We were sitting together one day and I was wondering what to write about next, when one of my daughters suggested I write about the people we met over the years. This is quite a task, since our home was a combination of restaurant, hotel and youth hostel. First there was my husband Charles’ big family in South Africa and their various offspring, then friends we had made over the years, and last but not least, hitchhikers Charles picked up on the road. Of course, he often brought home tourists he had met at the Golf Club where he worked, usually when they were stranded and had nowhere to sleep.

All this started when we still lived in Moshav Habonim, a communal village between Tel Aviv and Haifa. We had a beautiful private beach, but some people from the area would come, brave the bad roads, and promptly get stuck in the sand. It usually happened on Saturdays and I already knew that when it was Charles’ turn to pull them out with the tractor, he would bring home some strangers for a meal. We didn’t have too much food in those days, at least not a great variety. Our main staples were bread, potatoes and noodles (it wasn’t called “pasta” then), and for some mysterious reason&xlash;an unlimited supply of Peck’s fish paste, dearly beloved by all the former South Africans (most of our people had come from there or from other English-speaking countries). We did get the occasional egg, so I could always whip up a quick meal of chips and eggs on short notice.

Charles was very hospitable. He loved to show off his family and he had every confidence that I could manage. I could never refuse him, although it was not always easy. I was eager to please him and was flattered by his approval, and I also liked meeting new and interesting people, some who became good friends. Another source for Charles’ hospitality was in his capacity as work manager. Whenever new members joined our Moshav, Charles invited them to get acquainted. That’s how we met our closest friends. One day at noon a stranger knocked on my door, introduced himself as Leon Harris, a new member from England, and told me that he was looking for Charles. He had just joined our Moshav. His wife and children were still in England, but were expected shortly. I explained to him that my husband usually didn’t come home till after work in the evening, but that he was welcome to have lunch with me and the children. I liked Leon from the beginning and I was delighted that he had become a new member of our small community. After lunch the children went out to play and I said to Leon something that he has never let me live down. I am used to a siesta after lunch and I said to him that I was going to sleep and asked whether he wanted to join me. I, of course, meant in the next room, but for a moment he thought I was inviting him to sleep with me! We had a good laugh, and when his wife Zelda and the children arrived we became the best of friends. We spent every moment of free time together, I felt as if I had known them all my life. Zelda was like a breath of fresh air, she was attractive and smart, and both she and Leon were very warm and affectionate people and wonderful company. Our friendship has lasted now well over forty years and I feel closer to them than ever.

The story of our strong connection with Saul Gordon and his family is different. Charles met Saul at an ulpan on a neighboring Kibbutz, where he had gone to improve his Hebrew. I was still married to my first husband Nechemia at that time. Saul had come from the USA and became friendly with Charles. One day the police came to arrest Saul. A girl had accused him of stealing some money. Charles went with him to the police station to bail him out and signed a document that he would be responsible for him. That’s how Saul joined our Moshav. I often saw that handsome young man walking around with Charles, but I only got to know him better much later, after he had left the Moshav and came to visit. He usually stayed with us, each time bringing a different girl. To the children he pretended they were his cousins. The children were astonished that he had so many relatives! Later, when we had left Habonim, he introduced Ricky, with whom he had a more permanent relationship (they remained together for a stormy six years). Ricky was a lovely redhead, full of life and fun. We all fell in love with her instantly. Later, when Saul had to go to Africa (he had joined his brother Harold in the travel business) and left Ricky behind in Tel Aviv where she studied Hebrew at an ulpan, we suggested she move in with us until Saul’s return. We were all happy with the arrangement, the children adored her and suddenly, a miracle happened: they were all learning English with an amazing speed, even little Gillie, something Charles’ mother never managed to achieve. She was always complaining about the lack of communication between her and the kids, blaming us for not trying harder to teach them English.

After Saul returned and took Ricky to Africa, we missed her terribly. She really had become one of the family, and remains so to this day. When she and Saul broke up, she moved back to New York, while Saul remained in Nairobi. She started working for El Al and visited us every year, always bringing buxling suitcases full of wonderful things, clothes, cosmetics, often electrical appliances, things that in Israel were difficult to come by at that time. Ricky remained close to us all these years, and when my daughter Yael got married and moved to New York, it was wonderful to know that Ricky was near her.

Saul kept in touch as well and one day brought Marcia, a tall, very attractive girl, with a beautiful figure and a very pleasant personality. He had met her in Uganda where she worked for the Peace Corps. We knew it was serious this time, she confided to me that he wanted to marry her, but she was not sure. They came from very different backgrounds, Marcia was not Jewish, she came from New Mexico and Saul was a New Yorker who had studied for years at a Yeshiva. She sought my advice and I did something that Saul has never let me forget, although he has long forgiven me (I hope). Now and then he still teases me about it. I expressed my opinion about him, I told her that as much as I loved him, I didn’t think he was suitable husband material, he wasn’t stable enough. Well, she wanted my honest advice and like a fool I gave it to her. Luckily, she didn’t listen to me and they got married. Their three daughters Ileana, Joanna and Babette have all become part of our family and the whole Gordon clan has enriched our lives in every way.

One day in 1972, something unexpected happened. The phone rang in the early afternoon, somebody asked to speak to Charles. When I said that he was still at work, there was some hesitation and then the man on the phone introduced himself as a cousin of Sylvia, Charles’ first wife. He mentioned that he spoke from his home in Pardess Hanna, which was very close to Hadera, a small town where we lived at that time. He explained that he had a visitor from South Africa who wanted to speak to Charles. I still had no idea who it was, but asked to put him on the phone. It was Larry, Charles’ son from his first marriage! He seemed very reluctant to talk to me, but I invited him to come and stay with us and he was immensely relieved. He didn’t know how he would be received by us. His mother still felt very bitter toward Charles, who had not seen his son since he left South Africa, when Larry was a little boy. He had given up guardianship many years ago so that Gerald (Sylvia’s second husband) could legally adopt the child. Although we had no direct contact with Larry, we heard from other family members that Gerald was a good father to him.

While we were waiting for Larry, I tried to call Charles at work, but he was out teaching. Suddenly, there was a knock on the door and before us stood this beautiful, tall young man, with a guitar slung over his shoulder and a shy smile on his face, overwhelmed by the welcome he received. The girls couldn’t take their eyes off him. My son Gillie remained in the background at first, but that didn’t last long. Nobody could resist Larry’s charm. By the time Charles arrived from work, Larry felt completely at home and one of the family. He and the children were playing the guitar and singing, acting as if they had grown up together. When I made an introduction and said “Charles, this is Larry”, he replied “Larry who?” I whispered “your son!” Charles was so confused, words were failing him. The two just shook hands and stared at each other. After an embarrassing gap in the conversation, everybody relaxed and Larry told us that when he had received a plane ticket for his twentyfirst birthday, he had decided to come to Israel and meet his father. Sadly, Charles never became as close to Larry as the rest of the family. Irit, my younger daughter, was quite smitten with him and Gillie never left his side. Larry was delighted to have a younger brother, at home he was the only son, with three sisters.

The day Larry arrived, there was a party at Irit’s school. She was one of the performers, playing the guitar and singing, so she got this crazy idea to perform together with Larry. They rehearsed a little, and then we had to leave for the school. The party was outside in the garden and the place was packed with parents and students. When it was Irit’s turn, she went up on the stage and announced: “I want to introduce my brother who is going to perform with me. I hope you will forgive us if we are not very good, but we only met for the first time today and didn’t have much practice.” There was a stunned silence. Nobody understood what was going on, but when they finished their first song, which really sounded great, there was thundering applause and they had to sing an encore. The whole evening was a huge success, and Irit was surrounded by people who were clamoring for explanations. It was all very exciting.

Larry stayed in Israel for two months, traveling around the country, but most of the time he spent with us. A few years later he visited us again, this time with his girlfriend Beatrice, a very sweet English girl. She was a musician and played the flute and the viola. Larry had taken up the violin in addition to the guitar, so we were often treated to lovely concerts. They remained with us for Irit’s wedding to Yoram, and after the ceremony we sat on our lawn and listened to Peter (Zelda and Leon Harris’s son) and others with their guitars, Larry on the violin and Beatrice with the flute, improvising and having fun. No one wanted to go home, it was a lovely wedding (alas, the marriage didn’t last). Since then, Larry has been here numerous times and we have kept in close touch over the years. He now lives in Kent with his wife and four children.

Gradually, we met all his sisters. Like everybody else, they found their way to us. But the strangest thing occurred last year, two years after Charles’ death. Sylvia, his ex-wife, called from South Africa! We had never met or spoken before, and after I got over my initial shock and found my voice again, I asked her what made her call me. I knew how she felt about Charles. She never wanted anything whatsoever to do with him. She tried to explain it, but didn’t really know what made her do it. The need to contact me came upon her suddenly. We chatted for a long time, she even invited me to come to South Africa for a visit, and since then we phone each other regularly. We exchange stories about Charles and it seems that we were married to two very different people. There is absolutely no resemblance between our husbands! I have become fond of Sylvia and her dry humor and I am pleased that she took the first step.

All of Charles’ cousins came to visit Israel and most of their children stayed for longer periods. Some came as teenagers, and again when they were grown up. So it happened that Elaine (Cousin Helen’s daughter) and her husband Sidney arrived one evening after a trip through some Mediterranean countries. They were newly married and wanted to wind up their journey with a visit to Israel. They stayed for dinner, but Sidney didn’t feel very well, so they left early for their hotel in Tel Aviv. The next morning we received a frantic phone call from Elaine, Sidney had been taken to hospital during the night and diagnosed with hepatitis, which he must have picked up on their trip. It was a Monday, Charles’ day off, so the two of us went straight to Assuta hospital, where we found Elaine in tears, worried about Sidney and all their plans in ruins. We offered to take them home with us, but first we went to see Sidney, who looked as bad as he felt. He was lying alone in a depressingly bare room, and was very happy to see us. We tried to speak to his doctor but he was not in the building, and could not be reached, and no other doctor would take the responsibility to release him. The Assuta is a private hospital and therefore only the physician who checks in a patient can release him. That doctor, when he was called to the hotel the night before, thought he had a good thing going, a rich tourist who could be kept in hospital for a while and then be presented with a huge bill. Meanwhile, he hadn’t even bothered to look in on his patient and no other doctor went near him. Of course we were aware that his illness was contagious, so we called our doctor in Hadera and asked his opinion. He assured us that if we were careful about general hygiene and kept separate dishes, there was no danger of contagion. Since we could not get an official release we had to sneak Sidney out, which proved quite difficult. We had to pass the reception area where the nurse tried to stop us, but we kept walking, virtually kidnapping Sidney.

As soon as we reached home I called the hospital to inform the doctor (who still had not arrived) of Sidney’s departure, and left our phone number. Sid felt very ill and weak, but after a visit from our doctor and a good rest in a comfortable bed he began to feel better. It didn’t take long before the hospital called, putting their Doctor on. He was extremely abusive, shouting and screaming, even threatening to sue us for removing a patient with an infectious disease without permission. When I finally was able to put a word in, I told him that we were not very impressed by his treatment, he had not even bothered to see his patient once since his arrival at the hospital the night before. I assured him that he as well as the hospital would be paid. That shut him up for the moment, but he was still extremely angry, and after muttering more threats, hung up. We never heard from him again.

Elaine and Sidney stayed with us for almost three weeks and we all loved having them. As Sidney started to feel better, we really began to enjoy their company. I don’t know how much Sidney enjoyed my cooking, he had to be on a strict and very bland diet, but he was very good about it and didn’t complain. Elaine and I had become particularly close, we spent hours together, having long conversations, and when Sidney was well enough to travel and they left, all of us missed them.

Soon after that we had another case of hepatitis do deal with. One evening Charles brought home two young Canadians who had been traveling all over and were looking for jobs as caddies at the Caesarea Golf Club, where Charles worked. When it started to rain, they asked for permission to sleep in the storage shed, as their money had run out. Charles took pity on them and invited them to our home for the night. I had prepared a big dinner and Byron tucked in as if he hadn’t had a meal for months, but Willie couldn’t eat and felt very ill. He ended up in hospital where he remained for two weeks, while Byron stayed with us. When Willie was released he was very weak and unfit to travel, so here I was again, cooking diet food and looking after a convalescent guest. They had no money left and had to wait for their parents’ help. The Canadian Embassy refused to give them any assistance, contrary to the Hadera hospital management, who, when informed of Willie’s plight (he had no insurance), waved their fees. The two young men stayed with us for a few weeks, and we all became very attached to them, especially the children. We are corresponding to this day, and when Byron’s sister Pamela arrived in Israel the following year, she of course came to us as well, staying on and off for two months.

One fine day Cousin Steven arrived. He had received a gift from an uncle, a trip around the world, starting–where else–with us. After staying for a week and feeling very much at home, he bade us farewell and left early in the morning for a Kibbutz up north. His plan was to see Israel first before he set out on his world tour. In the late afternoon (yes, it was the same day), Steven called. When I wanted to know where he was speaking from, he told me that he was at the airport and was going home to South Africa. He felt very homesick and had lost all interest in traveling. That surely must have been the shortest trip around the world ever undertaken!

Another young cousin who stayed with us was a sweet girl but unbelievably naïve. She went to visit a friend in Tel Aviv and we didn’t hear from her for a few weeks, until we received a worried phone call from her mother in South Africa. Her daughter had informed her that she had found a job as a fashion buyer and that she was going to travel frequently to Europe, together with her friend, and was very excited about it. Now we all knew, including her mother, that our young cousin was totally unqualified to land an important job like that. I called her and tried to find out more about it, and she promised to come and explain everything in person. True to her word she arrived the next day, accompanied by her new boss! We smelt something fishy straight away. They arrived in a flashy car, and he looked like a gangster and was dressed accordingly. He couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about, but he was prepared for our cousin’s sake to allay our fears. She and her friend were supposed to travel to Europe with him, fill up their suitcases with fashion items and bring them into Israel. Now I suddenly caught on. “You expect those girls to smuggle clothes in for you?” I asked, and he very calmly replied: “there is no need to call it that, it is a plain business transaction.” When I pointed out that the girls had a good chance of being caught and going to prison, he dismissed it. Our whole conversation had been in Hebrew and our young cousin hadn’t understood a word of it, but when I translated it and explained the risk she was taking and the danger she would be exposed to, she became really frightened. She obviously had no idea that she had been hired to do something illegal. She promised us not to take the job, and her “boss” just shrugged his shoulders. He reckoned there were plenty of young girls to take her place and make easy money.

Cousin Bernard came to us after graduating from film school, looking for a suitable subject for his first documentary. He traveled around, doing some sightseeing, and finally brought up enough courage to approach me about taking a part in his first film, which he wanted to be about my Holocaust experience. I immediately refused, so he dropped the subject for the time being. He hadn’t quite worked out the details, he had seen the number on my arm, and after some hesitation had asked me if it was not too painful to talk of my experiences. I assured him that I was ready to answer any question he might have. We talked for days and then he decided to put everything on audio tape. My daughters Yael and Irit would put questions to me and I would tell them about my past, thus we managed to fill up six hours of tape. When the time came for Bernard to leave for London as planned, he asked me again to think about his proposition, and said that in the meantime he would look at other options. I had forgotten all about it when he returned a few weeks later, pleading with me to reconsider. He hadn’t found anything in London that intrigued him as much as my story. This time I agreed and that’s how Yael, Irit and I became stars in Bernard’s first film. He hired a crew and we traveled all over, shooting in various places including our home, my story unfolding through conversations between the girls and me. We worked for three days and after being edited, it became a thirty-minute documentary. Bernard went on to bigger things, and after graduating from the film academy in California, became a successful director. He even won an Oscar for best documentary, alas not ours!

I could go on and on about the people that passed through our house, some remaining a short time, some longer periods. Once or twice Charles showed bad judgment, like the time when he brought home a hitchhiker who turned out to be dead drunk. We got rid of him pretty fast! That was an exception, though. Most of our visitors became close to us, and I have never regretted opening our home to anybody who wanted to come.


Lucy Mandelstam October 2000