Friday, May 11, 2007

Sitting shiva for Ezra

Maybe you remember Ezra (not his real name). He was the subject of a post at this weblog earlier this year. Since 1985 he had washed the stairs and tended the greenery every week at the small Tel Aviv apartment building where I live.

Ezra has died. He was 80. They buried him Sunday, and his family is sitting shiva.

Two neighbors and I hire a taxi to go pay a shiva call on the family. On the way, the neighbors talk about the army. One neighbor is the wife of a reserve officer. Her husband cannot join us because he had to go to reserve duty. He commands an infantry battalion that fought in Lebanon last summer. The other neighbor in the taxi is a veteran of an elite commando unit. He and the officer's wife chat about prospects for another war this summer, while she nurses her four-month-old son who is along for the ride.

A black-bordered poster announcing Ezra's death marks the entrance to the house of mourning. Someone has placed stacks of white plastic garden chairs in the courtyard to accommodate overflow visitors.

The family greet us warmly. The religious son sits on a cushion on the floor, Everyone else sits on chairs. Soon we are telling the mourners our stories about Ezra, his dedication to work, his concern for his family, his toughness and tenacity, his austerity, his fierce pride. At each anecdote, they smile and agree that this was typical of Ezra.

I tell them about a telephone conversation with a Galilee Arab who used to live in Tel Aviv. Informed of Ezra's death, he recalled him as a good person who gave him water. That was our father, one of the sons says. Ezra gave water to many people, they say.

Ezra's widow, who smiles too, despite her painful joint disease, tells us that children are a treasure. She and Ezra had six children, who gave them 26 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She keeps all of their names and birthdates in her head, she tells us.

An old photo on a wall shows a handsome couple, the young Ezra and his even younger wife. His hair and mustache are black. A portrait from later in life shows Ezra looking as if he might be a diplomat or prime minister. His hair and mustache have turned gray and he has a distinguished look. He is impeccably groomed, as he is in all of the photos on the wall. Another photo shows Ezra dancing at a family celebration. Children and grandchildren have formed a circle around him. Head tilted back, arms flung outward, he dances by himself and smiles.

This house of bereavement is filled with smiling people.

On the way back to Tel Aviv, one of the neighbors expresses surprise that Ezra had a nice, well-appointed house with a modern kitchen. At our place, he did menial work. At his place, he was the head of a strong family who remember him fondly and with smiles.

-- Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv


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