Auntie Ettie

Julian Resnick writes from Israel

I thought of Auntie Ettie today. She was not my aunt. 

My aunts were Auntie Sevvie (my father’s sister), who lived in Bulawayo for most of my childhood, Auntie Bea (my father’s brother, Uncle Bennie’s, wife) who died while I was in Israel after my matric year on the Machon for Habonim, and my one surviving aunt, Auntie Nayomi (my mother’s sister) who lived in Caledon during my childhood and who is the last remaining relative among my uncles and aunts, and who lives in Green Point today (will someone please read this to her as her eyesight is failing).

But in the world I grew up in, Somerset West in the 1950s and 1960s, all of my parents’ friends were called Uncle and Auntie. 

My world had two circles of people in it. There were the Hofmeyers, the Malans, the Swanepoels, the Brederodes, the Weavers, the Faures, the Barnards, the Hares, the Hopwoods, the Pringles, the Thorntons, the Lombards, the Munniks and the van Schoors.

And then there was another, more intimate circle that took me a little while as a child to understand the meaning of. This circle needs no further facts about, for Auntie Ettie to work out who I am referring to. Perhaps I need to add that this was not ‘Auntie Ettie Cuckoo Clock’, but that is it. With that the Ginsbergs, the Levines, the Tepersons, the Friedmans, the Cohens, the Millers, the Allens, the Posels, the Bernbergs, the Silkes, the Goodmans, the Sibuls, the Babuses, The Katzeffs, the Grolls, the Kaplans, the Barrs, the Brodovskys and the Finders all know exactly who I am talking about.

I thought of the last time I saw her in South Africa about ten years ago. I don’t remember exactly how old she was (for that information you can ask Beverly or Lynette), but she was very old. I had a soft spot for her as she was one of the strong links to my late father who died far too young and to whom she was such a dear friend (over the almost forty years after he died, we met occasionally, every couple of years, and there was always at least one, “Shame, your Dad died so young, and he was such a lovely man”. Guaranteed. Each time we met).

The last time we met was after I had given the special speech on Yom Ha’atzmaut to the Jewish Community in Sea Point. I am not sure what I said, but her words to me (after the usual, “Shame, your Dad died so young, and he was such a lovely man”), I remember as if she said them yesterday.

“Julian”, she said, “What has happened to our Israel?”

I was moved to tears by what she said. Here she was, Auntie Ettie, in her nineties (Beverly and Lynette?), a woman who had worked tirelessly over the years for WIZO and the Union of Jewish Women, saying to me — a younger man who is connected to her distant past and who had made the move to live in Israel many years previously (1976) — these powerful words. Note that she did not say “What has happened to Israel?”. Crucially she said, “What has happened to OUR Israel?”

I have no idea even today of how often Auntie Ettie had visited Israel over the years. I would hazard a guess that it was not more than once or twice as, even though they made a nice living (not from me, as I was never a big shopper especially of clothes), very few of my parents’ friends, as committed as they were to Israel — and they were committed to Israel — visited more than once or twice during their lives. It was a different world.

I must have talked about some of the things that worried me about where we were heading about 10 years ago in Israel. I might have mentioned my big dreams for the State of Israel and how these dreams were endangered by the existential risks we were facing, and I might have given my opinion about the wrong road we were being taken down by a leadership whose expertise seemed, to me, to be in engendering fear in the electorate and then exploiting it.

Auntie Ettie, I am a little uncomfortable with the following sentences (and my apologies here to Beverly and Lynette). If you were unhappy with what I might have said back then, I am thankful that you are not around to hear what I am going to say now (I am not one of those who believes you are happily ensconced with Uncle Bennie playing bridge in the sky, but who knows, perhaps I am wrong; I have been wrong before). There I have said it.

In just a few months, on November 1st, we are holding elections again in Israel. We are divided in ways we have been before, but the divisions are so dangerous for us now, that I can only hope that we find a way to continue as a society with some solidarity after these elections. 

We have among us political leaders who have managed to persuade many of us (not me, but many of us), that whoever disagrees with their vision of who and what we should be, is a traitor to Israel and the Jewish People.

We have among us candidates running for election to the Knesset whose messages remind me of candidates who ran for elections far away from here before my lifetime in Europe and during my lifetime in South Africa. Some of your readers might feel that the voice they want in the Knesset has to be a fiercely, proud Jewish voice and around the Shabbat table in the coming months might even quote words of politicians who sound like their zeydes at times, without thinking through what it would mean to Israel to have a Minister of Police and a Minister of Justice who are — sorry, I have been trying to avoid these words, but I can no longer avoid them…

I won’t use them just in case this publication is widely read in Israel, as I do not want to compromise you. As the Rambam once said
יבין המבין (S/he who understands, will understand).

I too want a fiercely proud Jewish voice in the Knesset. The voice I am looking for is proudly Jewish and inclusive. Is proudly Jewish, and is passionate about the words of our Declaration of Independence. Is proudly Jewish and has moved beyond the cheap tricks of victimhood. Is proudly Jewish and feels so empowered that it can live next to alternative narratives. Is proudly Jewish and believes that peace, compromise, inclusion are wonderful Jewish values.

Auntie Ettie, I know just how painful you would have found this conversation, and I apologise, not only to you, but to all the wonderful people I remember with such fondness from my formative days in South Africa. You need to know, Auntie Ettie, that I am still totally in love with and committed to Israel and that is why I feel such pain when I see how people are being tricked by the latest in a round of false messiahs that we — the Jewish People — seem to need every now and then.

Julian Resnick was born in Somerset West and grew up in Habonim Dror. He studied at UCT, and made Aliyah to 1976. He’s conducted numerous shlichuyot and educational missions on behalf of Israel, to Jewish communities in England and the USA. He works as a guide in Israel and around the world (wherever there is a Jewish story). He’s married to Orly, and they have three children and six grandchildren and is a member of Kibbutz Tzora.

• Published in the August 2022 Digital Edition – Click here to read it.

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