Sunday, June 20, 2010

David--A Personal Story

The name David means “beloved” in Hebrew. It’s my favorite name and I pray that one day God will bless me and I will hold in my arms a little baby boy to whom I can give that name of Israel’s greatest king and another man named David in my life.

David was just 5 years old when his mother Sarah died at 32 of rheumatic fever. She knew she was going to die and tried to prepare little David by pretending playfully she was dead. He would say, “Wake up mommy, wakeup.” She’d open her eyes and tell him “Dudaleh, one morning soon I won’t wake anymore. Be a good boy and be strong.” He was only a child but always remembered the softness of her voice and her twinkling eyes. The day of her funeral he ran after his mother’s coffin as they pulled her away upon a wooden bier in the small town of Sighet in Transylvania. “Mommy, mommy, don’t leave me mommy,” he cried. This time it was for real. His tiny pace could not keep up with the speed of the bier and the space between them grew as endless and wide as the grief and fear in his little heart.

The adults around him extended no warmth, no hand, no love, no compassion. He was a little boy alone in a cold and ever-darkening world. It was 1939, Hitler’s war had already begun and people’s minds were occupied with other matters. Although David did have a father, he cared nothing for his only child and viewed him as more of a burden than anything else. He was a womanizer, a bon vivant, a Hungarian bohemian who would endlessly spend his days and nights in smokey filled gambling houses until the morning’s early hours. Night after night David would sit under the table among the men’s feet and dirty shoes while his father played. His big blue eyes brimmed with tears as he sat there shivering in his own pee falling asleep against a wooden table leg.

This little, shy, sweet inconvenience named David was sent from aunt to uncle and passed along as a big burdensome platter at a long table at which no one can find the room to rest it down. He was finally shipped off to an orphanage in Israel (then called Palestine) in 1943. On May 16, 1944, the Nazis began the deportation of all of Sighet’s Jews to Auschwitz. David’s entire family, except his father, shared the same fate as the 20,000 Jews who had once lived in this ethnically eclectic town: They were murdered by the Nazis.

When Israel became a State on May 14th 1948, David turned 13, bar mitzvah age. Still in the orphanage, ever lonely and so alone, he was lucky to be alive. Yet the pride that the establishment of the Jewish homeland ushered in was nothing short of contagious, offering hope and a common sense of purpose. David eventually ran away from the orphanage, lied about his age and joined the Israeli army. It became his family, and his heart opened up again.

David was my father: David Davidovit. He took his mother’s maiden name because his father was too busy with himself to register his son with his own. My father wore that name with the same pride and honor as he did his army uniform because everything about him stood for decency. He was the little David who cried as they took his mother Sarah away and who one day would have to bury his own 3-year-old daughter who shared her name. He was the David who gave me the Hebrew name, Aliza, happiness, because that is what the land of the Hebrews had given him. Ironically, I was born May 16th, which for me is a symbolic triumph over the day the Nazis swept up Sighet’s Jews for extermination.

It was in my father’s story as a decorated veteran that my Zionism was born; it was in his longings for the beaches of Haifa and vivid tales about Ariel Sharon that Israel became my legacy too. It was in his patriotism that I came to romanticize about heroic Israeli men, and it was in his story that I learned that without the existence of the Jewish homeland every Jew is an orphan.

Yes, David means beloved. My beloved father who, like his biblical namesake, stood against life’s Goliaths and prevailed. And like the Star of David on the Israeli flag, he is forever my protector, my shining and guiding star and a radiant light sparkling over Zion.

God bless his soul!