Yael Levy, 80, Ramat Gan

They live in different places in Israel, pursue different occupations, come from different family backgrounds and are at different stages of their lives. Yotam Feldman?s portrait of eight women − all named Yael Levy.

Yotam Feldman
Yotam Feldman
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Yotam Feldman
Yotam Feldman

Scene I: Whistling

Yael was born in Tel Aviv at the corner of Ha'ari and Geula Streets, next to the Allenby Cinema, the eldest of six children. Her parents are of Yemenite origin, sixth generation in the country. In her childhood they lived in Tel Aviv with the extended family in two houses with a common yard. "We were a huge family," she relates, "and everything was shared. We had a musical home. The Amrani duo and Hedva and David [another duet] were cousins, and there were many others - my grandfather had many brothers and sisters. I didn't play an instrument, but I could sing and whistle - I was known as the second Clara Ames [an artistic whistler in Israel in the 1950s]. I imitated birds. These days it's hard, I have no breath. I'm sorry I stopped singing.

"I was a beautiful girl with long curls. My father did not allow me out of the house anywhere until the age of 12-13. We were naive back then, we didn't ask questions. Father said no, and that meant no." She was engaged to her husband, Yoav, at age 14. He belonged to the Irgun, a pre-state militia. They married when she was 18. In high school she met children from all sectors of the population. "It was a very big school," she relates, "with children from all classes, richer, poorer, Yemenites, Sephardim, Ashkenazim. One of them was my very good friend, Ruth Moritz. After father was arrested [see below] and I went to work - I went to school in the evening - we lost touch and I didn't hear from her. I learned from the newspaper that she died in the war, in the conquest of Yahudiya [an Arab village near Jaffa, in 1948]. We were like sisters. Her house was the only place my father allowed me to go to, because no kalaniyot [British soldiers with red berets] hung around there. From Allenby to the sea it was all cafes, and that's where the English, the Australians and the Scots sat and drank themselves drunk."

Did you ever talk to the British?

"During the big curfew, when there were four days of curfew, they took all the men and left the women. We stood on the roof - grandmother and my mother and all the aunts - and below were the kalaniyot. So one day I got it into my head and we started to sing the song 'Kalaniyot.' They came up and one of them asked me: 'What is the meaning of kalaniyot?' I said: 'It is a flower. Its leaves are red and inside it's black, like your heart.' He was about to give me a slap, but grandmother saw it and stood between us."

Scene II: Dad

At the end of the 1930s, Yael's father opened a canteen at the Yarmuk Bridge. He bought goods in the city and took them in two suitcases. "The English saw and recognized them and knew that they were filled with produce and that he brought them back empty. But they weren't empty. They had weapons in them."

When he was arrested, apparently after someone informed on him, the Irgun [pre-1948 underground military organization] let the family know. He was tried in a military court in Jerusalem. "I testified in favor of father," Yael recalls. "They asked me who carried the suitcase and if I ever saw weapons in the suitcase. The lawyer had a pencil and we had an agreement that when he tapped the pencil on the table I would not answer the question."

During the court hearings her father's hands and legs were shackled. "We could hardly talk to him," she relates. "I remember that my fifth sister was born then, and when they put him in the van on the way back to prison I told him: 'Daddy, you have a girl, we have a new sister and we will call her Romema.'"

Her father was sentenced to 56 months in prison. He was pardoned after four years. "He was in Acre prison. He came back a broken man." W



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