'Three days, and nobody asked?'
The two policemen, two volunteers from the Hatzala volunteer emergency service and the municipal supervisor who stood at the entrance to the apartment in Block 1073, in Shikun D in Tiberias two and a half weeks ago, did not have much to do. A quick glance at the woman's body found in the apartment made it clear to them that her death had not been the result of either an attack or suicide. At the entrance to the apartment block, there was no crowd of nosy onlookers. The death of Nelly Hodes, 75, aroused almost no attention. Apparently nobody showed much interest in her or her son while she was alive, either.
It happened during the time when an entire country was following the story of the disappearance and murder of the child Rose Pizem. Hodes' body was found at the entrance to the bathroom, a few meters from the living room in the small apartment where her son Boris, 51, was lying. It is still not clear whether the son, who is a quadriplegic, tried to call for help after his mother fell and died in the third-floor apartment.
The two policemen, two Hatzala volunteers and the supervisor waited at the entrance to the building, until an investigator checking the incident had completed his work. When he left he said he assumed that Hodes had slipped for some reason and banged her head. In his assessment, she died from the force of the impact.
Hodes' death was discovered only when the cleaning woman who worked for the family arrived at noon, three days after she had died. "I knocked on the locked door," said the woman, "and from inside the apartment Boris shouted, 'Mother is dead, Mother is dead.'" Ilan Zeituni, a neighbor who lives on the first floor, saw the cleaning woman coming downstairs in a state of distress. "She said that apparently Nelly, the woman who lived on the top floor, had died. I rushed to call the police," he said.
Firemen were called to the locked apartment, which they entered through the window. "We saw the body of an elderly woman lying on the floor in a state of decomposition," was how fireman Ehud Zenad described it. "Her son was lying on the floor. He didn't speak and looked exhausted. He seemed to be in shock, and said that he hadn't eaten or drunk for three days. He looked out of it, and didn't understand what was happening to him."
Ron Ohana, a Tiberias resident who passed by the scene and saw the policemen in the apartment, asked in surprise, "For three days nobody asked about a disabled man and his mother?"
In Poriya Hospital, where the son was taken by ambulance, they said that he spoke little and had eagerly eaten the food served to him.
Some of the neighbors said that Boris Hodes, in spite of his disability, is "an ordinary person." Others believe "that he has psychological problems, maybe slight retardation, too."
The cleaning woman said, "He's a strange person, but I don't think he's crazy. He understood what was going on around him. His shouts when I arrived at the apartment are proof of the fact that he was aware of his situation."
She worked in the home of Nelly and her son a few hours a week, privately, not as a representative of the municipal welfare department or on behalf of any other organization. "Nelly said: 'I'm a mother, it's my job to take care of my child.' It was very hard for her. He lay in bed all the time without moving. He used to shout at her all the time," said the woman.
In the Tiberias welfare department, they didn't know anything about the woman and her son. "This was an elderly woman, who was totally independent and didn't ask for, or didn't need, the assistance of the welfare services. In spite of her age, she took care of her son. They lived alone and didn't ask for any help," said a representative of the welfare department.
"Boris came to live in the block about seven years ago. He limped and used a cane," said a neighbor who, like most of the block's residents, asked not to be identified by name. They said that Nelly came to live with her son about two years ago. His situation gradually deteriorated, until he became totally paralyzed and dependent on his mother. "He is paralyzed and unable to move," said one of them. "They were isolated and lived hand-to-mouth from their National Insurance allowance."
In spite of the difficult conditions she lived in, said one neighbor, Nelly Hodes was "a quiet and well-groomed woman. She always left the house in a pretty, wide-brimmed hat when she went shopping. Once I thought that her son was her husband. Her attitude toward him was so special. She had no connection with us except to say, 'Shabbat Shalom.'"
At the Merizen ambulance company, which operates in Tiberias, they also recall Nelly's devotion to her son. "She took such good care of him," said Orit, an employee of the company. "Once in a while she would contact us and call for an ambulance to bring him to the clinic or for treatments. You don't see such a thing every day."
Nelly Hodes met her neighbors for the last time two days before her death. "A water pipe burst beneath the block and she went outside with everyone to see what had happened," said one of the tenants. The pipe was repaired within a few hours and the residents returned to their routine.
The block, in the heart of Shikun D in Upper Tiberias, has 36 apartments. Many of them, like the apartment of Nelly and Boris Hodes, belong to the Amidar government housing company. At the entrances to buildings sit elderly people in small groups. In the neighborhood's streets, which used to be bustling with life, one sees only a few children or young adults. Even the upcoming local elections are not waking up the neighborhood.
"Here people lock the door and it's everyone to himself," explains a resident, who is sitting at the entrance to the synagogue that operates out of the ground-floor apartment of Entrance A in Block 1073. She and the friends sitting with her know nothing of what happened to Boris since he was evacuated from the apartment.
Dr. Ofer Tamir, deputy director of Poriya Hospital, discovered after extensive investigation that Boris had been transferred from the hospital to the nursing-care division in Neot Kinneret, which also operates as a senior citizens' home. "He is an invalid who suffers from multiple health problems," said Tamir. In the hospital they also found psychological problems, which cannot be elaborated upon.
Isana Kirkur, a resident of Rishon Letzion, read a short death notice for Nelly Hodes on a Russian-language Web site. She met Nelly about 15 years ago at an ulpan (Hebrew program) in Tel Aviv. "Nelly is dead? Is it definitely Nelly Hodes?" she asked repeatedly over the phone. Kirkur, 80, lives in an Amidar apartment in Rishon Letzion, and she also takes care of a paralyzed man, her husband, "who fought in Leningrad." She said that Hodes came to Israel from Moscow with her husband, who has since died. "Boris immigrated before them with his wife, but they separated."
Kirkur said that in Moscow, Nelly had been a music teacher, "but here in Israel she didn't work. She and Boris lived in Tel Aviv on his disability allowance, and afterward from her old-age allowance, too. Boris was fine psychologically but suffered from a slight limp. He used a cane. He had a bent for technical things."
Nelly and Boris moved to Tiberias in 2001, after receiving an Amidar apartment in the city. As a result of the move, the two were forced to part from immigrants they had known already in Moscow, and from the few friends they had in the center of the country. Boris' health deteriorated. He suffered from various vascular diseases and had a stroke. Kirkur said that she begged Nelly to arrange his eligibility for an additional disability allowance: "They received additional money, and I think the allowance was enough for them to live on; they even bought a television and a radio."
Because each of them was taking care of a disabled person, Hodes and Kirkur could not meet and made do with keeping in touch by telephone. "About a month and a half ago," recalled Kirkur, "Nelly said that she had started to feel unwell. She suffered from dizziness when she went outside and she also told me she had fallen in the street."
Despite the information about the deterioration in Hodes' health, Kirkur finds it difficult to accept the explanation about the circumstances of her death. "She used to save money and buy nice jewelry. I asked her: 'What do you need it for?' and she said that she loved jewelry. Are you sure they checked properly that the jewelry didn't disappear from the apartment? It's suspicious."
In the autopsy on Hodes' body at the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute, the police's assumptions were verified - there was no evidence that the death was the result of a criminal incident.
Moshe Krauthammer, of the Tiberias Religious Council, prepared to bury her body in the municipal cemetery. On the evening before the funeral he went to a yeshiva in the city and convinced a few students to form a minyan (prayer quorum) that would accompany the isolated woman on her final journey. "This case made me very sad. I wanted her to get some attention and respect at least at her funeral," he says.
He was told that Hodes was not Jewish. Because the cemetery in Tiberias does not have a burial area for non-Jews, Hodes was buried in the Carmiel cemetery. Her body was transported from Abu Kabir to Carmiel by ambulance. Two of the cemetery employees loaded the coffin onto the iron cart used for carrying the dead, and rolled it to the pit they had dug. The funeral was delayed somewhat in the expectation that maybe someone who knew Nelly Hodes would come. When the grave diggers understood they were waiting in vain, the burial was concluded within minutes.
"It's hard for me, I'm an old woman and I have to help my husband," said Kirkur, who seemed to be apologizing for the fact that she didn't come to the funeral. Nor was Boris Hodes brought to the funeral of the woman who had devoted herself entirely to his care.
Boris, now at Neot Tiberias, does not communicate with his surroundings. "He's in shock and his only contact with the world is by means of glances," explained the social worker. In the nursing division they said that they have the impression that the man understands what is happening to him, but apparently it will take a long time before he manages to recover at all.