Arik's Life Story

Over the next months I shall serialise the sadly short but nevertheless interesting story of Arik's life here

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Arik's happy early years

Arik was born in Tel-Aviv in November of 1974, a child of the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war.

I had come to Israel from England to study computers at the Bar-Ilan University and there I had met a young soldier, Yitzchak, who was on leave. We were married on the eighth day of Chanukah.

We were living in Tel-Aviv when Arik was born. He had blue blue eyes and for months he was bald and the neighbours teased me until the first white blond hair grew on his head. Arik was a happy baby, always laughing and he grew into a quicksilver toddler.

His brother Channanel was born when he was nearly two and Arik started to go to play school that year. He was the star of the group, a bubbly smiling little mischief.

Whilst Channanel was a baby Yitzchak had service to do at the army base in Sharm-El-Sheik on the Red Sea for several weeks. Arik came with us and Chananel stayed with his nurse. and we stayed in the village of Ophira above the Gulf. We had a fishing boat and went out onto the water to fish. Arik was thrilled by the brilliant shimmering fish and gleefully joined our excursions.

One night we went to fish by the light of the moon. Arik, joined us and we set out into the bay of Naamah. We fished for several hours and had just turned on the engine to return when it happened. The engine spluttered and died. Silence in the moonlit blackness of the gulf as we began to drift towards the islands of Snapir and Tiran. Yitzchak and his friend Pincas pulled out the oars and began to row. We all wore lifejackets but I knew that in those shark infested waters they would not save us.

I began to tell Arik fairy tales to distract his attention. The men rowed silently, the shore only seeming to recede further and further away. Goldilocks followed Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella too. Arik drifted of to sleep blissfully ignorant of our imminent peril. Finally, slowly the shore came closer until at last panting and on the verge of collapse we pulled the boat onto the shore.

Soon after our return from Sharm we moved out of the city to live in a village in the Ben-Shemen forest, just off the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway.

Life in the village was very different, here there were dozens of children of Arik's age to play with. The children would climb out of the bedroom windows at dawn to dance naked on the lawn and I was in constant terror that they would fall into the swimming pool which Yitzchak had built behind the house. I resolved to teach them both to swim. By then Arik was nearly four and Channanel two.

I would put them both into the pool with water wings and rings and they would doggy paddle with their faces in the water and only come up for air. That way if they ever fell into the pool the shock of water in their faces wouldn't cause them to panic. Arik was the timid one, Channanel, too young yet to understand fear was soon able to swim the length of the pool under water.

We began to raise geese on the farm and we bought a Belgian sheepdog, and a Persian cat. Other less conventional animals soon joined the menagerie much to the delight of Arik and Channanel, we had an owl and several deer as well as pigeons, rabbits and several horses.

Lazy summer afternoons were spent frolicking in the pool or running down the street to friends. Often the children returned with shoes missing or shirts or worse, and I would take the horse to ride round the village and search the roadside ditches for mislaid items of clothing.

My days were begun with getting the children off to gan (playschool) and a trip to nearby Moshav Hemed to get a ton of grain for the geese. Yitzchak worked with his family at their ice cream factory and apart from constructing the farm buildings he left the farming to me. We had two farm workers, Ibrahim and Hussni.

Ibrahim came from Naalin on the west bank which was not so far away and at first they were wary of working for a woman but soon a relationship of mutual respect developed.

I loved horses and knowing this, one day Ibrahim told me that the forest firewatcher was getting a truck and his horse was for sale. Next day he brought the horse, a slender white Arab mare. She had an old Jordanian saddle and she danced, I called her Demelsa after the Poldark heroine. Now when the only telephone in the village was locked (in Nutte's grocery store) I could take Demelsa and ride to the next village, Kfar Daniel, to use the only outdoor phone in the region.

Hussni was very different from Ibrahim, he had arrived at the farm in very tragic circumstances. One night Yitzchak came home upset, one of the drivers from the factory had caused a fatal accident overtaking a vehicle on the way home to his village. There were several deaths, how many I don't know and one at least a cripple for life. The driver, a young villager, from the same village as the casualties, had only been lightly hurt. Now he could not go home, there was a blood feud. He could not run away either as he had to await trial. Hussni had no place to go. Yitzchak asked me if I was prepared to shelter him in the house and hide him from his fellow villagers as they would kill him if he were found. So Hussni arrived and took up residence at first in the back room of the house and later in the little outbuilding which was built for visitors.

One night in winter I got up some time before dawn and peeped into the children's room, Arik lay sleeping peacefully, a little blond cherub faced angel. I turned to Chananel's bed and my heart stopped, he was not there. I ran to the toilet and bathroom, searching the house, horrified thoughts of the pool sped my feet out and down the spiral steps towards the water which proved mercifully empty. I wandered beyond the pool to my beautiful large garden, searching in the bushes and beyond down the path where the geese huddled and to the horses stables. I looked into the large sheds where the day old baby geese were reared and all about. No sign of little Chananel.

Shaking now with fear I approached the outbuilding where Ibrahim and Hussni sometimes slept. "'Brahim, Hussni" I called -"Channanel is missing, I'm sorry to wake you, can you come out and help me search." -- The sleepy voice of Hussni came through the door "Don't worry, he is here. He came knocking on the door a while ago and said - Ya Hussni, Ibrahim, you are inside and warm, let me in - he is sleeping here."
Relieved I returned to the house.

Several weeks later as I hung the washing on the lawn Hussni worked nearby, looking up I saw a man approaching. As he came nearer I recognised him, he sometimes worked at the factory, a villager of Hussni's village. Quietly I pointed him out and Hussni dived down into the grass at my feet. I dropped the sheets over him. Breathless I waited. The man said shalom as he passed, only a meter high wall separating us. I answered the man and continued with the laundry. When the coast was all clear Hussni came out from under the sheets.

It was spring, Arik was four and he returned from the gan quiet and droopy, I thought he had the flu and put him to bed. The next morning was the Sabbath and I did not like the way he looked at all. By mid morning I was very worried indeed and thoughts of meningitis crosses my mind. I laid him flat and raised his head, the knees jerked, I had often seen Dr. Kagan do this and asked her why, now remembering her reply I ran across the fields to Nutte's home to ask for the keys of his store to use the phone.

It was forbidden to use a phone on the Sabbath and Nutte suggested I wait till the Sabbath end at nightfall. I insisted, remembering a little girl who had died in the neighbouring Shaalvim when they waited out the Sabbath. Reluctantly he handed over the keys and I sped off to run the kilometre to his store. The ambulance men in nearby Lod were not very helpful - "If you think it is meningitis take him straight to the hospital, we cannot send an ambulance to your village, if we do so Lod will be without an ambulance."
"I don't have a car it is the Sabbath."
"Then take someone else's" was the reply.

I ran back to the house and was soon bundling Arik into the truck, Yizchak, still unconvinced decided to accompany us. Within a couple of hours Arik was on a drip in Tel-Hashomer hospital. "If you had waited another hour, he would have died", the doctor pronounced and Arik with the resilience of youth was a bundle of mischief within a couple of days even in the hospital.

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All is not well in our Garden of Eden

At home things were not going at all well, the stresses and strains of Yitzchak's business life and the animosity of his parents towards me were taking their toll. The great passion that had caused him to pursue me was a thing of the past, it seemed that nothing I could do was good enough.

So it was that my younger sister's bombshell that she was going to marry Yehuda, one of the villagers, rocked an already shaking boat.

Anne Berenice was much younger than I and she had come on holiday and stayed on to study in Tel-Aviv. She was barely sixteen, a beautiful blond, brown eyed girl. Now she wanted to marry Yehuda, whose family had come from Marrocco to the village of Gimzo and who lived with all of his brothers and sisters in a wooden shack on the far side of the village.

War broke out with Lebanon, my mother came to stay and finally after much discussion and even more argument, Anne Berenice married Yehuda. Amid all this chaos one of my Persian cats, Nifty (Nefertiti) gave birth to a litter of lovely kittens. The children were thrilled, but sadly as they grew one of the fluffy black kittens showed signs of being ill. The children piled into the car with the kitten and we drove off to the vet in Lod.

As we neared the exit from the village we saw some children, "Those are the Showman children whose father was just killed yesterday in the Lebanon" Arik told me. "They are staying with their Aunt Orit over there." I halted the car and called the children over, they were about five or six years old. They ran over and we talked and I showed them the kitten.

The kitten died and soon after that I took the children to England. We spent six heavenly weeks in England that year, far from the tensions and heartbreak of the war still being waged in the Lebanon. The sun shone and we sailed down the Thames to Hampton Court, wandered through the British Museum and swam in the Olympic pool in Blackpool.

Both boys swam like fish now and dived well too. There was a queue to dive off the board, Chananel didn't know what queues were, they had no queues in the village. Nimbly the boys overtook the queue and flew off the diving board. I called to them to stop but the mischievous scamps flew past me and I could not catch them. They never hesitated at the jumps and the other children watched open-mouthed. Are they from Whales I was asked? Soon Chananel became more daring and I watched in fear as he mounted the steps to the high dive. I shouted to him to stop and Arik started to follow but halted afraid half way up. Chananel stood far away above us on the Olympic high dive platform, a tiny blond imp of six, fearless. He jumped and my heart took a dive and then he surfaced and sped straight back to the steps for another go. Arik and I watched till at last he tired from the long climbs up. Arik did not do the high dive, he understood the risks.

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Copyright © Rebecca Bat-Raphael