Rivka and Barak Hamdani - Zionist Flower Children

Aviva Lori
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Aviva Lori

Rivka was born in 1953, in Haifa; Barak in 1975, in Yavneh.

Rivka lives in a two-story house in Ashdod; Barak in a detached house in Moshav Tzofit, a cooperative village north of Kfar Sava.

Rivka and Barak Hamdani.Credit: Ilya Melnikov

Extended family:
Rivka’s mother, Sara, is 87. She has a brother, Prof. Itzhak Rosner, a rheumatologist. Her husband, Shmuel, 64, is a lawyer and retired judge. Her children, in addition to Barak: Asaf, 39, is a professor of law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Gilad, 34, is concluding a residency in pediatrics at the Hadassah medical center; Yehudit, 27, the only daughter, is doing a master’s degree in epidemiology at Tel Aviv University; Yoav, 26, is doing a degree at Tel Aviv University in a track for outstanding students in the humanities and the arts; and Yitzhak, 22, is a youth counselor on Kibbutz Eilot, adjacent to Eilat, and lives in a commune in nearby Kibbutz Yotvata. Barak’s wife, Irit, 38, works for the high-tech firm Amdocs and is a photographer. They have a 2-year-old daughter, Galit. All told, Rivka has six grandchildren.

Rejected outsider:
Rivka’s parents were born in the Carpathian Mountains, now in Ukraine. Her father, Dov, immigrated to Palestine in 1939; her mother, Sara, a Holocaust survivor, came in 1948. Dov was a glazier and was employed by Phoenicia Glass Works. When Rivka was 5 and a half, the family immigrated to the United States, settling in Cleveland. “Phoenicia was a Histadrut firm,” Rivka says, referring to the federation of labor, “and my father was in Herut and had been in the Irgun” referring to the right-wing party and prestate underground “so he felt rejected, an outsider. All the troubles fell on him. They decided to emigrate. They both had family in Cleveland.”

New identity:
After the war Rivka’s mother found herself in a DP camp in Germany. Activists from the Jewish community in Palestine sought every possible way to bring the refugees over. Finally, an agreement was reached with the British by which former inmates of camps that were liberated by British forces would receive certificates of immigration to Palestine. In Bergen-Belsen, a camp which the British had liberated, Jewish Agency officials received the names of people who had perished and gave them to the refugees, who changed their new identity on the way to Palestine. Rivka’s mother assumed the identity of Helen Trabichov.

Coincidence in Cleveland:
In Cleveland, Rivka’s parents visited a used-car lot. After looking around, they thanked the salesman and said they would think about it and come back. The salesman gave them his business card. Rivka’s mother read the name and handed him back the card. The salesman, slightly offended, asked her what the problem was. “There is no problem,” Rivka’s mother said. “I see that your name is Joe Trabich, and that is [very similar to] a name I will never forget.” She then told him about the false identity she had been given at Bergen-Belsen. The man blanched and said, “Helen, the woman you are talking about, was my sister.”

Zionist flower child:
Rivka grew up in the United States during the tempestuous 1960s. But when she visited Israel, after the Six-Day War of 1967, her revolutionary ardor and quest for change were realized not at Woodstock, but at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The American girl was transformed into an idealistic Zionist. “I decided to go to university in Israel,” she says. “But my parents objected to my serving in the army. They gave me their blessing only after I promised them not to serve.” She immigrated in 1970 and was accepted to a preparatory program for foreign students. “To this day I recall the Israeli arrogance in that program,” she says. “As though it is inconceivable that someone achieved something in some other country and could be at the Israeli level. But I was young and idealistic and took the dumb preparatory course, which was a waste of a year.” Rivka studied occupational therapy and works in that profession for the Clalit HMO. She manages an institute for healing and rehabilitation in Ashdod, coordinates housing for the handicapped and is a consultant in this field.

The wrong kind:
At university, Rivka met Shmuel, an Iranian-born law student whose surname derives from the city of Hamdan, the ancient Shushan, in which the Book of Esther is set. He was an ambitious young man who had clawed his way from a new-immigrant transit camp to the Hebrew University. “My parents took it very hard,” Rivka recalls. “They were very angry with me because of his ethnic origin. To put it bluntly, they did not accept him. But he always told me not to be angry at them and to respect them.” Shmuel pursued a legal career, as a lawyer and a judge – he was court president in Ashdod – and Rivka’s mother now says that he is her best son-in-law.

Barak’s birth:
“Unforgettable,” Rivka says. “It started Saturday morning, and we observe Shabbat. I had to get to the hospital in Ashkelon and my husband had to decide whether we would go to synagogue. We decided to drive to the hospital. I was having contractions. Then the car in front of us flipped over into a ditch. Shmuel said he had to stop, maybe the people in the car needed help. I said, ‘Stop – Barak will wait.’ Miraculously, mother, daughter and dog came out of the overturned car unhurt – they had been on the way to a dog show in Ashkelon. The only thing the mother had to say was, ‘My husband will kill me, I just took possession of the car yesterday.’”

Barak in school:
When Barak was four, the family moved to Ashdod, where Barak attended high school and was an excellent student, Rivka says. Barak says he was a wild student. “In primary school I was hyperactive. I couldn’t sit still, things moved too slowly.” Rivka remembers one particular teacher, Yocheved. “In the third grade she called me and said she didn’t like the way he was doing his homework. He did it just before he entered the classroom. ‘What’s the problem?’ I asked. She said that’s not the way homework is done. I asked her if the goal was to do it at home or to know the material, and that quite surprised her. He was opinionated and did not hesitate to say what he thought of the teachers. In many cases he was right, but the teachers were offended. So we taught him that you don’t always have to say things to people to their face.”

Barak was an officer in the Armored Corps.

Waste of time:
After his army service, Barak took industrial engineering at Tel Aviv University and also started to write. He published a book of poetry in 2003. Before the Second Lebanon War he obtained an MBA and published a novel, “Dust,” written from the point of view of a fop from Ashdod who admires his battalion commander in the Armored Corps.

At about the age of 25, Barak stopped being religiously observant. Why? “It seemed to me that to observe Shabbat was a waste of time. You could use the time to write, for example,” he says. Barak is currently the director of Teva Pharmaceuticals’ sterile production plant in Kfar Sava and has just published a new novel, “The Yellow Rose,” about the Nazis’ deception in Theresienstadt, told from the viewpoint of a 9-year-old boy.

Rebel with a cause:
“Maybe it was his decision not to be religious,” Rivka says. Barak thinks his rebellion started at a late stage, in the army. “After the officers’ course, when I was already a commander, I understood that I could do what I want, so people should leave me alone. My yearning for freedom and the ability to accept it: that is the rebellion, from my point of view.”

“Sometimes he gets angry quickly, like his mother,” Rivka says. Barak is amused at the way his mother irritates him. “All that ‘Polish mother’ stuff makes me laugh. When I was still single she used to call and say, ‘I know you don’t call single men at night and don’t ask where they are, but where are you?’ Once they went away for the weekend and she called and said, ‘Your poor wretched sister is sitting all alone in her apartment in Givatayim, maybe you’ll invite her over so she won’t be by herself? And don’t say I asked.’ I call my sister and she says, ‘Did Mom call you, too?’ It turned out that she had called all my brothers and asked them to call our sister.”

I will never be like my mother:
Barak thinks he will not be an educational figure for his children. “Educating is not for me. I won’t chase them to do their homework, help in the house and be nice to all kinds of people. And Friday in my house will not be like in this house. It was an industry that ticked away until the advent of Shabbat, and to me it looked like slavery. With us, Friday will be the day of the soul.”

Rivka admits, “I really was too much of an educator. I didn’t see my role as being a friend to my children, but to raise them. It’s too bad that because of that, the house wasn’t more easy-going and everything had to run like clockwork. Maybe I would have wanted a different atmosphere instead of that tension.”
Barak regrets not visiting his parents more in the past few years.

“I would like Mom’s dream to be less one of establishing a home in Israel. We already have a home and there’s a family, and Zionism is also sort of done with. Now I would like her to do more for herself. She is an artist, she makes patchwork things, dolls, and she could devote more of her time to that.”

Something never before said:
“That I love and appreciate him very much,” Rivka says.

Most important in life:
“My family, health, loyalty to one another and to values,” Rivka says. Barak: “For my wife to be pleased.”

As a girl, Rivka had a fantasy of seeing the world. How? Very simple: by joining the U.S. Navy. Adolescent Rivka had a bourgeois-Zionist fantasy: to establish a home in Israel with successful children and a good husband. Barak wanted to be a pilot as a child. The adolescent Barak wanted to be a rock ’n’ roll artist who would conquer the stage – not the club scene but a mass audience in Hayarkon Park.

Barak and Hamdani, 1989.