Yona was born in 1943, in Kyrgyzstan; Anat in 1979 in the physicians’ residences at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer.
Yona lives in a detached house in Hod Hasharon; Yona in an apartment in the same town.
Yona has two brothers: Natan, 65, who works at the directorate of the Weizmann Institute of Science; and Eli, 60, a businessman. Yona’s wife, Julia, is a psychiatrist at Shalvata Mental Health Center and specializes in eating disorders. Their other daughter, Iris, 37, is a psychologist. Anat’s husband, David, teaches dancing (Argentine tango and swing), and they have a son, Michael, who is a year and eight months old. All told, Yona and Julia have four grandchildren.
Yona’s parents, Rachel and Avraham, lived in Bilgoraj (the hometown of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s mother), a typical Polish shtetl, near Vilna, where Jews were the majority and the Poles acted as “Shabbes goys.” His grandfather had a printing press which turned out mainly holy books. “I collect those books, I already have 35 of them,” Yona says. In World War II, when the Russians retreated from Poland in the face of the German onslaught, they allowed the Jews to retreat with them to Ukraine. The Jews who agreed to relinquish their Polish citizenship remained in Ukraine and were annihilated by the Germans. Those who retained their Polish citizenship, like Yona’s parents, were put on trains to Siberia. “Life there was difficult, but people survived,” Yona says. “My parents were married on the way to Siberia and lived there for a year and a half. Then the Jews were split up among the kolkhozes [collective farms] in the Muslim republics of the Soviet Union. My parents were sent to a kolkhoz in Kyrgyzstan, where I was born.”
Austria, first time:
In 1945, when the war ended, the family trekked across Asia and Europe: from Kyrgyzstan to Poland and from there to a DP camp of the Joint Distribution Committee in Salzburg, where they remained until after Israel’s War of Independence. In May 1949, they immigrated to Israel and settled in the abandoned Menashiya area on the boundary between Tel Aviv and Jaffa. Yona attended primary school in the (now trendy) Neve Tzedek neighborhood of Tel Aviv, followed by two local high schools.
Yona was an officer in the Armored Corps. In the first Lebanon war, he served as a battalion medic and fought at Sultan Yakub, in a battle in which 11 Israeli soldiers were killed, three of whom are still MIA. Anat served in the Intelligence Corps at the Kirya (defense headquarters in Tel Aviv) in computers and as an instructor.
Austria, second time:
In 1967, Yona went to Vienna to study medicine. “I’d been a doctor since I was born I knew I would go to medical school. When I was a boy, in the camp in Austria, everyone called me doctor.” At the university in Vienna he met Julia, his wife, who was also studying medicine and was the daughter of the Hungarian deputy health minister, a Jewish physician. So began his Viennese adventure, an adventure fraught with ancient myths, great love and a complex personal connection that links Jewish destiny to Austria-Hungary. The start was modest; a guidebook to Vienna, explaining where the tastiest schnitzel and finest Mozartkugel can be had. The family lived in the city for almost 10 years. Yona worked as a doctor in a small hospital on the city’s outskirts. Apart from waltzes and schnitzel, what else is exciting about Vienna? “The long imperial history, architecture, women. It’s a place where you can enjoy yourself, listen to jazz, opera, culture. I suppose that if I had been a student in Paris, I would have fallen in love with it the same way I did with Vienna.”
Rudolf was the crown prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the son of the Empress Elisabeth (“Sisi”). He visited Palestine in 1882, including Jerusalem, and was received with great honor. In 1889, he and his mistress were murdered or committed suicide in his hunting lodge at Mayerling. Nine years later, Sisi was assassinated in Geneva by an Italian anarchist. These events shook up Europe, and to this day visitors place floral wreaths on the graves of Rudolf and Sisi in Vienna. For Yona, the story of their deaths became fertile ground for historical research, which resulted in a recently published novel. It’s a story with many twists involving the forces of darkness alongside Mossad agents, who help resolve the mysteries and allow its creator to rest after being unable to sleep until he unraveled the Viennese conspiracy.
After returning to Israel, Yona became an ear, nose and throat specialist in Sheba Medical Center, and Julia became a psychiatrist. Subsequently he spent a year and a half in Switzerland on a fellowship, where he learned to perform innovative surgery on deaf children and brought back the cochlear implant, dubbed the “snail implant” because of its shape. “It is implanted in the inner ear of deaf children, close to the brain, and rescues them from deafness,” he says. “The implant has a computer which picks up speech signals and transforms them into electrical signals which are transmitted to the brain as though the brain produced them. About 3,000 children have undergone the implant surgery in Israel and their lives have changed dramatically. They became equal to hearing children in their achievements.” After retiring from Sheba, Yona has been performing surgery at Assaf Harofeh Hospital, located in the Tzrifin army base, and in private hospitals.
A missed opportunity. Yona and Julia’s home in the physicians’ residences was close to the maternity hospital, but when the birth began he was told there was still plenty of time and was sent home. “And when I returned it was all over,” he says. “She was born with a full head of hair and was beautiful. I was very excited.”
Anat in school:
“She was a very fine student,” Yona says. “Not as good as my father thinks,” Anat says. She focused on theater and psychology tracks in high school. “I wanted to be an actor but the dream evaporated, because studying acting makes it less attractive. I had a hard time until the 10th grade. Most of the subjects didn’t interest me. I wanted to be outside. I registered for all kinds of extracurricular groups: dance, ballet, youth movement. I was always independent and rode a bicycle to all the activities. But in the 10th grade it occurred to me that I should improve my schoolwork, and then I discovered that what interested me was theater and psychology.”
Rebel with a cause:
“One day she announces that she is going to South America to ‘clean her head,’ as the saying goes, and thus to give her parents conniption fits,” Yona says. “She didn’t know whom she was going with, or where. She also refused to take a phone. We went through a very rough six months. I tried to ‘buy’ her by offering her $10,000 to trek in Europe, but it didn’t work.” But even before the trip, Yona says, “the situation was terrible. At the age of 15-16 eight girls came over to the house and at midnight they would order taxis and go to Tel Aviv for a night out. I get up at 6 A.M. and go straight to her room and she’s not there, and then I call all her girlfriends and instead of going to work I look for her. It was a horrible time. She was an irresponsible scamp, sleeping over at her girlfriends without telling us.”
Acts of law:
Anat spent two years making up her mind about a profession. She taught dance in the United States in Massachusetts and Texas as a Jewish Agency emissary. She was an instructor at a high-tech college in Herzliya Pituah. She considered medicine but wasn’t especially drawn to it; her father didn’t pressure her, because he thought it was too demanding a profession. “And then one day he asked me what I thought about being a lawyer. I took undergraduate studies at the College of Management and in my first year decided I was in love with criminal law, and that is what I do now.” Anat clerked for Prof. Ron Shapira, specializing in white-collar crime, and for the past five years has been on the staff of the Central District prosecutor’s office. I think that my love of law is connected to my love of theater. I appear in court and feel like I am on the stage.”
Dancing to the end of love:
At the age of 28, Anat decided that it was time to look for a life partner. “I was living in a rented apartment near Rabin Square. I would get back from the office and be bored. I decided to go to all sorts of activities, because you could certainly meet partners there. I signed up for rollerblading and for Argentine tango. In the first class I danced with David and fell in love. He looked so young that I thought he was an 18-year-old Russian, but he turned out to be an American. He has a degree in computer sciences, but at some stage he started to dance in the Chicago Dance Company and afterward in Bat-Dor and also started to teach at Dance Tel Aviv. He still works there, teaching Argentine tango and swing.” Yona: “At their wedding they performed a stunning Argentine tango.”
“He gets on my nerves by resembling me,” Anat says. “When we fight, it’s fire against fire. I’m not one to keep quiet, and he also has a short fuse.” Yona shoots back: “She is overprotective of my grandson. She wraps him in swaddling cloth.”
Reflections in the mirror:
“I am a copy of my father,” Anat says. “We are both perfectionists and self-critical. I think my father should have been a lawyer. He has the ability to investigate things to the end. He could have been an excellent lawyer.”
Most important in life:
The ability to help others Yona; health, and as many moments of satisfaction as possible Anat.
I will never be like my father:
“I hope I will not be a workaholic like him. He is totally consumed by his work. I hope I can lead a calmer life.”
Anat courageously expresses her regrets in regard to her father: “I would not go to South America without a phone again, or do all those things to make him angry. I would try to tone things down. I only understood that when I became a mother.”
Yona is disappointed that his daughter did not become a physician. “She could have been the third generation of doctors in the family, but it’s hard for women in Israel. I hope one of the grandchildren will be a doctor.”
Anat wanted to be an actress; Yona always wanted to be a professor.
This is the final “Relatively Speaking” column.