Reliving Grandpa's diary
Rafael Aboulafia volunteered for the mule-drivers regiment, the first of the Jewish battalions that found under the auspices of the British military in World War I.
On June 8, 1915, Rafael Aboulafia found out that his beloved had gone to Russia, and wrote in his diary the next day: "She has gone, my Yehudit! Is this indeed the end? All my dreams are dying. All my hope is waning! Yehudit, Yehudit, what have you done? Who is the devil that has come between us?"
Aboulafia was 22 at the time. He was born in Rishon Letzion, and fled to Alexandria when World War I broke out, to evade the Turks' mandatory draft. From there he volunteered for the mule-drivers regiment, the first of the Jewish battalions that fought under the auspices of the British military. In early May 1915 he was shot in his right arm. He was taken to Alexandria for treatment, where he hoped to meet his beloved, Yehudit Yaffe, but upon arriving he learned that he had missed her by a few days. All he could do was lament the separation in his diary: "God of gods, how miserable I am! Yehudit is gone and whither shall I go?"
Aboulafia's father was an Arabic teacher and one of the founders of Tel Aviv; his mother was Rivka Freiman, whose parents were among the founders of Rishon Letzion. Later in life, Aboulafia moved to Jerusalem. His diaries remained in the family, and their preservation was improved upon with each generation: First they were transcribed by typewriter from the original notebooks, and then they were copied onto a computer, until finally they were sent by e-mail to his granddaughter, Roni Aboulafia, a documentary filmmaker. She and her friend Shiri Perciger Cohen are publishing her grandfather's diary online, day by day. This year, the days of the week line up with those of the year when Aboulafia wrote his diary, 95 years ago. His granddaughter also opened a Twitter account for him, under the user name "Rafaelaboulafia" (the tweets are in Hebrew ). Followers respond as if it all were happening now.
In the nature of soldiers' diaries, Aboulafia's journal does not teach us much about the war's progress, but Aboulafia does a good job of describing his daily routine as a soldier on board a ship heading to Gallipoli: "If you wish to know what we eat on deck, here it is: In the morning - tea, cheese and jam. At noon - cheese, tea and jam. In the evening - jam, cheese and tea. Every day a tin of canned meat from Canada and occasionally - castor oil!"
On the morning of April 23, 1915, he wrote: "The time is 7 P.M. Because the ship cannot leave they have decided to transfer us to another ship. Boats came immediately and they began transferring our delightful mules. The manner of transfer aroused our curiosity, how peculiar it was! At the bottom of the ship they wrapped around the beast a broad piece of cloth that served as a sort of girdle, with its two ends tied to ropes. These ropes were connected with a cable hook. Then they shouted 'Bira' - and up goes our mule into the air, he is utterly astonished, opening his eyes wide, turning his head and kicking his feet, sometimes groaning, and when he gets high enough they turn the hook sideways, and here is our beast setting its feet down onto the boat on the other side of the ship."
On May 17 he wrote: "Last night a man died onboard. At 10 the ship stands and from its prow the deceased is thrown into the sea, wrapped in English cloth and placed in a sack, after a short prayer by the ship's chaplain. At first the sea is punctured, but it is quickly covered again. The ship continues on its way, and everything goes back to the way it was before!! The Isle of Lemnos was close to us and they could easily have buried him, set a gravestone at the very least in memory of a human soul, perhaps a great soul. But they did not do so. They must take pity on the fish at man's expense, to give them prey. Oh, humanity, oh, cultured man! We see your handiwork, for it is more wild than the wildest of wild deeds."
An injury caused him suffering. On June 4, 1915 he wrote: "Oh! Yesterday I had a very bad day, strong fever all day long, and I am so weak that I cannot stand on my feet. At 9:30 P.M. the doctor came, examined me and prescribed me an aspirin. Oy! The English are evil, cruel, indifferent. The Australians have an expansive soul, they are more magnanimous."
Any sign of Yehudit Yaffe was lost without a trace, but Rafael Aboulafia found new loves.