Making the Bed

Uncle Baruch's only son died at age 26 in one of the unknown battles of the War of Independence, the battle for the Gilboa. The son's name was Nahum Nisht, and he was an introverted, serious, dedicated person.

1. Uncle Baruch's only son died at age 26 in one of the unknown battles of the War of Independence, the battle for the Gilboa. The son's name was Nahum Nisht, and he was an introverted, serious, dedicated person - so I learned from reading about him and so I am certain he was, to judge by family character traits. A picture of Nahum in his beret lay pressed under the glass top of my grandmother's dresser in her room on the kibbutz. Uncle Baruch came to visit once. My grandmother gave him her bed and he slept there on raised pillows, breathing loudly behind a blind fashioned from plastic concertina wire. As if acting out their own Book of Genesis, this was their contact-free version of the mitzvah of levirate marriage.

2. Uncle Baruch was a mysterious and very nice man, with ears big as sails and a belt that circled his belly like an iron hoop around a barrel. I knew he was my father's uncle, but still there were times when I thought of him as his father. For my father visited his Uncle Baruch in his one-and-a-half-room apartment on Dizengoff Street for many years and loved him and tended to him until his final days at the Mishan old age home in Givatayim.

3. Nahum, my father's cousin, was named for Uncle Baruch's son. When I was a little girl, I saw the young Nahum playing basketball and watched him sink an unbelievable three-pointer from half-court.

4. On the Defense Ministry's Yizkor memorial site I read that Nahum Nisht served in the British Army in the deserts of North Africa during the World War, and that he had also been to Italy. He had written home frequently to his kibbutz, Geva (where he had grown up ever since coming on aliya from Poland), but he was "withdrawn and didn't bare his solitary soul. He was very sensitive and shy. He always imagined that he might have offended someone, that he might have acted improperly, and was careful not to disturb others." He left this army in anger after the Black Sabbath and became a member of Geva, despite having been offered a clerking position in the city. In the War of Independence he fought in the Golani Brigade. The news of his death on the Gilboa, in March 1948, was not immediately delivered to his father, since at the time Uncle Baruch was in Italy working on behalf of the Aliya Bet organization.

5. Uncle Baruch liked women. Handsome he wasn't - with a face wide as a plate and very sparse hair - but he had extraordinarily clever eyes. He parted ways with Nahum's mother when Nahum was just a toddler, and in the 1950s Baruch was married to a woman named Yehudit. She worked in the Foreign Ministry and they lived together in a tiny apartment brimming with fragile knick-knacks, on Sokolov Street in Tel Aviv. Once, my Aunt Miraleh, then a teenager, visited them when she was sent from the kibbutz to spend a day in Tel Aviv. No food was served to her, but she remembers drinking water from a crystal glass.

Yehudit wasn't overly fond of children, but she was very elegant. She had many souvenirs from her time spent as an emissary to the Jewish community in Iran, then called Persia. When Baruch served as an attache in Bucharest and as a consul in Warsaw, she accompanied him, but she didn't join him on his travels to Tel Aviv cafes. One day, Uncle Baruch came back from a cafe and found his house empty. Yehudit had left him and taken everything with her. The rumor was that she had found someone else. He moved to Dizengoff Street, and never spoke of her again.

6. Over the past last few years, cousins Uri, Itzik, Nahum and Yaffa (Yachin) Niv have worked to commemorate the battle for the Gilboa and in the process uncovered its bitter details: It was an ambush initiated by Jewish fighters, which was exposed, and the bodies of the dead, including that of cousin Nahum, were subsequently taken to Jenin and mutilated there. What did Uncle Baruch do when he was informed of his son's death and of what happened to him? I imagine that he went up on the roof of his house, like David in his lament for Absalom, and cried, "My son, Nahum! My son, my son, Nahum! If only I could have died in your place! Nahum my son, my son."