Memorial Speech : 30 days ("shloshim") from the passing of my mother, Tziona Dunetz, one year, ("Yahrtzeit"), for my father, Mordechai (Max) Dunetz, may they rest in peace. The following was read in front of a small gathering at our home for us three brothers, sisters-in law and our parents' 6 grandchildren.
On July 2, 1954, Max Dunetz, our dear father\grandfather (will call him "Mordechai" or "Abba" herein, which means "father" in Hebrew), boarded El-Al flight 208 from New York to Tel-Aviv. It was to be a flight that would change the world- your world and my world. You will not read about in any history book, but trust me when I tell you that this would be a change that you will have none greater in your life…for if it were not for this flight, I and my brothers would not be here. And you, Dunetz grandkids, would never have seen the light of day. And even you, the three daughter-in-laws of our family, you might not have thought about it, but this flight has changed your lived so completely…
What was Mordechai's goal for this visit to Israel? There are different versions: did Mordechai take this trip in order to meet someone who would be his partner for life? There is this version, but from the reports, memoires and impressions of my own over the years, I do not think that this was the explicit motivation. To visit the Land of Israel, the State of Israel, was a great dream of Mordechai ever since he was a small child, studying at the Zionist, Hebrew-speaking "Tarbut" school in his pre- World War II town of "Zhetl", Poland. Now at an age of nearly 32, the dream was being realized. The connection to Tziona, our dear mother to be, was made thanks to his second cousin, Sara Begin (Gaul), who was married to Michaeleh and lived then in the Tel Arza\Kerem Avraham section of Jerusalem. Sara had a friend by the name of Manya, who was the neighbor of the Moshe and Braina Cohen household. Manya knew there were 9 kids in the Cohen family, 7 girls, some married and some not. It is not clear whether Manya was a "professional matchmaker" or doing a favor for a friend, (and she proved to be quite a character in the story that unfolded), but what is for sure is that Manya offered Sara a pick of a few different girls from different families.
One of them was Tziona ("Eema", Hebrew for mother)- the one and only!
Tziona and Mordechai first met sometime towards the middle-end of July 1954, at a Friday evening house-party that was typical of the secular "Polish-Azhkenazi" population of those days in Jerusalem: they would meet behind closed doors on the Sabbath eve in tiny, intimate Jerusalem, rooms full of cigarette smoke, some "schnaps" (alcohol), card games, maybe a record-player, lots of human warmth and energy. Tziona was somewhat of a "closet secular", which she tried to hide from her religious parents. It appears it was a "click from the first glance", but I would not say "love at first sight", if I can recall the report. They began to see each other very frequently, walked around Jerusalem, had meals at the "Nussbaum" restaurant, had long conversations in Hebrew. Mordechai's Hebrew was good but it was "European", his mannerisms and way of going about things in general was different. Far different than the " Macho" Israeli men that Tziona must have met everywhere, they were the "ideal model" in those days. Mordechai was delicate, sensitive, romantic, and intellectual, he knew how to express himself, he knew how to write.
Something in Mordechai attracted Tziona, but we must also keep in mind that she was already nearing the last months of her 25th year, a late age to be a single woman in Israel of those days. Was the fact that Mordechai was already living in the US for nearly 5 years an attractive magnet for Tziona? From what Eema said later in life, this was not something she was looking for, but what was and was not the truth we will never really know…
For Mordechai Tziona was the answer to his dreams: an attractive woman, pleasant, who loved books, culture and music, but most of all, she was an Israeli, a "sabra" (term for "Israeli-born"), Hebrew-speaking, with deep roots of many generations in Jerusalem. It is quite clear that Mordechai did not find his way amongst American-Jewish women whom he met over the years in Flint, Michigan or anywhere else. Something deep inside him was pulled towards Tziona. And the romance developed.
Did I say romance? So, three weeks into the relationship Mordechai proposed to Tziona, and his proposal was met with agreement. However Tziona's father, Moshe, does not like the idea at all, he said: "If you are here on a visit and want to marry my dear daughter Tziona you will just have to come back again some other time in the future." Mordechai gave it his best to convince Moshe that this was not possible…what could he tell him? That he barely earned enough to live as a part-time Hebrew teacher? That he had no savings? That he was not yet an American citizen and he couldn't even think of making another trip soon back to Israel…Mordechai was adamant, he pressed on, and as Tziona's parents really did take a liking to him, they finally agreed. It took some time to fix the wedding date as the Rabbinate needed to confirm that Mordechai was indeed single and there was no one to ask in Mordechai's Jewish community of birth, as it has been destroyed as were thousands of others during the Holocaust. In the end, they located an elderly Jerusalem-Rabbi Sorotzkin, who remembered Mordechai's grandfather who came to the Land of Israel to die and be buried over 20 years before in 1932. The match was deemed "kosher" and all was set.
On September 8, 1954, Mordechai and Tziona were married on the roof of the home of the Cohen home, on 14 Tzefanya street. Only one problem remained: Mordechai needed to return on 12 September to the US for the start of the new school year. What about Tziona? She wasn't going anywhere because she had no visa for the US. Getting a visa was a complicated process, in that Mordechai was not yet naturalized as a US citizen and he could not take her back with him. So….Mordechai flew back to Flint, Tziona remained in Jerusalem. For the next 9 months they would develop a "Trans-Atlantic love", by means of their imagination and more than 100 letters that they would exchange between them. Tziona's father Moshe also wrote letters to Mordechai and everybody loved what Mordechai would write them, in the words of Moshe: " Your letters are a source of inspiration, they go from hand to hand in our family, everybody awaits reading and savoring them."
So what did the newlywed couple write about in more than 100 letters,200 + pages over 9 months? The truth be told, so many of the thousands of words exchanged talked of dealing with the frustration of the bureaucracy around the visa and paperwork; about who did you visit from the relatives, who did you not visit, why did you not visit and how good that you visited them; what to buy and what not to buy, about the refrigerator that cousin Sara wanted to import from America, and about the lack of money; about that Manya, the matchmaker, how rude, two-faced and money-hungry she was to expect money for her service and not a "gift of the heart"; about giving regards to him and her, how much they missed each other, "Time will pass, my dear, don't worry"…it is amazing what they did not write about. Not a word about the Holocaust that was just 9 years before, about Mordechai's family who were nearly all massacred, about the loss of an entire world…not a word about the grueling War of Independence in Israel that ended just 5 years before, when Jerusalem was blockaded for months, about the austerity measures of poor Jerusalem that were still extant; there was nearly nothing in there about the "big issues" of politics, social upheaval, the world around them. It seems that there were things that were just not worthy of writing about, every aerogramme had a limited amount of room, they would write wherever there was space, to save having to buy more stamps.
Yet, from these letters we come to learn about the people who will soon be the most important people in our lives, our mother and father, who lived, worried, dreamed and took action all before we ever knew them. If one just pays attention to what is written in these lines, and the spirit that can be felt "in between the lines", we come to know about Mordechai's character, Tziona's character, the dynamic between them that lasted for 65 years together. These letters, which are now all scanned, copied and preserved and lie before us, give us a view of life as it was then for them. A world that was innocent, simple, closed, insular, we can feel and touch their dreams, we can feel their way of talking, thinking and acting, that we will discover years later. It was a world that hardly had a telephone in it, no television, no quick trips abroad, not too much to buy and much, much less the money to buy with- every purchase led to indecision and deliberation, was it worth the money? Is it not irresponsible to spend such a sum? Every Israeli lira was carefully measured, every purchase was planned.
When we read the letters, even just a few of them, we can see how these two individuals who came to the US from different places, without the backing of family, with no prior experience, had this innocent and touching belief that if one has desire, love and perseverance, it is possible to reach any goal,
realize any dream.
These letters constitute what Abba would call "a precious treasure" of emotion, a documentation and symbolism of a period that has passed and will never return again…and of people dear to us who have passed and will never return again.
For 66 years these letters remained in this little green box, most of the time they were hidden in Eema's clothes drawers, the letters crossed the Atlantic twice, they moved house about 12 times, today they are receiving a tangible "upgrade", for the spirit and for the family.
It is my deep hope that these letters will stay in our family for the coming generations, even when the time will come when nobody will know a thing about Mordechai and Tziona, and will probably not know too much about all of us here as well (sorry, guys…). It is the nature of the world that other than a name, and perhaps a story or two, as the years go by we remember virtually nothing about the previous generations well before us. It is my hope that these letters will serve as such a memorial in this form, in digitized form or whatever form will be created in the world in the future…so that maybe, just maybe, something of all this will remain in the years that are before us…
May we remember, from reading from these letters, even just a few of them, that these dear people were here, they lived, who they were and what they dreamed about. Just as I have learned about my grandfather whom I never know, from the letters he wrote to Abba here.
May we not forget the debt we owe to Mordechai Dunetz, who took that flight on July 2, 1954 from New York to Tel-Aviv, and the debt to Tziona Dunetz (Cohen), who was willing to flow with Mordechai, to depend on him, to dream with him and to create with him a new world.
With deep love and appreciation,