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THE WRITER’S favorite photo with her sister, when she was 14 (left) and Bobbie 21..(Photo by: Courtesy)
A gift to the heart
Happy 95th birthday, my beloved sister
There are many quotations about sisters. None of them fully pay tribute to my sister Bobbie, whose 95th birthday is on September 12. I tried to verbalize my feelings when I dedicated my latest novel, “Searching for Sarah” to her:
For my dear sister
Bobbie (Roberta Rhine)
Who has always been there for me –
my whole life.

We are the last of five siblings (two brothers and three sisters), all much older. I was an afterthought and probably quite a shock for my mother, who was 40 when I was born. The one closest to me in age was Bobbie, seven years older, who became a second mother to me. We were a poor family during the Depression years of the 1930s, but when she got her first job at 17, Bobbie gave half of her wages to our mother every week and, from the small amount left, always bought me a gift. Sometimes a book, and once a pair of sandals I remember to this day … beige, with tiny strips of multi-colored leather. How I loved them, as all my other clothes were hand-me-downs from my sisters.
When I was nine (and she was 16, in high school), there was an epidemic in Melbourne of what was then known as “infantile paralysis” and is now called “polio.” The Salk vaccine was still in the future, and all schools were closed for three months. Children were forbidden to go anywhere with crowds – the beach, the cinema, public parks. In fact, you were mainly restricted to your own street.
Bobbie could have spent the long days with her peers, but instead she dedicated them to me, trying to find ways for me to enjoy the endless, forced holiday. We read together Louisa Alcott’s Little Women and acted the parts… she was the tomboy Jo and I always wanted to be Amy, who had golden curls and captured the heart of the boy next door. Then we’d have caterpillar hunts, seeing who could find the most in the grapevine crawling over our wooden fence. We’d collect them in a jar and later release them down the lane where the bluebells grew.
When she joined the Army during World War II, I was heartbroken, as she was sent thousands of miles away to Queensland to work in radar. After the war, she went to Teachers’ College and, although I was so much younger, she shared with me the books she was assigned to read – Brighton Rock and A Stone for Danny Fisher. She also taught me the mantra:
 Writers are dreamers
Head in the skies;
 Readers are sharing
 Another man’s eyes.
Together with my mother, it was her encouragement that led me to a writing life, plus her sharing with me sophisticated books at a young age.
Often we were separated for years at a time, but we always stayed in touch. Somehow we were blessed with an extra sense that whispered when the other needed them. When my family came to Israel in the early 1970s, overseas telephone calls were exorbitantly expensive and we relied on letters. One day I had an overpowering urge to speak to her, without knowing why. I went to the Jaffa Road post office and booked a call to her. When she answered, through her tears, she told me that her husband had just passed away. Another time, when I was going through a bad period, she left her family and flew from Australia to Jerusalem, to be with me.
Through the nearly nine decades we have been sisters, we have never lost touch. We went once on a holiday to Paris together; and also to Greece. She is a gifted poet, although she laughs at me when I tell her. I cherish her poems, especially one she wrote in Greece in 2001, which she called “Sisters”:

In a park in Athens, eating cherries,
Jacaranda trees, a painted backdrop,
A balloon seller, Pokemon,
Mickey Mouse, a spotted dog –
How vulgar against ancient pillars!
Girls in Greek costumes,
eyes like kalamatta olives
Dancing to traditional music.
I am sad, for we are parting –
You to your homeland
I to mine. Families waiting,
And though our bonds are strong
We must go where we belong
Hearts aching.
Happy 95th birthday, my beloved sister. You are a gift to the heart. A friend to the spirit. A golden thread to the meaning of life. Thank you!

The writer, the author of 14 novels, has lived in Jerusalem for 48 years.
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