Uri Dan's last year

Today marks the end of the 30-day mourning period for the columnist, author and Sharon confidante.

uri dan 88 298 (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
uri dan 88 298
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Uri Dan's last year was one of the most significant and seemingly longest in his life, although it began a few days after the official date, with Ariel Sharon's falling into a coma on the evening of January 5. It ended on the morning of December 25, with the death of "Sharon's man." "The memories flood me like a dream! Sometimes I want to cry." Those are the only words that I remember from that bus ride from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, on one of the first days of that same month of January. Uri returned from another bedside visit with Sharon and I from some newspaper work. We agreed to meet in the capital's central bus station in order to return to Tel Aviv together. We sat behind the driver, Uri introspective, silent, and I respected his wishes. But the depression was short-lived. "We'll meet in Jaffa this Shabbat; we have lots of work," said Uri, before a cab took him home from the bus station, to Rehov Oppenheimer in Ramat Aviv. Rehov Tzedef in Jaffa, however, was his second home and his fortress, filled with books, pictures, memories and souvenirs dedicated, for the most part, how not, to Ariel Sharon. An old house, in Arab or perhaps Spanish style, at any rate Jerusalem-like, where he liked to work by himself. Shortly before my trip to Paris in early February he gave me there, and also in Colors, a neighborhood caf in Ramat Aviv where we used to meet over the last 20 years, the draft of the book he was writing feverishly, Intimate Talks with Ariel Sharon. In fact, the conversations had already been edited, taped and translated. The new chapters that were now added were "windows," one for each talk, in which Uri relives his acquaintanceship and relations with Sharon since the onset of their wonderful friendship in March 1954 and until the days after the withdrawal, from parts of Eretz Yisrael and from the Likud (but not from the friendship). My job was to translate the new chapters that together with the talks constituted a kind of history of Israel over the last 50 years from a fascinating vantage point. I became afflicted with the same bug as Uri Dan, with the burning desire for his writing. I found myself not only translating, but also proofreading, making notes and participating in the project, in which I sank, days and nights at home and in the Paris cafes of that winter. We were in daily contact by fax and telephone. I would send the edited material by e-mail directly to the publisher, Michel Lafon, in Paris. Influenced by my month-long stay in Paris, and apparently by what is customary in Parisian journalism, I suggested to Uri that he leave the politics, the army and history aside and tell about current affairs: food, fashion, love. I reminded him of stories he had told over the years of unrequited love, etc. And so it was. Thus we continued to work after my return to Israel in March. But that wasn't enough for Uri. He had more plans: another book about Arik, one on Zvi Malchin ("the spy of the century") on which he was laboring and maybe an autobiography. It was a very nice Independence Day Eve. We left Meir Amit's party in Ramat Gan and while chatting below the Azrieli Towers, we continued making plans. One was in the implementation stages, a documentary film on Sharon, and the main interviewee was Uri Dan. In the footage done on the porch of his Jaffa house he seemed pale to me and I told him so. That was just before the war when we were sitting in one of the seafood restaurants he so loved, going on about the government or choosing to forget it and remembering other days when we sat at Pockets in Paris sipping cognac after which we'd stride along the Champs Elys es, exchanging experiences from our work in the French press, where we also had many friends in common, mainly from the editorial board of Paris Match. Uri Dan belonged to its class, and I represented it in Israel after Uri. On the occasion of the book's appearance in Paris in October, Uri came to the City of Lights, exhausted, accompanied by his wife and son. I didn't manage to see him, scarcely speaking with him on the phone. Nonetheless he was interviewed in the various media. "I'll sign a book for you," he promised me. But I never made it to that last meeting. I am left with an unsigned book, like my beloved six-year-old nephew Benjamin was left once with half a promise and did not receive what he wanted - to meet Sharon. I took him, instead to meet Sharon's friend in Jaffa. Adieu l'ami. The writer was a reporter for Agence France-Presse in Jerusalem (1990-2002) and also a teacher of French, history and philosophy. Once a reporter for Ha'olam Hazeh, he is today a freelance writer for Paris Match and also for CAPA TV and CANAL PLUS.