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Last Friday evening, close to Ruth Dayan's 89th birthday, which fell on March 6 this year (12th of Adar on the Hebrew calendar) - the members of the Dayan tribe gathered at her home, as they do every Friday. This time they were there in full force; her three children, Udi, Yael and Assi came. "I have six great-grandchildren and nine grandchildren from three children," she says proudly at our meeting. "Usually of an evening 12 to 20 people gather here."

She is glad about these reunions. "These are people who are so different from one another, who have so little in common," she explains, "that this is in fact their only meeting place." On this occasion, her younger son, director and actor Assi Dayan, gave her the DVD set of the television series "Betipul" (In Therapy), in which he played a psychologist, Reuven ("It's 25 hours. I'll need three days to watch it," she says) and a poem he wrote as a gesture of reconciliation.

She read aloud the moving and loving poem (see box), in which he apologizes for having lost "years and my marbles," as he said, at an event attended by friends and former family members at the home of her friend Dalia Guttman. Dayan maintains warm friendships with all of her son's former wives, apart from Smadar Kalchinski, who was married to Assi Dayan for a short time ("but I liked her a lot").

At the Friday event they also celebrated her birthday. Spontaneously, she says, she decided to read the poem. Guests commented later that after she read it, in her blunt voice and without pathos, there wasn't a dry eye in the audience. In the poem, the son asks "That you will remember your love for him / When he returns to you / When he gathers his sanity / Into a wreath that will encircle your neck / In his love // And not my outburst of stupidity."

"My outburst of stupidity" refers to various annoying statements he made to the media this year, but most particularly to the insulting things he said about his mother in a television interview on the program "Men in Black," with Ronel Fisher and Miki Rosenthal, which was broadcast about a month ago on Channel 2. There, Assi Dayan said several times that his mother had been "stupid" in her forgiveness toward his father. He wrote the poem after he watched himself on the program. It seems ironic that now, he is so much in need of her capacity to forgive, which he scorned on screen.

Nahalal toughened her

At the meeting with her this week at her home in North Tel Aviv, the balcony of which looks out over Sde Dov Airport and the chimneys of the Reading power station, Ruth Dayan tells about the evening she watched the broadcast of the interview on television. "I was in total shock," she says. "I had no idea what it meant. I was familiar with 'Bulldozer,' I knew that Rosenthal dealt with that sort of content, but it didn't interest me." She is not angry at her son, "who isn't impeccably perfect." She also understood what he was referring to in his remarks. "He isn't the only one. Udi also once said I was a patsy," she recalls. "Okay, so he said."

She thwarts every attempt to discuss her forgiving attitude toward her husband, Moshe Dayan, an attitude that earned so little respect from her sons. Elegantly but firmly, she steers the conversation to the numerous topics that interest her and which she discusses with vitality. She is prepared to relate to the subject only indirectly, in saying that 15 years of life in Nahalal, more than half a century ago, toughened her to the troubles that came later.

"People don't know with what difficulty this state was built ... It makes my blood boil when they cast aspersions on that period. My mother-in-law was a sick woman, but she would get up every morning to milk the cows. There was no electricity, there was no water. Once a week we would shower with a bucket of water in a shed. During the period of the War of Independence we were surrounded by terrible tragedies. It is hard to imagine what it is to be in Nahalal when every day they tell another family that it has lost a son."

When asked whether, as a woman who works for equality, she was not hurt by her husband's adulteries, she hastens to say that she is not a feminist, but "Yael will tell you that I am." She was in the United States during the period when the women's movement blossomed. "After the Six-Day War they invited me to speak a lot. This was very helpful to Maskit [the apparel company she founded, the products of which integrated Bedouin and Palestinian embroidery - R.K.]. I appeared together with the American feminist Betty Friedan and I argued with her," she recalls with a smile. "I don't understand this current generation at all."

He didn't learn it at home

As for the affair of the television interview, it is the interviewers who are to blame for the entire incident, in her opinion, because "they took a person who is not in good health" and filmed him "on a miserable kind of day." Of her younger son she says, "Heaven help us if he were a person without flaws and moods." She is disgusted by the filmed conversations between the two interviewers: "What are they, psychologists? Psychiatrists? They play with people's souls as though they were experts.

"I thought that it was in bad taste," she adds. "I was sorry that they saw him in a condition like that. Especially after 'In Therapy.' People phoned me after the first episode and said that they were moved by it. Assi works nonstop. It's interesting that they also show that side of him - I don't know exactly what to call it. Negative? His confusion - you still see that he is such a good person, so sensitive. All of that behavior - he didn't learn it at home, not from me and not from Moshe."

She sits, very well-groomed, in her black leather chair, wearing a kilt-style skirt in shades of green, including the safety pin, a thin pale purple sweater and over it a black cardigan. She has a few chains around her neck, one of them long with a gold hamsa pendant on which the word shalom is embossed. Beside her is a small desk, and it looks as though she runs the world from it. It holds a telephone book on it, a telephone that she answers swiftly and heartily, available to any caller, a tissue box (hand made), a cup of coffee, a plate of cookies, a pack of cigarettes (Time), from which she smokes only four a day - one of them during the interview.

The house is full of flowers that were sent for her birthday. "The orchid is from the Bedouin tribe I work with - the Segev Shalom tribe." On the wall hang works of embroidery from Amman and Beit Jann; on the sofa are colorful cushions made by the Falashmura, with images of black children playing the recorder. The visitors' chair is adorned with a weaving from Guatemala.

On the wall is a black and white photograph of the Dayan couple before his injury, and also one of Moshe Dayan with the patch over his eye, and his wife Ruth and their three children. An identical picture hangs in Assi Dayan's home. In the entrance there is a portrait of Yael Dayan from 44 years ago, painted by Boris Chaliapin, one of the four illustrators for Time magazine. She looks out, young and pretty, wearing a green tank top, a red skirt and white sandals on her feet. In her mother's opinion, it looks as though the painting was done yesterday.

E-mails and phone calls from Reuma

Ruth Dayan has what is usually called a "caregiver." Her name is Ethel Dizon and she is from the Philippines. She started working for her four or five years ago, after Dayan fell several times and broke her shoulder. But she is more of a personal assistant than anything else. Until four in the afternoon, when she finishes her work, she is busy with a variety of tasks, including computer searches. "I just open and send e-mails," said Dayan. Before she turns to the interview, she asks Ethel, in English with the British accent she acquired in her childhood in Britain, to check the encyclopedia for the entry on "Templar." She will need it later.

When Reuma Weizman, her sister, phones in the middle of the meeting to find out how the caregiver cooked a certain dish, Dayan comes up with the explanation immediately. But her sister nevertheless wants to hear it directly from Ethel.

The decoration of the house, with its many pictures and the embroidered cushions on the sofas, "has remained static," she says. From time to time, people come with dogs "that rip the cushions, so then I find new ones." The works of art are milestones from her travels. "I live politics, travel to the West Bank and if it were not for the intifada I'd also be going to Amman now."

In the past, she traveled to most of the Arab countries, and with her Moshe Dayan she used to go skiing in Lebanon. "I told a Jordanian girlfriend of mine that because we can't meet nowadays in Amman, we'll have a vacation at the Dead Sea," she says.

In the coming elections she will vote for Meretz. "It's the closest to me." She has moved away entirely from the communist idea.

"We deluded ourselves that it could happen. We loved the idea that equality is needed, but it was not to be. Not in Russia and not in any Communist country. Just terrible tyranny. She is proud of Israeli women who go to the West Bank and help, "not just at the road blocks," but also fight for the Palestinians in the courts. "Recently the insensitivity has become very bad. From day to day, people are becoming more racist here."

She relates that during the period when Aryeh Deri was interior minister, he helped a great deal with family reunification. "Today, with this fence, it will be even more difficult."

Sign of liberation

In fact, it only seems that she runs the world from the narrow desk near her armchair; she spends relatively little time there. As her son Assi once wrote to her in another poem, "you shake off your years - send time into retirement." She is busy all day long; she travels to Bedouin villages and Arab locales all around the country, where she has ties of work and friendship with the inhabitants. Last week, for International Women's Day, she was invited to a ceremony in the Bedouin town of Rahat in the Negev.

"On the way to Umm al-Fahm, I visit Reuma in Caesarea," she says, as though incidentally, of her frequent visits to her sister, the widow of former president Ezer Weizman. For her, driving is more than just a means; it is a sign of her liberation. She boasts that her mother had a driver's license for years before her father did (and many years before most women did). Her mother used to spend days crossing continents in a car with her granddaughter Yael, and this is a characteristic that gets handed down.

"I love to drive," she says. "It's true that sometimes I want to crash into someone. They are simply wild beasts! And they should stop blaming the roads. This whole country is just asphalt."

In that same early poem, from 1992, that he gave her for her 75th birthday, Assi Dayan wrote to his mother that she "gallops in a Daihatsu from the bleeding to the leper." Today, 14 years later, she continues to gallop, only now in a Peugeot 307.