Tag Archives: Bat Yam

Tribute to Old Man and the Sea

7 May

My father, Joseph Labi, 88, always loved the sea.  As a child in Benghazi, Libya, he frequented the seaport and watched boats sail in and out of the Italian, Fascist-controlled harbor.

Joseph Labi today

Joseph Labi today

Many years later, in Israel, I recall my father taking me to the sea in Bat-Yam, our hometown outside Tel-Aviv.  We waded into the blue water until our toes could no longer touch the sand below. Then we floated and awaited for the waves to roll in from the deep.  We body-surfed the waves, our arms swinging like windmills to catch the cresting wave, carried to shore, and back again, and back again.

Joseph and wife Yvonne today

Joseph and wife Yvonne today

It is fitting, then, that last week the Holocaust Memorial documentarian chose to film my father with the sea behind him as a backdrop.  I look at my father and I can’t believe his age, nor mine — time did fly.

Joseph Labi at 15 in Italian village

Joseph Labi at 15 in Italian village

It was not until 1968, shortly after my Bar Mitzvah that I fully learned of my father’s horrific experience at the hands of the Nazis.  I was in the Israeli-equivalent of the Boy Scouts and I was asked to volunteer my father to speak of his ordeal in front of the “troops.”  It was a hot summer evening.  My father, dressed fashionably as he always did, fanned his face with a folded handkerchief.  I sat speechless long after he’d finished talking.  The images didn’t add up.  How was this stong, muscular, handsome man who stood before me was tortured to near nothingness by the Nazi machine?

Two years before, in 1966, and some twenty years after the end of WWII, my father, mother, sister and I visited a remote village in the Italian mountain range near Reggio Emilia.  “This is where I spent my childhood as an orphan,” he said.  Here in the village, Castelnovo Ne Monti, my father was interned by the Fascists and Nazis for two years.  Walking with him then in the picturesque cobblestone streets shrouded by mountain mist, I couldn’t imagine what he’d endured as a 15 year-old boy before the Nazis put him on a train to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany.

Joseph with Isael's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Joseph with Isael’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu

That same night he and I sat at the Italian village outdoor cafe and watched on a grainy black-and-white TV the 1966 soccer World Cup final game between England and Germany.  While the Italian crowd rooted for their Germans war-allies, my father and I jumped for joy when England won the game and took the cup. That night my father couldn’t be happier, a small revenge of sorts.

Years passed.  He sometimes spoke of his experience at Bergen-Belsen, of his hunger, of his loneliness, of his humiliation, and his desire to live.  After liberation by the Americans, alone, he wandered the bombed-out cities

Joseph, at far left, with Special Combat Forces

Joseph, at far left, honored by Special Combat Forces

of Europe, finally returning to his port city of Benghazi, and the sea.  But it was no longer his home.  Almost everyone he’d known had scattered. He made it to Egypt with a childhood buddy, and from there, dressed as a British Jewish Brigade soldier he was smuggled into British-controlled Palestine.  For two years at a kibbutz he learned to tend to crops, milk the cows; learned to shoot a rifle, learned to read and write Hebrew before being drafted as a soldier in Israel’s War of Independence.

Joseph honored by his family at Holocaust Memorial Stage

Joseph honored by his family at Holocaust Memorial Stage

The rest is history.  The number of Holocaust survivors is diminishing worldwide.  Soon there will be no one left to give first-hand testimony.  This week my father was honored as one of six survivors to light the torch at the Holocaust Memorial Services in Jerusalem.  He met with Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, finally awarded a stage on which to tell his story.  He owes thanks to his son-in-law Israel who’d campaigned for him for years, and to his grandson Daniel.  My younger daughters, Maya and Romy, 17, honored their grandfather by heading an Israeli delegation to Bergen-Belsen.  There they found his name recorded in the Nazi archives, including the date the train arrived at the camp.

Playing with the latest addition, his great-granddaughter

Playing with the latest addition, his great-granddaughter

My older daughters in America, Michelle and Vanessa, are proud of him, sharing his story with many of their friends of their generation.

The ceremony at Yad Va’Shem is over.  The cameras stopped.  The phone calls to my father from reporters and news crews stopped.  But my father hasn’t.  He will soon put on his soft walking shoes and head to the sea.  There he will stand on the cliff and look into the water, watch the waves roll in.  An old man and his sea.

 

Below there’s a link to my father’s video testimony.

http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/remembrance/2016/labi.asp


Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/Maurice-Labi/e/B00A9H4XEI

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandn

 

 

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Gaza Rockets, Bomb Shelters and Rock Music

20 Jul

Events unfold so fast in the Middle East, you need to hit the “pause” button on the TV remote to slow down the action.  Just four weeks ago, three Israeli teenage boys were kidnapped and killed by Arab terrorists.  Just two weeks ago, a group of Jewish boys kidnapped an Arab boy and killed him in revenge.  In this part of the world that’s ancient history.  Today, we’re into day 13 of operation “Protective Edge,” an all out war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza.

Don’t ask who started it.  If you’re Arab, the Israelis started it.  If you’re Israeli, the Arabs started it.

entrance to public bomb shelter

entrance to public bomb shelter

Hamas launches rockets into Israel, day and night.

Israel’s warplanes pound targets in Gaza.  A ground offensive of tanks and infantry went in.  Casualties, although disproportionate, are mounting on both sides.

A crane lowers a small public bomb shelter to the ground

Media coverage in Israel is round-the-clock.  Network television updates viewers minute-by-minute.  Commentators and experts abound.  Psychologists speak of ways to help children deal with anxiety. On the radio, songs are played occasionally, often interrupted by the military: “Red Alert!  Red Alert!”

That’s the signal to run for your life.

Israeli villages, towns, kibbutzim near Gaza have 15 to 30 second to run for cover before the Hamas-launched rockets fall.  Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are farther away.  People there have 60 to 90 seconds.  I live in Galilee – too far from Gaza.

There are bomb shelters of every kind, variety.  Israelis stranded outdoors can run for cover inside public bomb shelters made of reinforced concrete and steel.  In my house there’s a bomb shelter at the lower level.  Like most Israelis, during periods of quiet, the shelter is used up as an extra bedroom or storage room.

Huddled inside the restaurant bomb shelter

Huddled inside the restaurant bomb shelter

All single family homes must have them, at the least the newer homes.  Apartment buildings have them.  Theaters have them.  Restaurants have them.  Some can accommodate just a handful of people, others can accommodate hundreds.  It’s a way of life.  Security is all around you.

Earlier this week I went to visit my father and mother, and my sister, in Bat-Yam, a seaside town bordering Tel Aviv.  It felt strange to hear their stories of near-misses, stories of explosions, and sonic-booms.  They spoke of how “Iron Dome” — Israel’s missile defense shield, was able to knock out Hamas rockets out of the sky.  It was strange, because for once, my village in Galilee was in the clear – no longer the target of rockets coming in from Hezbollah in Lebanon.

But the rockets did not stop us from arranging to meet at Cafe Joe for breakfast the next morning.  Cafe Joe is on the beach, with views of the blue waters of the Mediterranean.  At that hour there were a few “crazies” like us who’d had enough of running and hiding.

Teenagers on Bat Yam beach after the bomb alert ended

Teenagers on Bat Yam beach after the bomb alert ended

We looked at th menus and ordered a sumptuous breakfast.  A faint siren sounded in the distance. The waitress rushed to our table.  “Alert!  Alert!” she said.  Within seconds we all assembled inside the restaurant’s bomb shelter.  Soft-drink bottles, jars, boxes, bags of coffee were all around us. Employees and diners spoke nervously. I stood next to my mother and sister, thinking this was mad.

The all-safe signal was given and we returned to our table, not before my brother-in-law took me outside and showed me the trail of smoke that the rocket had streaked across the sky.  The plume was white, puffy, like an innocent cloud.  Then it vanished. Blue skies again.

We went back in and finished our breakfast.

Israel’s “Home Front Command” is strict about its instructions on bomb-shelter maintenance. But during times of peace the shelters fall into neglect; they’re used to store mattresses, old bikes, unwanted furnishings.  But not today.  An extra-large bomb-shelter in Ashdod, Israel’s seaport town, and only 25 miles from Gaza, was converted into a live concert venue.   Residents of Ashdod, tired of being holed up in their homes and shelters came to watch and cheer Israeli rock bands.

Rockets might be flying.  Tanks might be rolling in the street of Gaza.

But the music must go on.

Welcome to the Middle East.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi

 

 

Beware, Lifeguard on Duty

8 Jun
Lifeguard Station in Bat-Yam closed for the evening

Lifeguard Station in Bat-Yam closed for the evening

Ask most people what’s their favorite vacation choice and most will say: the beach.  What is it about the beach that people love?  The powder-white sand, the salty air, the blue waters, the warm sun on your skin are all ingredients for a good, relaxing time.

But would you ever add a lifeguard to the mix?

I spent my young adult life 1/2 a mile from the Mediterranean.  I spent many years in my hometown Bat-Yam, literally translating into Daughter of the Sea, in Hebrew, or, more simply: Mermaid.

Growing up, the beach was part of our everyday lives.  It was just there, for the taking.  I could see the blue waters from the kitchen window, almost see sailboats near the horizon.

"Hasake" Life Boat

“Hasake” Life Boat

Some three decades later, I return to Bat Yam, to visit my aging parents, my sister, the beach.

And the lifeguards.

The lifeguards I knew as a child are long retired or they’re swimming with the fish in another universe.  The lifeguards in Bat Yam are a breed all of their own.  They hand over the whistle, the life vest and the hard-core training to the next generation.  They command the waters.  They rely on good eyesight, instinct, muscles, experience.   They rely on their “Hasake,” a giant, heavy surfboard with extra-long paddles to navigate the rough waters.

They’re perched like birds in their wooden lifeguard station at the water’s edge.  They peer into their binoculars to see who’s in trouble in the water.  They take turns eating.  And since they work long shifts, from early morning until evening, they take turns napping.

Bat Yam beach and skyline

Bat Yam beach and skyline

They’re family.

June is the kick-off month for summer in Israel.  Everyone’s itching to work on a bronze tan, to order coffee or a cold beer from the kiosk, to dig into a watermelon, to snooze to the sound of rushing waves.

But if you’re itching to get into the water, you’d better listen to the Bat Yam lifeguards, or else!

I’m lying on a lounge chair.  It’s almost 6 in the evening.  In a few minutes, the lifeguards will be off-duty.  This is what I hear on the LOUD-SPEAKER, much the same as I did more than 30 years ago:

ALLO!  ALLO!  Yes, you there in the red swim trunks – what do you think you’re doing?!

Sunset at Bat Yam Beach

Sunset at Bat Yam Beach

DUDE, yes, you, you, you, with the red swim trunks – What? you want to drown?

How many times have you heard me calling that the sea is very dangerous today?!

You, you, kid, KID, KID, – where’s your father?  Your mother?  What, you want to die?  Get out of the water. Now!

Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re closing shop.  We’re pulling the black flags from the water in five minutes.  No one’s going to watch over you.

ALLO!  Yes, yes, you with that funny green hat.  Didn’t you hear me?

Enjoying my childhood beach in Bat Yam

Enjoying my childhood beach in Bat Yam

Get out of the water.  Yes, yes.  What? You’re going deeper in the water as I’m talking to you?  YOU!  Don’t go macho on me.  I want to go home.  We all want to go home.  Come out of the water now.  After 6, when I’m home, you can go in all you want for all I care.  You, you – get out.

Lady, lady with the one-piece bathing suit with the polka dots, yes, yes you:  You found a great time to give swimming lessons to your boy.  Didn’t you hear?  The sea is rough.  D-A-N-G-E-R-O-U-S.  What don’t understand, lady with the polka dots?

Last warning, I’m going home.  I wanna go home.

OUT OF THE WATER.  THE SEA IS CLOSED!

The lifeguard’s “singing” is music to my ears.  I fold my towel, admire the setting sun.  Nothing’s changed.

Bat Yam lifeguards rule.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blood Stronger than Friendship

29 Sep

I’m at the Sacramento Hyatt as part of my recent trip to the U.S. to visit my oldest daughters, Michelle and Vanessa.  It’s morning.  Outside my hotel room there’s a complimentary copy of the Sacramento Bee.  I bring the newspaper to bed, skim over the headlines.  I stop on page 2.  “Israeli soldier abducted, killed by Palestinian.”  But what draws me most into this horrific story is the mention of my childhood’s hometown – Bat-Yam, a coastal city south of Tel Aviv.

Slain Israeli Soldier - Tomer Hazan

Slain Israeli Soldier – Tomer Hazan

Tomer Hazan, age 20, a Bat-Yam native, was an Israeli sergeant in the airforce.  The military allowed him to work off-base.  He supplemented his income by working at a popular Bat-Yam restaurant.  There he befriended Nidal Amar, a 42 year-old Arab from the West Bank who’d worked illegally in the restaurant for years.  The chain of events are not yet clear, but the Arab was able to convince Tomer to cross into the Palestinian Territory, near the town of Qalqiliya.  The Arab strangled Tomer and dumped him in a well.  Once the military had learned of Tomer’s vanishing, a massive manhunt was conducted, and finally, his body was found.  The Arab was arrested.

The motive for the killing?

The Arab’s brother is jailed in Israel for terrorist acts.  Amar wanted to negotiate his brother’s release in exchange for Tomer’s dead body.  In the end, blood ties and tribal obligations were stronger than friendship.

Who can you trust?

Tragic.

I fold away the newspaper, get out of bed, and an hour later I meet up with my daughters.  I make no mention of the killing.

Protesters outside restaurant

Protesters outside restaurant

Three months earlier, Michelle and her husband Jonathan, and my daughter Vanessa came to visit me in Israel.  I showed them around Galilee, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and ultimately we spent time strolling Bat-Yam’s seashore, kicking our toes in the water.

On their last night before returning to California, we dined at Tzachi Grill and Hummus Bar in Bat-Yam.  We feasted on shawarma, smooth-tasting hummus, falafel balls, salads.

Little did we know then that Tomer and Amar, his Arab “friend,” were working in that SAME restaurant.  Little did we know that three months later tragedy will strike this community.

How was Amar able to mask his “friendship” for so long?

How and why did the owner of Tzachi Grill employ an illegal Arab from the West Bank?

"Blood on your hands" the protesters chant, angry at the restaurant owner

“Blood on your hands” the protesters chant, angry at the restaurant owner

How did the Arab lure the unsuspecting soldier to enter “forbidden territory?”

The people of Bat-Yam are mad.  They wish to boycott the restaurant.  They accuse the owner of wanting to save a few shekels by employing an illegal. To his defense, the owner said Amar showed no signs of being a “Jew Hater.”

Tensions are running high.

The Israeli military routinely warns its personnel not to trust Arabs, not to get into vehicles with unknown drivers, and yet – it happened.

My nephew, Daniel, is devastated.  He’d known Tomer for years, shared beers and Karaoke songs with him.  Now the restaurant is closed pending an investigation by the secret service.  All in the hope of preventing the next tragedy.  

In Sacramento I join my daughters and we settle for Mexican food at Chipotle.  The cook behind the grill is not killing his co-worker. No one’s kidnapping anyone.

Do they know how lucky they are?

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=maurice+labi&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Amaurice+labi

or at BN.com

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/maurice-labi?store=allproducts&keyword=maurice+labi