Family Affair / The Ratzhabis
The Ratzhabis - Beit Hashmonai
* The cast: Malka (63 and a half), Shalom (70) and Roi (30).
* The home: A single-level home, shaded and tucked away at the corner of Shimon Hatersi and Yohanan Hagedi Streets (Hasmoneans all), with walls of light-colored stone and a well-kept garden (700 square meters). Heavy earthenware pots bearing geraniums sit in the front, and in the back an orange tree is in bloom and a Subaru is parked. A winding granulite path leads from the gate to the entry with a welcoming hamsa amulet. Above and below the door are anti-insect devices, and there is a blue ceramic-tile sign that announces "Ratzhabi" flamboyantly.
* Entering: On the left is a kitchen, living room (new) and dining area; on the right is a study (formerly the living room) and straight ahead are three bedrooms. The kitchen (light-colored Formica, varnished edges) is as clean as can be and next to it is a living room that bespeaks old-fashioned comfort, with a carpet, two black-leather armchairs, a two-seater sofa, living-room table, two intertwined coffee tables and an iron fireplace holding a jar with a sprouted yam. On the walls are handicrafts. Malka specializes in tapestries and decoupages embroidered with wool thread, silk and DMC (a type of needlework fabric). Alongside the pictures hang dishes from around the world ("People collect them for me," says Malka). Extending from the living room at a straight angle is the dining area, centered by a table adorned with a white woven tablecloth on which lies an orange silk runner. On to the other rooms.
* The other rooms: On the right is Malka and Shalom's room (complete with books and crossword puzzles), in the middle is Roi's room (with a computer and certificates of outstanding performance from the Israel Defense Forces and the College of Management), on the left is Ravit's room.
* Ravit: The eldest child, 42, a clinical dietitian, who is married with two children and lives in the United States.
* Real-estate history: They have lived here since 1971; in 1986, renovations increased the area to 140 square meters. "A house like this is worth $450,000 today" (Shalom).
* Livelihoods and occupations: Malka and Shalom are pensioners of the Ministry of Education. Malka retired in 1997 after teaching for 32 years in the moshavim (cooperative villages) of Sitriya (near Rehovot) and Beit Hashmonai. She was a homeroom teacher, worked in special education, became vice principal and taught computers to moshav children in the early 1980s ("on an Apple IIc"). These days, after being cured of cancer twice (large intestine and breast), after chemo, radiation and mastectomies, she is under close medical supervision, takes part in a "women's empowerment group" (which meets in the local library), and manages the household (cooking, baking, cleaning) with the aid ("massive") of Shalom.
* Cooking: Malka, a Bulgarian, specializes in stuffed vegetables, moussaka, pastelles, leek patties and spinach pies.
* Housecleaning: For the past year she has had the help of a maid every two weeks (NIS 35 an hour), who does mainly the showers and toilets ("We help her"). Betwixt and between, she knits for the grandchildren, embroiders (wall hangings) and paints (on bones and canvas). We are served a hot apple pie and a "simple" sweet snack made by Malka (from flour, yeast and sesame). Shalom: "We men claim to be strong, but it's not so."
* Shalom: Formerly a Hebrew language and Bible teacher at high schools and colleges (Ayalon and Herzog), these days he looks after Malka and tends the garden ("We do everything together"), participates in a folk-dance group, does Feldenkrais, is a volunteer in the regional library and gives so-called reinforcement lessons for matriculation students. The state of the language among Israel's pupils is not good, he says, and blames it on the fact that slang has defeated correct Hebrew. He sees ninth- and 10th-grade students with "substandard" reading skills and is appalled by the fact that cell phones ring during classes, but mainly by shameless parents ("These days a parent who is asked to meet with the principal comes prepared for all-out war").
* Roi: An analyst with Daimler Financial Services (Debis), which arranges, among other things, financial and operational leasing of vehicles. He is responsible for analyzing the financial situation of potential clients and recommending whether to extend credit (or not).
* Credit: "We provide it - it is the 'oxygen' of economic activity." Risks? "Part of the business." He works a five-day week out of an office on Hamasger Street in Tel Aviv, to which he commutes not in a leased car (which he does not have), but by train (from Ramle to Tel Aviv) and bus. He's pleased with his job, and dreams of working for the budget branch in the Finance Ministry.
* The kid is 30: In regard to living with his parents, he has an explanation. Until not long ago he worked as a flight attendant for El Al, "and the house is close to the airport." He also completed a master's degree at the College of Management, "which cost quite a bit." Is now looking for an apartment (in Tel Aviv) and does not identify with the popular song by Ehud Banai (about the 30-year-old kid, who still lives at home), "even though I like it." In his room is a large collection of CDs by Aviv Geffen.
* Wedding: "Next question." Says he will be happy to have a girlfriend. So will his parents.
* Shalom's bio: Born near Aden, Yemen in 1939, one of 12 children. His mother died while the family was still in Yemen. In 1949, at the age of 10, he immigrated to Israel with three of his siblings. After spending a year in the Sha'ar Menashe transit camp, he moved to Meir Shefaya Youth Village, integrated well, was co-opted to the mandolin orchestra and his personality was shaped ("under the influence of the homeroom teachers"). After seven years in the youth village, he was drafted into the Armored Corps (drove a Sherman) and took part, as a reservist, in the Six-Day War ("We reached the Suez Canal"). In the early 1960s he took an instructors course at Beit Berl college, worked in youth clubs (before the era of community centers), obtained a teacher's certificate from the Seminar Hakibbutzim Teachers College, followed by a B.A. in language and Bible studies (Hebrew University of Jerusalem). He taught in schools and colleges until his retirement in 1993, and met Malka at the outset of his pedagogic career.
* Malka's bio: Born Malka Baruch in 1945 in Bourgas, Bulgaria, she is the younger of two sisters. Her family immigrated to Israel in 1949 and was sent to the Pardes Hannah transit camp, then moved to Ganei Tikva, next to Petah Tikva. Her father was a cutter and pattern-maker for Mara Shoes; her mother, a homemaker. Malka attended school ("until the end of 10th grade") in Ganei Tikva, then transferred to the Seminar Hakibbutzim high school and met Shalom.
* The meeting: 1962. They first met when Malka, still in high school, came to lead a group in the Ganei Tikva youth club, run by Shalom. Nothing happened. A year later, when Shalom was sent to study at the Seminar Hakibbutzim college, they ran into each other again and this time felt a need to draw closer. She helped him acclimatize, he drove her around on his Lambretta and their love blossomed.
* Reactions: "Even though it was unconventional to have a Yemenite boyfriend, my parents fell in love with Shalom and suggested that he move in with us," Malka recalls. "Dad said: 'Golda [Meir] can have a Yemenite son-in-law and I can't?'"
* The wedding: 1964, at the Bulgarian synagogue on Markolet Street on the road to Jaffa. Most of the guests were from his side, the food was from her side ("Everyone who came received a candy with an almond"). They lived in the "young couples' project" in Petah Tikva, then in Sitriya for five years, before moving to the then newly established community of Beit Hashmonai.
* Daily routine: Everyone, including Roi, gets up at 7 A.M. Malka and Shalom prepare a splendid boxed lunch for their son ("Everyone at work envies me") and then have coffee with soy milk, "with a pinch of brown sugar" (Malka). Roi leaves at 7:30; at 8 Shalom and Malka straighten up the house ("together") before doing errands, seeing doctors or going shopping. At 1 P.M., Malka sends an e-mail to Ravit, followed by lunch and a must-have rest. Getting up at 4, they have a cup of instant coffee (Shalom) and herbal tea (Malka), eat a pastry and watch Rafi Reshef's current events program. At 6, Ravit calls from America and speaks with Malka (for an hour) and at 7:30 Roi returns. The three have supper together: Shalom - a scrambled egg; Malka - a fried egg; and Roi - an onion omelet. On Sundays and Tuesdays, Shalom goes to his Feldenkrais class, and Wednesdays is folk dancing, where he has a regular female partner.
* Television: Malka likes Israeli drama series, Shalom watches the news and Roi goes for the Israeli crime series "Haborer" and sports. They don't get to sleep before midnight and always get into bed with a book and a tranquilizer (Vaben).
* What they miss: "My parents' house, the serenity, the warmth, Dad's pearls of wisdom" - Malka. Shalom: "Youth." He says he feels lucky to have turned out normal, even though he had no home and no parents ("My formative experience was the youth village").
* Cancer: "Shalom always came with me to the treatments," Malka says. "One day, Shalom was sick and I came alone, and Prof. Yoav Horn, of blessed memory, said to me, 'Meidele, without him I am not giving you treatment.'"
* Quarrels and making up: "In our whole life together we were never silent for more than an hour."
* Assisted living: Malka does not rule it out; Shalom does not want to live among old people.
* Roi's marriage: "I am on his case" (Shalom).
* Dreams: Roi - "to buy a Mini Cooper"; Shalom - "for him to find a wife"; Malka - "to be healthy."
* Israel's future: "Worried." They voted for Ehud Barak in the elections.
* Happiness quotient (scale of 1-10): Shalom - 9 ("10 is exaggerated"); Malka - 8 ("because Ravit is in America"); Roi - 7. The place Beit Hashmonai - A rural community located 5 kilometers southeast of Ramle, with a population of 850, established in 1970.
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