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Chapter 22

I reported to my old base and saw immediately the reason for my reserve duty only two months after my discharge. Israel had just received the new purchased French tanks, the MX-13 and Zahal was anxious to train all the tank men on the new machines. I spent forty-five days of hard work, but without the harsh discipline so strictly enforced in our first course. There was an atmosphere of friendliness and camaraderie, which made army life almost pleasant.

During that time I befriended a Jew who made Aliya from France. Since there were very few immigrants from Western Europe or North America, where the Jews had a more affluent life, Bybelezer, my new friend, had to be an idealist, a believer in Zionism, or a guy who married an Israeli girl. In his case he fulfilled both conditions. He gained some military experience by serving in the army of France and therefore was given the rank of lieutenant in Zahal. When I eventually came to Canada, I met the Bybelezer family again, and maintained a friendly relationship for many years. Some years later, their son Henry became my student at a Hebrew school in Montreal, in grade six. He was a bright boy and enjoyed teaching him.

When I returned to my room at the dormitory, I felt quite lost. I was unable to participate intelligently in the lectures and the practical work, but the other students were trying very hard to help me. Since I was the only soldier who completed his active duty and managed to be called up for reserve duty as well, I was treated with respect and all my classmates offered me their notes, their willingness to tutor and help me overcome my difficulties. Had I been a student at the Technion, I would have lost the year, but at the Teachers' Seminary things were more relaxed and the staff was flexible and understanding. I still marvel at the mere fact that despite an absence of three and a half months from my allotted school year time, I somehow managed to cover my required studies and pass the year with average marks. Every student had to choose a subject in which he would specialize. I chose English as my specialty, even though science would have been more appropriate to my liking. The possibility that I would not be accepted as a student at the Technion was very real and I began investigating what were my chances in Canada.

The choice fell on Canada for several reasons: The English language was one reason. There were two families of our relatives who lived in Montreal. The University of McGill was in Montreal and it had a very good reputation. Finally, my father, who always thought a few steps ahead, seriously considered the possibility of the entire family moving to Canada, to fulfill his old wish, which had come very close to being realized in 1938. My knowledge of English had improved during my Army service because I was reading books almost exclusively in the English language. My spoken and written English was still very poor, hence my hope that a more intensive study of the language.

Unfortunately, that first year was so confusing that my plans were only marginally realized. My friend Adir Cohen managed to convince me that it was important for the students of our Seminary to publish a magazine and contribute our voice to the field of education. The two of us became the editors, the majority contributors and everything else that such an enterprise requires. Even-Shoshan, our teacher of the Hebrew language, had final approval over spelling and grammar. Even-Shoshan was my favourite teacher at the Seminary. He made a name for himself by issuing a comprehensive Hebrew dictionary which became very popular, especially among the students. I suspect that Adir had himself in mind, when he pushed me into this project. He wanted to build himself up as a person who had some original ideas and who was able to put them into print. It was exciting and interesting. Even though my time was very limited, I always looked forward to working on the project.

The management of the Seminary, with the support of Even-Shoshan, agreed to pay for the printing of one issue. If we succeeded in arousing enough interest among the students of all the other Teachers' Seminaries in the country, the magazine had contributors from all the other schools and would be able to sell enough copies to cover the bulk of our expenses, the management would agree to continue our publication. Although we had some articles contributed from other schools, we were not able to sell our first edition and had to distribute the copies free of charge. Our first issue was also our last. Adir was still happy with the results because his articles appeared prominently in the magazine with favourable comments from various professors. Adir was making a name for himself. Although I had published an article dealing with current problems in education and a story about a classmate who was killed in action, the reaction to my contribution was lukewarm. It was fun while it lasted.

In the Spring, for the celebration of the Day of Independence, the Seminary, with the encouragement of the Minister of Education, decided to lay the foundation of a new tradition. The idea was to compose a Haggadah similar to the one used for Pesah. The Haggadah of Independence contained brief stories about the first pioneers, the various Aliyot, the creation of the State, the Scroll of Independence, and the War of Liberation. It would be interspersed with a number of prayers, so it should appeal to the religious section of the population. During my army service, the Day of Independence was always celebrated by participating in a military parade. I remember how proud I was standing up in my tank, with my head turned to the reviewing stand, saluting the leaders of the nation. Now, as the only soldier in reserve at the Seminary, I was honored to sit at the head table, together with the professors and the Minister of Education, partaking in a festive meal and participating in the reading of the Haggadah of Independence. Writing these lines, almost fourty years later, I know that the Haggadah of Independence did not yet become rooted in our tradition.

The season of exams was now upon us and following the final test we were each assigned to a village for three weeks of practical work. After a two-day period of familiarizing myself with the children and the school, I took over the teaching of a grade 4 class, with the class teacher sitting in to evaluate my work on a daily basis. I did not feel uneasy about the work and very soon I began enjoying my relationship with the children. I visited many of them at home to better understand their background and their successes or difficulties. During the last week I prepared my class to put on a play, to which all the parents would be invited. This too was quite enjoyable for me and for the children.

I planned to spend my summer vacation in our new apartment in Natanya studying in order to strengthen my knowledge in those subjects where I felt weak during my first year. I also read, went to the beach, met with friends and maybe sometimes did nothing. It was also during this summer that I made my decision to apply to McGill University as a first year engineering student. By the end of my vacation I received a positive answer from McGill, and another negative answer from the Technion. My next move was a trip to the Canadian Consulate in Tel-Aviv, to make an application for a student visa. I also had to acquire an Israeli passport, a temporary release from the Army, and eventually make my traveling arrangements. All this bureaucratic hassle lasted several months, so in the meantime I returned to Jerusalem to continue my studies.

My second year had a more normal pace of work. I had only a brief two-week call up for reserve duty, the main purpose of which was to organize a new armored corps in the North of Israel. I also acquired new accommodations. I rented a large room in a pension located right across the street from the Seminary, together with my cousin and friend, Josef. Josef managed to acquire a deferment from Army service, because he was accepted into medical school in Jerusalem. This was a very important achievement for him, since the competition to become a medical student was very fierce. I was happy to be out of the dormitory so I could have more privacy. The only disadvantage was the necessity to provide my own meals. I purchased the mid-day meal, the main meal of the day, at the Hebrew University Mensa, a student restaurant. Certain foods were still being rationed. Meat was not available very often, but we had plenty of fish. We prepared dairy dishes, fresh vegetables, eggs, bread, breakfast and supper ourselves. We had an electric hot plate which we used sparingly and in hiding, since the landlady forbade its use, due to the high cost of electricity. In the winter, when the weather became very rainy and quite cold, and there was no heating in the room, we placed the hot plate on the floor, under the table at which we were seated, doing our homework. The plate kept our feet warm so that we could concentrate on our work. I had to bring my old Romanian down-filled comforter with me in order to be warm enough during the night.

The rented room had other advantages: it was much less expensive than the dormitory, less of a burden on my parents, and it enabled me to associate with students who were closer to my age. I could bring them "home" anytime without having some classmates popping into my room to be introduced or to socialize. I was able to go out more often, to the movies, to a concert, to extracurricular lectures. Although Jerusalem was considered a very dull city in the mid-fifties, as compared to Tel-Aviv, I was certainly not bored.

Once every three weeks I would take the train to Natanya to visit my parents and to replenish my supplies. The train ride was an adventure in itself. The railway line was running right on the border of the Triangle and from time to time there were terrorist incidents, mostly the placing of mines under the tracks, which forced the conductor to run the train at a very slow speed. The train had to stop at Lod where the passengers switched to another train. The entire journey lasted some three hours.

Today one can travel from Jerusalem to Tel-Aviv in forty-five minutes and from there another half hour to Natanya. During my visits home I would check on the progress that my applications to live and study in Canada were making. In the first month of 1956 I received a letter informing me that my application was approved and it was only a matter of time before I shall be called in to finalize all the arrangements.

Back in Jerusalem, I continued my studies without a great deal of enthusiasm. My mind was already excited with the prospect of a new beginning in a field in which I was truly interested. The favourite part of my studies was the training to teach a regular classroom of children. We had to do so several hours every week. A work plan had to be prepared in advance, approved by my professor and by the classroom teacher. After performing the lesson, my work was analyzed by the teacher and all the positive and negative aspects pointed out. I truly enjoyed doing this work: I seemed to have a natural ability to teach the children, to make them interested and excited. There were some truly memorable moments during those training lessons. At one point I was questioning my fourth graders on the usefulness of straw for our farmers. One boy jumped up and said: "to drink Coca Cola!" These were city dwellers, all right. On another occasion, I tried to teach the same grade the concept of fractions. I placed three tomatoes on the table and invited two pupils to divide the three tomatoes among them. Another student had her hand up. She was very excited and anxious to give me the answer. "Each of them will get one tomato," she exclaimed, "and the third one we will give to the poor." I praised her kindness and suggested that we should give even more than one tomato to the poor, but for now I would like the two boys to have it.

By March of 1956, all the necessary documents for my departure were ready. My father's good friend, Mr. Fleisher, was planning a trip to Paris for some business deal and my father felt that this was a good opportunity for me to join him part way. Most of the traveling was done by sea, not by air, as we do today. I had tickets to travel from Haifa to Marseilles, on board in Israeli ship, "The Jerusalem." Then, to Paris by train, where I would spend three days waiting for the departure of a Cunard line ship from Le Havre to Quebec City. I also traveled by train from Paris to Le Havre. I did this portion of the trip, as well as the crossing of the Atlantic, on my own, since Mr. Fleisher remained behind in Paris.

The Mediterranean part of the journey was very pleasant. The weather was perfect, the company was good, with many Israelis on board, and with nightly entertainment, Israeli style. The Atlantic ocean was not so generous. The weather was rough and for three days out of seven, I was quite seasick, unable to move around and to consume proper food. I stayed in my bunk, in the cabin which I had to share with another passenger, and ate only apples. I made up for it during the last four days, when the ocean was calm and I could eat excellent meals in the beautiful dining room.

Two Canadian farmers were sitting at my table and they invited me to their cabin for a drink. The whiskey was very strong and I was simply not used to it, so I had to sip very gently and my hosts were not very pleased. We talked about Canada, about my plans, and about farming in Saskatchewan, where they lived. I also met on board a young man, somewhat older than me, who was emigrating to Canada from England. He told me that he served in the British Army and was in Israel in 1948 (he was then about 21), when the British finally gave up their mandate on Palestine. He was not a great fan of Jews, especially since he had a hard time in the last half year, before he left Palestine. The man who shared my cabin was German. He slept on the upper bunk bed. When he found out that I spoke German, he became very talkative (he also suffered from seasickness and spent a lot of time in the cabin). He was a soldier during the war, and was wounded on the Russian front. There was a lot of suffering for the German people during the war, especially at the end and immediately following the war. When I heard his lament, I wanted to throw up and not from my seasickness. I kept quiet. I was very uncomfortable around him and I prayed for good weather, so I could be out of the cabin and away from my obnoxious neighbour. I enjoyed the company of the two Canadian farmers, with their gracious hospitality and their sincerity.

The three days in Paris did not leave any lasting impression on me, since I spent them in the company of Mr. Fleisher who traveled around to various places, looking up some people with whom he did business. I only remembered the Metro and how easy it was to find one's destination on those maps which light up the route one needs, at the push of a button.

Some thirty two years later, Gina and I spent two weeks in Paris. I attended a trade show for the first week (the main reason for the trip). I also spent three days in bed with temperature due to a cold. I had only three or four days for sightseeing, but I visited three museums, including the Louvre, famous churches and monuments, touring the Seine by boat and I even spent an afternoon visiting some relatives. The first week we stayed in a hotel near Place Vendome, but the second week we spent in a small apartment (a combination living-room bedroom, a cupboard kitchenette, a bathroom and a balcony). The apartment belonged to a relative and was located near the artists' colony in Montmartre. We bought our food in a small grocery owned by Arabs, we climbed the steep stairs to the SacrÈ Coeur Cathedral or to the artists' marketplace, where many painters were creating and selling their work. For a few days I felt almost like a native Parisian. In almost the same amount of time as in 1956, the visit to Paris was a memorable one indeed. During the first week, not far from our hotel, we were walking in the evening after a day's work at the trade show, in search of a restaurant when suddenly I noticed a brass plate attached to a house stating that Leo Tolstoy lived there, in 1858 (I am not sure about the date). I was very excited, because Tolstoy was one of my favourite writers and I still have War and Peace in my library in the original Russian. We also have Anna Karenina in English.

We arrived in Quebec City on a cold rainy and windy afternoon. Since my tickets were purchased with the final destination of Montreal, the shipping company transferred the passengers to the railway station and soon we were on our way to Montreal by train. Some three hours later I emerged in downtown Montreal and took a taxi directly to my relatives, Arnold and Maza Lorentz, who lived on Clanranald Street, not far from the Garland streetcar terminal. It was my father who made the arrangements for me to stay with the Lorentz family.

Arnold and Maza were very fond of my father. When my father arrived in Bucharest in 1947, Arnold, who followed in his father’s footsteps and became a printer, could not continue to operate the family printing shop since the Communist regime had nationalized all private businesses. He went to work for the main Communist newspaper Scanteia (the spark) and very soon rose to a high management position. In order to maintain his position he had to grant favors to certain people, to manipulate others, to manage the printing shops of the paper by disregarding the prescribed rules.

By 1948 his situation became very dangerous. If someone denounced him, he might perish in prison. Arnold needed someone he could trust completely and who would have the right connections to arrange a quick, illegal escape across the border into Hungary (it was done quite regularly by Romanians who wanted to escape from Communism to the West), from there to Austria and then one was free to choose any destination available. Well, my father, who was making feverish preparations for my mother and myself to escape from Russia at the very same time, was the ideal trustworthy person for Arnold's plans. So, my father helped Arnold and Maza when they were desperately in need, to escape from Romania. They eventually moved to Paris and some two years later they arrived in Montreal where he opened up a printing business and ran it successfully for many years, until retirement.

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