Relatively speaking / Kenda Bar-Gera and Rivka Sum
Kenda Bar-Gera, 84, and Rivka Sum, 59, fight each other, and each fights herself, over the demarcation of separate and independent territories.
Kenda was born in 1927, in Lodz; Rivka was born in 1952, in the Discharged Soldiers Housing Project in Ramat Gan.
They both live on the same street in Neve Avivim, an upscale neighborhood in north Tel Aviv, a few houses apart.
Kenda is the widow of Yaakov Bar-Gera, the cofounder of CAL - Cargo Air Lines - together with former air force commander Motti Hod. Rivka's brother, Dubi, 56, is a businessman who lives in Switzerland; her sister, Shlomit, 51, is a criminologist and educational consultant. Rivka is the widow of Rafi Sum. Ido, 32, her elder son, has an MBA from Stanford; Shai, 30, has a law degree and works in advertising. Ido's 15-month-old son, Aviv, is Rivka's first grandchild and Kenda's first great-grandchild.
Since the Second World War, the moment the air fills with the aromas of spring, Kenda has tried to flee her home. To travel, no matter where - any place where she is not surrounded by walls. "At Pesach, the Germans sealed with ghetto with a wall, and since then I am not able to be in closed places."
At the end of the war, Kenda returned to Lodz to look for the remnants of her family but found no one. She worked for the underground Habricha (Escape) organization, which illegally smuggled Jews to Palestine, and within that framework met Janek Berger. In 1947, she met him again in Tel Aviv. "In the corridor of the Habricha office, I saw a guy with an Australian hat sitting on the window sill. A friend said, 'Oh, here's Janek.' I went over to him, removed his hat and said, 'This one I know.' We were married in 1950."
Kenda doesn't want to say what she did in Lehi, a militant pre-state underground organization that fought the British Mandate authorities. "Janek was in Lehi, too, and he didn't know about me and I didn't know about him."
The birth spared Kenda the need to do reserve duty, but she doesn't remember much from the event. What she does remember became a family joke: "At the age of three weeks she coughed and I woke up my husband at 3 A.M. to go and bring Dr. Krieger urgently. The doctor emerged in his pajamas and asked, 'Is this the first child?' After that, all his life, he laughed at me over that."
At the beginning of the 1960s, the Bar-Geras and their three children went to Cologne as emissaries of the Israel Bonds organization. The mission ended after three years, but in the meantime Kenda opened an art gallery and Yaakov (Janek ) established CAL, and the return to Israel was delayed - like Moses - for 40 years. "I felt absolutely terrible," Kenda says. "I hardly left the house. One time I was walking on the street with my son and he asked, 'Why do Germans have such big noses?' I laughed so hard I became hysterical. I never extended a hand of greeting to older people, only to the young, and I only invited home the people I checked with a magnifying glass."
Working in the gallery brought Kenda out of the house. She showed the great Russian avant-garde artists, such as Malevich and Kandinsky, and thus became acquainted with persecuted art, which in time became a private obsession. "It came from the fact that I myself was persecuted," she says. "Spanish artists from the Franco period, and Russian and German artists whom Stalin and Hitler threw out of the museums. One day, two historians from Czechoslovakia arrived and told me about a group of artists from the Soviet Union who were active in the underground and had nothing to live on. I adopted them and smuggled money to them for canvases and medicines, and I bought pictures from them that were smuggled to the West. Diplomats and students and everyone who went to the Soviet Union smuggled the paintings. We accumulated more than 300 paintings."
You can live well without talking so much:
Some people live the past, says Kenda, who decided to live in the present when she immigrated to Israel. "The people I knew didn't know I had been in the camps. I also said very little to my children. It is locked inside a drawer within me; once in a while I open it, scratch a little and close it again. I think you can live quite well like that."
Rivka as a student:
"In Israel she was a very good student; in Germany, less. With mathematics, physics and chemistry she would call her brother for help."
Rivka attended the Belgian School in Cologne. "It was a nightmare. I didn't know French, and I knew right off, by instinct, that we were not suited. I was popular in Israel, but there it was hard because of the loneliness. I realized that I would have to save myself." Rivka returned to Israel, lived with her grandmother, Miriam, and went to high school in Givatayim. "Socially it was wonderful, but life with grandma wasn't easy."
Paris and more:
The compromise between Cologne and Givatayim was an Israeli boarding school in Paris, where Rivka completed the eleventh and twelfth grades. "I could have been a good student in the boarding school if I'd wanted, but Paris had a lot more to offer. My boyfriend's aunt was the house mother, so I could come and go as I pleased, and the ice cream in the Pub Renault on the Champs Elysees was a lot more alluring than school."
Rivka thinks she still hasn't finished it. Kenda couldn't agree more. "Her adolescent revolt hurt me," she says. "We were very open and suddenly she closed up to me and I couldn't understand why she talked to other people but not to me."
Rivka served in a secret Military Intelligence unit in the Kirya, the defense establishment base in Tel Aviv. Kenda was a paramedic and the secretary of the 82nd Battalion in Yitzhak Sadeh's 8th Brigade. "In the War of Independence we fought at Beit Nabala, Ramle and Lod."
Kenda studied history of art while working in the gallery. Rivka took law at Bar-Ilan University and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and history and history of art at Tel Aviv University.
The great rift:
After the February 1997 Israel Air Force helicopter disaster - in which 73 soldiers were killed when two helicopters carrying troops to Lebanon collided in midair - Rivka decided she'd had enough of grumbling in the living room. She joined a group of women who demonstrated against the Israeli presence in Lebanon every Friday in Afeka, a north Tel Aviv neighborhood. It was from there that a feminist study group emerged which, in turn, spawned New Profile, a "movement for the civil-ization of Israel," in which Rivka is active. "The more I got involved in the questions relating to our existence in this country, the more I came to the unavoidable conclusion that we are heading for disaster." She is also active in the civil disobedience women's group founded by Ilana Hammerman.
What she got from you:
"Only good things," Kenda says. "The things that are no good are not from me and not from the house, but from a different place, from the society. Besides that, she is like me, stubborn and always helping people."
How to say guilt feelings in Polish:
"When I was in the hospital," Kenda says, "she and her father stood by the bed and argued about politics - they had completely opposite views. I said, 'Do you want me to have another heart attack?'"
There is a limit/border:
Kenda is not pleased with her daughter's political activity. "I too was not afraid of anything, but when I had children I suddenly grasped that I could not go everywhere. She doesn't have to push herself into every hole; she has children and responsibility, and you can't do that kind of thing. I can't stand fanatics, people who see everything in black and white."
I will never be like my mother...
It's important for Kenda to maintain various religious markers; Rivka, as usual, rebels against this. "Mother has a need to read the Haggadah, observe the holidays and light candles. I now refuse to do that, in full awareness. I will not be willing to read the Pesach Haggadah as it is, unless it is changed."
Kenda regrets nothing in her relations with her daughter. Rivka is sorry that in the first years after the birth of her children, she was not friendly to her mother. "It took me a good few years to understand that everyone needs this connection, both she and the children. But, you know, I am always rebelling against something."
Kenda is irritated by the demonstrations in which Rivka takes part. "Wherever there is a demonstration, she is there, with her legs that hurt her and which she can barely stand on." Rivka is irritated because her mother is sometimes unwilling to look the truth in the eye. "Those are the things that sometimes give me a fit. I used to cooperate with her, but today, when time is short, all this turning away has no place."
The collection of persecuted art was shown for the first time at a museum in St. Petersburg on the occasion of Yaakov Bar-Gera's 70th birthday. "The Russian minister of transportation thanked my parents and said that Russia owes them a debt for saving its culture," Rivka says. "And then my parents decided that the collection had to be in Israel." They wanted to donate it to the museum in Ashdod, which was then being built, and raise money to establish a research institute for persecuted art. In 2003, on the evening of the gala opening, the president of Germany arrived in Israel to award Kenda the Iron Cross as a special honor for her life work. "It was the first time the award was given to someone outside Germany and it needed a special parliamentary decision," Rivka notes. But the promises remained unfulfilled. After the fireworks, it turned out the museum had other plans. "If they don't want it, fine," Kenda says. "I took the collection out of Israel."
Rivka believes that most of her fantasies have come true. "To a large degree I succeeded in being what I wanted to be." Kenda has long since forgone fantasies. "I had to build my life from scratch. I came out of the war with one dress and a pair of shoes."