The Gemara says that 40 days prior to conception, it is decided who a person’s mate will be. How a person finally meets their mate, on this there are endless possibilities. In my own particular case, it was that me and my intended were both amongst the Hebron settlers who arrived during 1968. King Hussein, who had attacked Israel in 1967 and hence lost Hebron, could thus have been considered our original Shadchan!
Soon after I joined the Hebron settlers, Miriam Levinger and Yair Oriel introduced me to one of the young ladies, a Dina Abrahams from England, who had joined the Hebron settlers from its inception that previous Pesach. Both of us were invited to the Levinger’s house for the Friday evening meal. In the course of the following months, we began to get to know each other. The first photograph in which we appear together, was from Chanukah that year. It was on the occasion of bringing the light kindled in Modi’in being taken to Jerusalem. That year a detour was made and it came via the Memshal in Hebron, where it was also lit.
Our decision to get married was too slow for some of the Hebron settlers and a photograph, taken by a “candid camera,” appeared on our notice board. It showed us talking together in the courtyard standing next to a baby’s playpen with another such playpen just a few metres away. Arrows had been added in ink towards the two playpens and a notice appended that the “time has come”!
This reminds me of how Menachem Liebman would jokingly speak in the Memshal about how and how often a Chatan should “meet” his prospective Kallah before they were married. They would both be brought into a room, each on a different side of a removable partition. The partition would be opened for a few seconds so that they could see each other and then it would be closed again! The next meeting would be under the Chupah!
Soon after this photograph appeared on the notice board, which was in March 1969, we made our decision. It was made in, of all places, when we were travelling in the Arab taxi of Feiz down the hill from the Memshal. I was at the time on the way out of Hebron for a few days, I believe, to visit some relatives in Petach Tiqva. When I returned, which was on a Thursday, I asked Dina whether she had yet told anybody and she answered in the negative. It was still classified “highly confidential!”
We decided that the first person we would tell would be Rabbi Levinger. We searched for him and found him in the office. As I have already said, this room was not solely an office. We were far too short of space to have the luxury of having a room solely as an office - it also doubled up as the living quarters of the Aviner family.
As soon as Rabbi Levinger heard, he telephoned his wife to tell her and said he has good news. When she asked what it was, he said jokingly that the Government had agreed to build a Kirya. He then told her why he had telephoned and within a few minutes, many of the settlers arrived in the office. Being Thursday evening, some of the women had been working in the kitchen and came wearing their aprons. As with all semachot, alcoholic drinks plentifully graced the table.
Someone suggested that we write the tanaim there and then. Maybe they were frightened that we would change our minds! So get it signed and sealed whilst the iron is still hot! It was obviously “Hashgacha Pratit” that we had found Rabbi Levinger in the office, since that was the very room where the blank tanaim forms were kept. Shlomo Aviner then quickly jumped up and took them out from the top cupboard. Chaya Ganiram excitedly went to get a plate to break. I said we need to photograph this ceremony and the settlers’ photographer Gershon Ellinson obliged.
When writing tanaim, the name of someone who “stands besides” the Chatan and the Kallah are included in this document. For the Chatan it was Rabbi Levinger and for the Kallah it was Rabbi Waldman. The latter had jokingly commented that the way we had announced our intention to marry was like “thieves in the night.” The latest date for the wedding was fixed as Tishri 5730. We had six months to arrange it.
The document was witnessed by Shlomo Aviner and Yitzchak Ganiram and it was then read out by Yair Oriel. Since our mothers were not present - they were both in England and had no idea what was happening - I broke the plate and the ceremony came to an end. I still have pieces of the broken plate stuck in one of my photograph albums. We were given a “booby” present” which was a box filled with a lot of newspaper and at the bottom a packet of frozen fish probably “bakala,” the fish served ad nauseam to the settlers.
Following the writing of the tanaim, we had to start working in earnest for the wedding and our married life. This comprised the registration formalities for the wedding, the actual wedding, organising the Sheva Berachot, a place to live and furnishing our abode.
Hebron did not, at that time have an “official Rabbinate” and we had to do the registration with the Jerusalem Rabbinate. As we shall see later, this caused a strange technical problem at a later date. Although both Dina and myself were born in England, since she at the time had Israeli citizenship and I did not, there were different procedures for the two of us. I must admit that my simple mind cannot understand this. Whether or not a Jew can marry is a matter purely concerning Halachah, whereas one’s citizenship is purely a civil matter. Be that as it may, that is the procedure in Israel!
The first job is to go the Religious Council and open a file. One of the questions they asked me was what sum to put in the Ketuvah. I said five thousand lirot and they asked Dina if this was acceptable, to which she answered in the affirmative. Afterwards she told me that she thought that this was the dowry she must bring and that she almost said that this was too much! She told me she was glad she kept her mouth shut!
I should mention that in those days five thousand lirot was a sizable sum. With astronomical inflation over the years, it is now just half of one shekel - enough to buy one chewing gum! Menachem Liebman, at the time, proudly told me that he had written eighteen thousand lirot. However today this is just one shekel 80 agorot, which in fact is very little more than half a shekel - it is just about enough to buy one small roll. He also told me that when he went to register, they asked him the amount to write. Since he had no idea what to say, they suggested to him “18.” He answered, “O.K. 18 lirot.” “No no,” they replied, “18 thousand!”
One of the things one has to do when one wants to marry is to get a certificate from the religious authorities that one is single and to do this one has to bring two witnesses who know you. For an Israeli citizen the witnesses just appear and sign before a clerk at the Religious Council. A non-Israeli must bring a certificate from his country of origin and then appear before the Dayanim at an Israeli Bet Din. I had therefore prior to this, asked my parents to obtain the necessary documentation from the London Beth Din, which they did.
Dina and I took two students from the Yeshivah, who knew both of us, Gershon Ellinson and Micha Bloch, and we all went off to Jerusalem. I did not realise at the time that I would have to appear before Dayanim - I thought I would just go before some ordinary clerk. Had I known I would have dressed accordingly. I thus went to Jerusalem wearing a white straw hut, a shirt with some buttons missing and I believe, an old jacket.
I got quite a shock and felt rather embarrassed when they told I would have to appear before the Dayanim. My dress was such that the secretary of the Bet Din looked at me and asked whether my witnesses had kipot! However it all went quickly in the Beth Din and I immediately received a certificate that I was single.
Meanwhile Dina (the Israeli citizen!) had to go to a different address in Jerusalem. Since she was using the same witnesses as me, and they had not yet arrived after appearing in the Bet Din for me, she went outside the building to look for them. The secretary of the Religious Council asked her who she was looking for. “I am looking for witnesses,” she answered. Thinking she wanted to drag in any two people from the street, the secretary replied, “They do need to know you!”
We decided that the wedding would be in the Memshal. The Chupah would take place in the courtyard, the reception immediately after the Chupah in the dining room and the meal in the newly renovated Bet Hamedrash. There was however, a Halachic problem to use the Bet Hamedrash for the wedding dinner, but we found a solution. We would have a Siyum Masechet just before the meal. For this purpose, during the weeks before the wedding, I learned Masechet Kallah (one of the small Masechtot) which is printed after Masechet Avot in the Shas. The Bet Hamedrash would then be used at the same time for a dinner following a Siyum, which was completely permitted.
Another problem was the fact that the roads were closed after dark and we therefore had to get all the “out-of-town” guests back to the Jerusalem area before dark, which on the day of the wedding was about 6 o’clock. I originally wanted to have the Chupah at 10 o’ clock in the morning but I was persuaded to make it an hour later.
We also planned to have the Aufruf (calling up the Chatan to the Torah on the Shabbat before the wedding) in the Cave of Machpelah, something which had never been done before. Maybe, one day I will appear in the “Guiness Book of Records.”
The wording on the invitations was in the style as used in England, although it was written entirely in Hebrew, and did not include an English translation. In England it is the parents who invite the guests and their names appear at the top of the invitation. We also felt it right to include the Hebron settlers as those who invite the guests.
The invitation to the wedding appeared on the top half of the invitations and on the lower half, the announcement for the Aufruf. We concluded the invitations with a verse from that week’s Parashah which was Ki Tavo, “Blessed are you in the city and blessed are you in the field.” The allusion was to the Jews being blessed in the City of Hebron and also in the Field of Machpelah.
For the Shabbatot between the writing of the Tanaim and the wedding, the various families would in turn invite us to eat with them. After we had exhausted all the families, there came a Shabbat when there was no invitation. One of the Yeshivah students said that we should come in their dining room and they would arrange a special table for us, but we did not feel this was right. Shlomo Aviner came to our rescue and said we should come to his apartment. On the Shabbat morning we took a table into the corridor just outside the dining room. Another unmarried girl joined us at this table and as one of the settlers jokingly said that “this was to watch over us!”
When we were married we would need a place to live - this was not Calcutta where over half a million residents live in the street. Although twelve apartments had recently been built, they were already all occupied. Finding apartments for newly married was not a problem which began with us. A few months earlier, one of the students at the Yeshivah, Menachem Liebman had got married and then it was decided that some of the rooms in the dormitory buildings which had just been built for the students at the Yeshivah would be used for newly-weds, each family receiving one room. One would then naturally ask, “What about kitchen and bathroom facilities?” It was decided that since there were two bathrooms/showers/toilets, one would be used for men and the other for women. As far as kitchen facilities were concerned, the sinks in the women’s bathroom would have to double up as kitchen sinks.
In fact, when a few months after we were married Dina was interviewed on Israeli radio about the living conditions in the Memshal, she commented that we had everything in our one room, except for the kitchen sink!
As far as furniture was concerned, we had some relatives in Jerusalem who had some furniture and a refrigerator which they could loan us. I also had a lot of books, mainly religious books, which I had had shipped over from England, when I had originally come to Israel. When I came to the Memshal, I saw that space was such a premium, that there was no room at that time to store them there. However, in the dormitories in Yeshivat Hanegev, where I had been for several months before going to Hebron, there was a spare room with an empty wall cupboard. I bought a lock and stored my books there. Just before the wedding, Shlomo Aviner drove me in the settlers’ tender to Netivot so that we might bring all my things to Hebron. At the time I purchased shelves and poles which tighten to the floor and ceiling for my books. To this day I am still using these bookshelves.
In the days before the wedding, some of the women among the settlers got our room ready for habitation. We already had some crockery and this they unpacked and put in the cupboards. I even remember them breaking one glass in the process. But of course I forgive them for this!
The proofs for the invitations arrived. There are invariably errors in proofs - this is the reason for sending proofs - and this was no exception. They were accordingly checked, corrected and then printed. I cannot remember the number we ordered, but we sent them to our relatives, friends and selected members of the political echelon.
My parents and a number of other relatives came to Israel from England for the wedding. Various friends and relatives had given my parents wedding presents to bring to Israel - the contents were generally in the best English traditions of cutlery - fish knives and forks, butter knives, grapefruit spoons, pastry forks, cake servers and so on. When they arrived at the Israeli customs and my mother told them that she had some wedding presents, the customs official told her that they would give her another wedding present and not charge them customs duties.
Talking of this cutlery, I would make a point of laying the Shabbat table with this fancy cutlery. One of our visitors saw all this laid on the table and wondered what special surprise dishes would be served at the meal. However he was disappointed, even to the extent of commenting to Dina that he was sure that the meal would be fancy like the cutlery, but it was just ordinary!
My parents had arrived in Israel nine days before the wedding and had booked in at a Jerusalem hotel. It was a few days before the Shabbat of the Aufruf, when my mother slipped on the pavement in Jerusalem and hurt her leg which was bandaged and it made it difficult for her to walk. On the Friday my parents arrived in Hebron. My mother was shocked at the primitive conditions we lived in, but they were no worse that the condition her parents lived in when they arrived in East End of London at the turn of that century.
With her bandaged leg, she realised she would not be able to walk to the Cave of Machpelah and of course she did not want to miss the Aufruf. This put us in a quandary where to hold the Aufruf. We went to speak to Rabbi Levinger and we decided there would be two Aufrufs. The first as planned in the Cave of Machpelah in the morning. The second would be at Minchah in the Memshal, at which she would be able to attend.
We walked down to the Cave of Machpelah and in the Isaac Hall had our service. As I recollect, I leined Rishon and Sheni and Rabbi Levinger the remainder of the Parashah - one could always rely on Rabbi Levinger for leining. I had Maftir. When there is an Aufruf, it is customary to add certain verses, which mention a Chatan and Kallah, at the end of the Haftarah. In my case it was very straightforward, since they almost followed on from the Haftarah of Ki Tavo. We could not take down sweets to throw at me since there was no Eruv at the time in Hebron, but Rabbi Levinger said we would throw them at Minchah.
I was worried that the walk would be difficult for my father, who was then nearly 63. In fact he arrived back fitter than he started. I was the one who felt totally exhausted and dehydrated. I have forgotten how many whole bottles of I drink I consumed during the Kiddush made for me, but it was quite a number.
At the meal, one of the Yeshivah students, Adrian Reiss, who came from England, and had gone to the same school as me, spoke, at least partially in English, so that my parents could understand. I recollect that amongst his remarks were, how I would fight for Jewish rights in the Cave of Machpelah.
As we had arranged, I had my “second Aufruf” at Minchah. My mother was present in the Ezrat Nashim. This time plenty of sweets were thrown.
As I have already stated, we planned both a reception and a dinner. For the reception, Dina knew a suitable caterer in Jerusalem and we ordered all the food for it from him. The meal was catered by the kitchen staff of the settlers. Actually, since the families had a few months earlier moved into their own apartments, the kitchen then just catered for the unmarried Yeshivah boys and unmarried girl helpers.
As far as I can remember, the meal began with stuffed green peppers, which was followed by the meat course and a desert. The order for the food arrived and was put in the refrigerator. On the night before the wedding, there was a power cut and I was worried that the food might spoil. I need not have worried. The duration of the power cut was short.
There was an advantage in getting married in the morning. On the day of one’s wedding it is customary to fast until the wedding as a means of atonement. Thus we only had to fast about half a day. We also said the vidui for Yom Kippur after the Shacharit Amidah, instead of in Minchah as is usual.
During the morning, the women in the Memshal were busying cooking the meal and laying the tables. On most of the tables were flowers and candles. Even though the crockery of the settlers was plain, it was arranged beautifully. It is not the cost of the crockery - it’s how it is arranged. Rolls and a jumbo Challah had been ordered from Jerusalem but when the order arrived, they had forgotten to include this Challah. Tzvi Idels thus went specially to Jerusalem to bring it.
There are always last minute problems. One of them was that I had put my clothes for the wedding in one of the rooms of the Memshal but when I went to get them I found that the room was locked. However we got hold of Eddy and he was able to open the window from the outside. When there was such a problem - call Eddy and he would be sure to find a solution!
During the course of the morning, Dina, who had spent the previous week or so with her aunt in Jerusalem arrived. I happened to be in the courtyard of the Memshal when the car bringing her drove in and I was quickly whisked inside so that I should not see her!
Incidentally, although this seems incredible when I think of this today, until about a week before we were married, we had spoken to each other entirely in Hebrew! Until that time I had never heard her speak English! How did this change come about? We were then at her aunt’s house speaking Hebrew when she retorted, “In this house we speak English!”
As I have written elsewhere, I was then the Chairman of the Religious Committee and it thus fell on me to arrange the various paraphernalia for weddings, for example, wine and a glass to break. I was therefore wandering around with this glass in my hands when I was told that since it was my wedding, someone else should be doing it. The wine which someone arranged was “heter mechira” from the previous Shemitta but I insisted on changing it for a different wine.
During the course of the morning, relatives and guests started arriving from all parts of Israel. I recollect that they included representatives from Kibbutz Lavi, where Dina had previously lived, and from Yeshivat Hanegev, where I had previously studied. The time arrived as planned for the Chupah, but my relatives from Petach Tiqva had not yet turned up. However, soon after that they arrived, explaining that they had got lost when approaching Hebron. We were able to begin the ceremony at about ten minutes to twelve. This is classed as “on time” for a wedding in Israel!
We had decided to have the wedding in the English style, although the location would be outside, rather than inside the Synagogue as is customary in England. I had a relative who was a Chazan and I asked him to do some Chazanut at the start and to also do the entire Sheva Berachot. Being the summer season, he had arrived without a tie, although he did have a jacket. With some persuasion I managed to get him to wear a tie which I provided him with.
In those days there was no video, just plain photography and even that was almost entirely in black and white. One of the students at the Yeshivah was an amateur photographer and we arranged for him to take the photographs. A few other people came with their cameras and altogether I have over one hundred and twenty photographs of the wedding, including a few of them in colour. One of the guests from England had his cine-camera and he photographed a few very short extracts of the Chupah. He never gave me a copy and since he died nearly thirty years ago, I would not know where to look for it, or indeed, if it still exists.
Someone also rented a microphone with loudspeaker but due to a poor electrical connection this was not very successful.
“If I forget you O Jerusalem...” Before the ceremony, Rabbi Levinger took me into the kitchen, burnt a piece of paper and rubbed the ashes on my head, as is customary, in memory of the Destruction of the Temple.
Dina had got dressed in the apartment of one of the families and she was then led by the young girls of the settlers, holding up her veil to prevent it trailing in the gravel, to the dining room of the Yeshivah. Concrete paths were still a thing of the future in our area of the Memshal.
As is customary, I was then brought, with some people dancing backwards in front of me to Dina, when I covered up her face with the veil. We then proceeded to the Chupah. Somewhere along the line, confetti was thrown over me and in the photographs one can see a piece which remained lodged on the side of my hat.
Dina was then led to the Chupah and made the customary seven circuits around me. Holding one arm of her’s was my mother and the other arm her mother. The two mothers were being given instructions in Hebrew in which direction to move. The problem was that neither understood Hebrew and so one pulled in one direction, whilst the other in the opposite direction. Dina told me afterwards that she was almost pulled in half.
Since my prospective mother-in-law had only arrived in Israel a couple of days before the wedding, this was the first time I had met her, and as she was making the encirclements with Dina, she said to me “Shalom, Chaim.” My sister-in-law, I met for the first time after she was already my sister-in-law.
At that stage the Chazan began singing, either “Mi adir Bakol” or “Odecha” (I don’t remember which) as is customary in England, and I heard someone comment, that there’s a Chazan.
My mother’s cousin Monty Richardson then gave a short address in English, and this was followed by the Birchat Eirusin by Rabbi Levinger. Usually in Israel, the custom is for the Rabbi to give the wine for the Chatan to sip but we followed in the English tradition where the father of the Chatan holds the cup whilst he drinks the wine.
At a wedding both the Chatan and Kallah are often in an emotional strain and in England it is traditional for a man, known as the “Bestman” to stand under the Chupah next to the Chatan and hand him the ring at the appropriate time. My brother had this function and they said that I even snatched the ring from his hand! I was obviously very eager to get married! After the witnesses, Rabbi Nisan Zacks and Rabbi Eliezer Waldman had inspected the ring and asked me whether I had bought it with my own money, the act of marriage was performed.
Rabbi Zacks then read the Ketuvah, and the two copies were then signed under the Chupah. From the photographs taken during the reading and signing of the Ketuvah, we can see that Dina was looking ahead. But when I came to sign, she suddenly started looking at the document. She wanted to make sure I signed it properly!
The Chazan sang the entire Sheva Berachot. After I had sipped the wine, I gave it to Dina, who was then my wife, to drink. Finally the glass was broken, to commemorate the Destruction of the Temple.
Mazel Tov was exclaimed by those present and the Chatan and Kallah were led into the Yichud room, which I believe was in the Nachshon family apartment. As we were walking someone called out, “hold hands together.” Food was already laid out for us to eat, and for a long time afterwards Dina would remark that she sorry that they had not put out some of the mushroom pates which were served at the reception. Unlike today, when often the Chatan and Kallah spend hours in the Yichud room, we were only there for a shortish period.
There was then the dancing accompanied by someone with an accordion. This included hoisting me on to someone’s shoulders and also bringing in Dina from the place where the women were dancing so that the man could dance around us. As I have said, to enable us to have had the dinner in the Bet Hamedrash, we required a Siyum, and I accordingly finished a Masechet.
Tables filled both the Bet Hamedrash and the Ezrat Nashim. In England, not only are all the guests told on which table to sit, they are also told on which seat to occupy on their table. Woe betide a guest who tries to sit elsewhere! The families of both Dina and myself accordingly insisted on place cards for the head table and these were set out by father and myself.
Also on the head table was the jumbo Challah which Zvi Idels had brought specially from Jerusalem. It was not even cut during the meal, let alone eaten. Dina’s aunt had made a two-tier wedding cake, which was also placed on the head table and during the meal, Dina and I together cut the lower section. My mother asked if she could take the upper section back to England for relatives and friends who were not able to come to the wedding.
In England the “Master of Ceremonies” is known as a Toastmaster, and Monty Richardson served as the function. In England they would usually wear a special red gown, but Monty dispensed with this. He had an open-necked white shirt instead!
In almost every function in England one begins with a toast to the Queen and in Jewish functions this is followed by a toast to the State of Israel. The toast to the British Queen was dispensed with! - what’s her connection with Israel?! However Britain, who was one of the two countries in the world who had recognised Hebron as part of sovereign Jordan, would have ruled that we should have made a toast to King Hussein! Needless to say we would not have listened to Britain. Max Einstein, an old friend from England, made the toast to the State of Israel.
Monty then read out the numerous telegrams and letters we had received. Although a lot of prominent people had also sent us them, unfortunately almost all of them only arrived after the wedding. The only one of these to arrive in time for the wedding was from Member of Knesset for Agudat Yisrael, Menachem Porush.
During the subsequent days we received telegrams from Moshe Dayan. Yigal Alon, MK Shmuel Tamir, MK Mordecai Stern, the Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Nissim, the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, Rosh Yeshivat Hanegev Rabbi Yissachar Meir, and Rosh Yeshivat Kerem b’Yavneh, Rabbi Goldwicht.
Rabbi Levinger then gave rather a lengthy toast to the Chatan and Kallah and got rather annoyed that the waiters continued serving food whilst he was talking. I answered beginning in Hebrew with the customary interruptions, and then went over to English. Toasts were also made for the families of the Kallah and the Chatan, which were replied to by Moshe Felber, a cousin of the Kallah, and my father.
There was also an entertainment programme put on by the young children of Hebron. Since it was naturally in Hebrew, it was difficult for the guests from England to understand it. I have in my possession some handwritten pages of songs headed “Wedding Dina - Chaim” and it is very possible that this was the programme of these young children - but I cannot remember with any certainty. One of the songs attributed to Elvis Presley - but with some “improvements” - mentions a different fish served each day ending with “gefilte fish” for Shabbat!
The meal finished with Birchat Hamazon and Sheva Berachot led by Monty Richardson, who traditionally performs this task in any of my family semachot. I should mention that in accordance with the English custom, one person does the lot. In England, it is usually the Rabbi and he often he gets a nice fat cheque from the families. Needless to say, Monty didn’t get a cheque.
The guests from outside Hebron took the Egged bus which departed at about 4.20 to arrive back in Jerusalem before dark. My immediate family took a taxi. The driver took advantage of the fact that they were “foreigners” and charged them a price higher than the usual, but by the time I heard about it, it was too late to do anything.
We spent our first night of married life in our room in the Memshal. When we arrived at it, we saw a placard on the door, which had been drawn by Yona Tur, who also lived in that block. It began: “Mazel-Tov to the young and happy couple.” It listed out in a humorous manner the occupants and the functions of the rooms in the block together with a few sketches. It was signed “Committee of the residents of the block.”
This placard had been drawn on a large pink manilla card and for over twenty years was pushed from cupboard to cupboard in my house. It was a “miracle” that it survived. Some years ago, I decided it was a historical document and had it laminated. I also photocopied it on a reduced size and distributed a number of copies to interested parties. It now appears as an exhibit on a board containing photographs and documents of the life of the Simons family in the Memshal.
That first evening, a Sheva Berachot was held in the Yeshivah dining room, using the food which had been left over from the wedding. The giant Challah which had not even been cut at the wedding dinner was then eaten. In order to have a Sheva Berachot, once needs a Minyan and also a “new face,” namely a person who has not been present at any of the previous Sheva Berachot. The “new face” was the brother of Yisrael Kfir (and just under a year later, on Tisha B’Av, he was murdered by Arabs on the Golan Heights).
On the following day, Dina and I travelled to Jerusalem for some Sheva Berachot. Dina had arranged for us to stay at a small hotel called “Eretz Yisrael Hotel” which is situated on the opposite side of the road to Hechel Shlomo. We started there on the wrong foot! A few weeks before our wedding Dina had gone to book a room there for a couple. They asked her whether they were married and she answered “Not yet”!
For the next few days, including Shabbat, we had our Sheva Berachot in Jerusalem.
On Motzoei Shabbat it was held at a Jerusalem restaurant. If one were to ask a married couple, several months after their wedding, who was present a particular Sheva Berachot, they would find it difficult to give any sort of comprehensive answer. However at this particular Sheva Berachot, the person making it, passed round an “attendance sheet” for everyone to sign - which I still have - so we that should know for posterity who ate of all the dainties which were then served. There were just over 20 people. That night was the first night of Selichot and we went for them to the Yeshurun Synagogue at 10.00 p.m. - rather earlier than the accepted time of midnight. When we returned back at our hotel, the management asked us where we had been and when we answered “to Selichot” they replied “You are back early.” They really checked after us!
The following day, Sunday, we travelled to Kibbutz Lavi for a Sheva Berachot. We slept over in Lavi and before returning to Jerusalem for another Sheva Berachot, went to Tiberias and visited the grave of Rabbi Meir Baal Hanes. I gave a donation of one lira and about four months later received by post a receipt.
On the Tuesday we returned to Hebron and arrived about midday. Hannah Meir told that that they had planned a Sheva Berachot for us that day but it had for some reason fallen through. We did however have a “shortened version” with three people.
The settlers had collected money for a joint wedding present and about a day after Yom Kippur, I was approached by Sa’adia Kahalani, who suggested that maybe I would like as this present, a prefabricated Sukkah. Such a Sukkah often consisted of twelve metal poles. In those days they were round shaped, and they slotted into each other to make the framework of a Sukkah. I considered this to be an excellent suggestion and travelled with Sa’adia to Jerusalem in order to buy it. He knew a shop there which sold them and we accordingly went there. The shopkeeper did not keep these long poles stored in his shop and so we went with him to his nearby yard to collect them.
Although these poles were not very heavy, it was not an easy job to transport poles this length from Jerusalem to Hebron. The size of this Sukkah was 2 metres by 3 metres and so four of these poles were 3 metres long. Our first job was to get them to the Jerusalem bus station and then to pray that the driver would allow us to take them into the bus. Sa’adia went out into the street and was fortunate enough to find an open lorry whose driver for a small fee agreed to take them to the bus station. On arriving there, we carted them to the bus stop to await the bus for Hebron. Sa’adia had some other engagement in Jerusalem and thus had to go off before the bus arrived.
As luck would have it, when the bus arrived, the driver would not agree to my taking these poles into his bus. In those days there was a luggage rack on the roof of the buses. There were a couple of soldiers who were also going to Hebron and seeing what had happened, offered to put these poles on this roof luggage rack. One of them immediately scaled the ladder which is affixed to the back of each Egged bus whilst the other one passed him up these poles. The driver called out that they should make sure that they are tied onto this luggage rack. There was already a piece of string on the roof and this was utilised to tie the poles onto the rack.
I must admit that I was worried that the vibrations of the bus whilst going along the very winding road, which there then was, to Hebron might cause these poles to fall off the bus. Happily, we reached Hebron without mishap. The soldiers then went up again on to the roof to remove these poles. Whilst they were on the roof, the bus started moving and we had to call out to the driver to halt as there were still people on the roof. These soldiers insisted on carrying these poles all the way up to my apartment. I helped them do this and in the process got some of the aluminium paint on the cuff of my white shirt. Dina never succeeded in removing it!
During the year we stored all this poles just outside the door of our room When we went to England, these poles went with us, and likewise, when some years later we returned, they returned with us. Talk of the “wandering Jew” - here we had the “wandering Sukkah poles.” They were used yearly for nearly 30 years and they were then given to our eldest daughter when she got married.
I should mention that at the time, Sa’adia Kahalani gave me a list of those who had contributed to this present and how much everyone had contributed. (I really abhor this custom of giving such lists.) The total was 52 lirot and Sa’adia wrote at the bottom, that 52 was the “gematria” (numerical value) for a “son.” Presumably this was a blessing to have a son quickly. Well I had to wait till number 5 to have a son. Years later, history more than repeated itself, since my first grandson was number 6.
Soon after I was married, Dina served me with gefilte fish she had made. It had a bit of a peculiar taste, but being newly wed, I forced myself to eat it. She then offered me a second helping and out of politeness, I made myself accept it. She then told me that because she had no matza meal she added ordinary flour instead and in order to make the gefilte fish, she had to keep adding and adding flour. She therefore could not understand how I could like it. I then admitted that it was ghastly. She tried giving it to some cats in the area - cats usually love fish - but this particular fish they would not touch!
Talking of cats, at that time there was a ginger cat in the area of our room and I decided to adopt it. For some reason this cat had a sadistic streak and would suddenly without warning stretch out its paw and give me a nasty scratch. After a few such scratches, I promptly terminated my adoption of this feline creature.
On the question of pets, someone wanted to give my wife a dog soon after we were married, but I put my foot down and said she could choose between me or the dog. She chose the former! But that was the first year of marriage when a husband and wife have to rejoice together!
On the occasion of the end of the first year of my marriage, I received an Aliyah to the Torah at which Rabbi Levinger said jokingly “end of the rejoicing” and someone else commented on a more serious note that “just as you rejoiced in your first year of marriage, you should continue rejoicing.”
Dina even made me rejoice on my first birthday after I was married. One might ask what was so special about this statement? I spent my first birthday ill in bed, so Dina quickly went and bought me a record - (that was still the era of gramophones) - of Chassidic songs which I liked. I still have this record, but no gramophone - so the record lays in a cupboard as a reminder of that “happy birthday.”
As I have written, the families in this block were living without proper kitchen facilities and before Pesach 1970, it was decided that some of the empty rooms would be converted into kitchens, with two kitchens being built in each room. Our room at the time was in the opposite block of rooms and we felt it would be much more convenient for our room to be adjacent to our kitchen and so we therefore moved our room to the opposite block. Even with limited furniture, as we then had, moving is not a joke!
To speed up the building of our kitchen, which was to be financed by the settlers’ budget, I went to the contractor and gave him the money so that he could start work immediately. All the work consisted of, was the laying of a water and waste pipe from the public washroom, and the installation of a sink and draining boards on either side of the sink. Having received the money, he got to work straight away.
I then went to Rabbi Levinger, who was in charge of the finances and asked him when he could refund me the money, since I needed the money to buy things for Pesach. He answered that he could not promise when, since all payments had to be made in the light of all the expenses. However I did receive the refund reasonably quickly.
The other family to have their kitchen in the same room, although with separate sink and draining boards was the Liebman family. They had married a few months before us and Menachem’s father was a steward at the Western Wall. I once rather jokingly asked Menachem that the husband must provide his wife with food and the wife must cook for the husband, but which of them decides on the menu?! It seems to me that this is a strictly a Halachic question but Menachem then began a moralistic talk on family harmony.
Let us now jump to Shabbat Nachamu. We had gone to spend that Shabbat at Dina’s aunt’s house in Rehavia. That Shabbat morning I went to a Shul which was situated in what is called the “Christian Quarter” of the Old City. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach turned up that morning and took the service and announced that that night there would be a wedding on Mount Zion to which the “whole world” was invited. I went with Dina, who was well in her ninth month of pregnancy. They kept changing the location of the wedding and kept saying that it would soon take place. At about midnight we gave up and returned to Rehavia. We learned later that the wedding never took place!
A few days later I received a telephone call to go to the labour ward of Sha’arei Tzedek Hospital. I waited most of the day and towards evening she gave birth to a girl. In the Memshal, a whole row of previous births had been boys and this broke the sequence and also led to some teasing of me. In those days there were no faxes, no e-mail and even telephone conversations to abroad were difficult. The methods of notification were by telegram. I accordingly went to a nearby post office and sent a telegram and also wrote an airmail letter.
I was surprised not to receive any response from England and when I did, it was in response to my airmail letter. Apparently what had happened was that when my telegram had reached the post office in England, they were not sure whether that had forwarded it to my parent’s address. The sensible thing would have been to send it again - the maximum would be that they would have received two copies. But they did the non-sensible thing and sent it back to the post office in Israel to check whether they had sent it - I never understood this. The long and short of this was that the telegram only arrived after about a week!
Since our daughter was born on a Monday afternoon, she couldn’t receive her name until Thursday. We therefore gave her a “temporary” name of “Toby” because she was born on Tu B’Av. On the Thursday she received her “permanent” name - Ayelet Hinda - after my grandmother. A few weeks later we made a kiddush in her honour. The invitations read “Ayelet Hinda (Toby) Simons invites the congregation to Kiddush in her house on Shabbat Kodesh Parashat Re’eh after the service, im yirtzeh Hashem.”
The addition of Ayelet also meant the addition of furniture into our apartment - namely a baby’s cot. She was also well photographed with all sorts of relatives and friends holding her. I remember that we erected a curtain to separate her sleeping quarters from ours and when she had learned to crawl in her cot, she one day crawled to the far end, undrew the curtains and started giggling. When she was half a year old, we made her half a cake as a half birthday party. She was just over one year old, when the period of the Memshal came to end and Kiryat Arba began.
Since I had British citizenship, Ayelet had so automatically, but we had to register it in the British Consulate in Jerusalem. This is a nightmare in itself. All sorts of documents had to be certified and stamped, translated into English, and notarised. I wanted to register our address as “Hebron Israel.” But Britain recognised Hebron as part of Jordan and the Six Day War made no difference to British thinking! They first argued that my address had to be registered as “Hebron Jordan” - this was about five years after the Six Day War. I told them this was totally unacceptable to me and after the staff of the Consulate made a few telephone calls, it was agreed to write just Hebron. In fact even for the address of the Sha’arei Tzekek hospital they wrote just Jerusalem. According to Britain and almost the entire world, Jerusalem is not in Israel!
The wise men of the Consulate also decided that since the Jerusalem Rabbinate had registered our marriage which took place in Hebron - which in their opinion was outside their jurisdiction - we were not legally married. We had been living in sin! However in the end they did register it - in their words, “administratively.” Maybe then, we were not living in sin - at least administratively!