commemorate their names, no one else will.”
This is how he described the unidentified soldiers of B Company: “On Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem, in a common grave for B Company, 32nd Battalion, Alexandroni Brigade, among 52 soldiers who fell in a single battle, lie four whose names are unknown. For the past 50 years, every time I pass the grave, I stop for a moment and wonder: Who are they? Where were they from? Where are their families? Is anyone left? Did anybody ever look for them, or perhaps is still looking for them? I have no answers. No one has the answers.”
On love and loss: Once there were a father and a mother and a child. Then there were only a father and a child, and then a father and a child and a mother, and then a father and a mother and three children, and then a father and a mother and only two children, and then a father and two sons, and then just two sons.
Someone is added and someone is taken away, families are created and the children grow up and have children and their parents pass away. A family is formed and more families sprout from it. One generation goes and another comes. It is inspiring and it is painful. It is also inevitable, no matter whether you scream in protest or accept it quietly. That’s how it’s always been and that’s how it will always be.
They are gone. From time to time I see a butterfly rising from their bed of flowers. Not long ago a rabbit hopped out of the flowers on their love nest.
The view from the hill is so beautiful that it touches the soul: the pastures and green fields, the anemones, daisies and irises, the rust-colored cows grazing all around, plainly enjoying the fresh grass. Nature in all its glory. Without a doubt, my parents would have loved the view. It is a fit setting for this extraordinary couple.
Translated from the Hebrew by Sara Kitai, [email protected]