Travels with my aunt: Millicent Haberberg, 1928-2005

Israeli poet David Avidan said that death is like a person going abroad and not coming back. If I try hard, I can pretend my Aunt Mil, an inveterate traveler, is on a trip somewhere. Or I can make believe she is simply out of contact in England, not in the hospice where she died on November 8; nor in the apartment which she and her husband bought a couple of years ago, recognizing the need for somewhere smaller once their two children and four granddaughters had all grown up. I imagine her in the house in Barnet, near London - the house where family gatherings were held because Mil was the one who made sure the family met and that family history was passed on: the funny, the peculiar, the dramatic, the poignant - all those fragments that are indelibly i mprinted in your collective memory whether you want them to be or not. Aunt Mil was Millicent Haberberg (nee Cornbleet), one of "the three witches," good witches, each with her own special power and magic. My mother, may she live to 120, was the youngest and now only living member of a family of four siblings, physicist Uncle Sid and the hexen trio: Aunt Beck, a.k.a. Vigil-aunt (my own Mary Poppins); Mil, Milit-aunt (my sometime travel companion and often guide to life); and Julie/Yehudit, Jubil-aunt - my mum, who has lost not only her sister but her best friend. It is not a tragedy when a woman of 77 dies. Losing a six-year-old daughter, as Mil did, is a tragedy. The Holocaust, which wiped out almost all my Uncle Herbert's family, was a tragedy. St ill, it is sad when anyone dies, particularly someone who was so full of life and wisdom. The only two members of our family who never passed 1.5 meters, Mil taught me it's not the height and physical weight you carry that are important but how you carry them. Whatever she did, she did it with style, from cooking gourmet meals to designing and making the wedding dresses for her daughter and my sister. I think in life's journey, Mil's motto was not so much dare to be different as dare to be yourself. It was Mil who enabled me at age 16 to see Israel for the first time when she and Herbert rented an apartment for the summer and with characteristic generosity opened it up for the extended family - and our friends - for six weeks at a time. A proud Je w and Zionist in the mode of most of her Jewish contemporaries raised in London's East End, she wholly supported my family's decision to make aliya. Even on separate continents, we remained close, distance being no challenge when you have the sort of relationship in which you don't so much finish each other's sentences as think on the same wavelength without need for words. For years, Mil and I planned a trip to China that was not to be. After one last-minute cancellation, we took a radically different route - lacking a sense of direction was another thing we shared - and ended up traveling together to the Channel Islands. In Jersey, we wordlessly decided to skip the standard commercial tours of World War II memorabilia and stumbled instead on the stori es of Jews handed over to the occupying German forces, the stories holidaymakers don't come across but travelers like Mil do. It is strange to think that Mil is on a journey from which she will not return: There will be no wise insights into human natur e and national character; no funny tales of the foibles of travel companions and those met along the way. I have lost my aunt and mentor and my son has lost a great aunt in every sense. Mil, it is to hard to say "adieu," so I simply wish you a safe vo yage.n