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February 27, 2014 - Image 40

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2014-02-27

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The Olah And The Bedouin

Dies At 110

New immigrant learns life lessons in the desert.

Chava Docks
Special to the Jewish News


n an early winter morning
in the Middle East, the sun
sleepily peeks over the paint-
ed hills of the Judean Desert. The
warmth of the yellow sun chases away
the night's sharp chill and ushers in a
new day filled with golden possibili-
ties. Just outside our city of Ma'ale
Adumim, one can hear the bleating of
sheep, goats and occasionally catch a
glimpse of a herd of camels.
These exotic animals live in the
various Bedouin villages that dot the
landscape of the Judean Desert sur-
rounding Ma'ale Adumim. Many of
the Bedouin men work in the city's
gardening department. My friend
Tzipporah Sevrinsky, who served as
my translator, and I were privileged
to sit down with a local Bedouin
who would only introduce himself as
Mohammed and catch a glimpse into
his life.
As a new olah (immigrant) to
Israel, I wanted to know how two dif-
ferent worlds and two different cul-
tures could coexist in harmony. I also
wanted advice on rearing children
with traditional values in an ever-
changing world. I wanted to listen,
learn and incorporate this wisdom
into my family's daily life.
The first question, obviously, was
about his family. Mohammed had two
wives and eight children: four girls
and two boys from his first wife, two
girls from his second wife and 10
grandchildren. He met his first wife
in the desert when he was a young
man. He watched her from afar as she
tended her sheep. It was a scene that
seemed to be plucked straight out
of the Bible. He met his second wife
through a mutual friend, but had to
go to her parents to ask permission to
marry her and prove his worth to her
family. He reached an agreement with
the family; no animal exchange was
involved, however.
Mohammed grew up in a tra-
ditional Bedouin tent, but prefers
the modern home in which he now
lives. He said he enjoys modern
conveniences such as running water,
heat and air conditioning. Although
technology has made life easier, fam-
ily values have remained the same.
Mohammed's 90-year-old mother
lives with him and his family. Every
day when he returns from work he
kisses his mother's hand and, at


February 27 • 2014



Alice Herz-Sommer



lice Herz-Sommer, the 110-year-
old Holocaust survivor and
concert pianist whose life was
the subject of an Oscar-nominated docu-
mentary, has died.
Herz-Sommer, who was believed to be
the oldest Holocaust survivor and was still
playing the piano, died Feb. 23, 2014, in

The author, Chava Docks, and her new Bedouin friend, Mohammed

times, her feet in order to show her
honor. His children treat him with the
same respect, he added.
Mohammed's eyes danced with a
special light when asked about his
children. He placed his hand over his
heart as he spoke of his daughters. He
insisted that his children study at the
Family celebrations are enjoyed
with unbridled joy and festivity.
Every milestone in a person's life is
greeted by an enormous festival filled
with endless food, love, music and
family, he said.
The first event, of course, is welcom-
ing a new baby. About a week after the
birth, a huge celebratory meal (seudah
in Hebrew) is held; two sheep are
brought for a boy and one for a girl.
In days long past, a boy would
not be circumcised until he was 13,
in keeping with the tradition that
Ishmael was also circumcised at that
age. Today, a boy is circumcised by a
doctor about a week after he is born.
One of the highlights of a person's
life is his or her wedding day. No
expense is spared, and the best enter-
tainment is hired when a child gets
married. It is common practice to
eat 10-15 sheep during one wedding
celebration because a typical Bedouin
wedding has 300-400 guests! Most
weddings take place in the late spring
and summer because the weddings
are outdoors underneath a huge tent.
The Bedouin have their own judi-

cial system with a sheik who manages
the secular affairs of the tribe and
a mufti who manages the religious
matters, Mohammed said in perfect
He didn't learn Hebrew in school,
he said. "I learned it by working with
Israelis in the gardening department
of the city."
This was a great encouragement to
me, as a new immigrant studying in
Ulpan (Hebrew language class).
I asked Mohammed for advice. He
had two things to tell me: "Children
are like trees; if you water them and
treat them well, they will grow up
The second piece of advice: "It
doesn't matter what religion you are;
whatever path you choose in life,
live in peace with your choice and be
I walked away from my meeting
with Mohammed a changed person.
Many people will tell you that
the Bedouin are mistreated by the
Israeli people and government, but
from my experience here in Ma'ale
Adumim, the Bedouin are treated
with respect. The Bedouin (as well as
the Druze) serve in the IDF and are
viewed favorably by most Israelis. The
Bedouin live and work in peace and
are happy in their villages.

Chava Docks, formerly of Oak Park, lives

with her family in Ma'ale Adumim, a city

east of Jerusalem.

The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My
Life, the 38-minute film about her life,
is up for best short documentary at the
Academy Awards to be handed out on
Sunday, March 2.
The film showed her indomitable opti-
mism, cheerfulness and vitality despite
all the upheavals and horrors she faced
in life.
"I know there is bad in the world, but I
look for the good," she told JTA in a brief
telephone interview recently, and "music
is my life; music is God:'
Trained as a pianist from childhood,
Herz-Sommer made her concert debut as
a teenager, then married and had a son.
In 1943, however, Herz-Sommer and
her husband, Leopold, and their 6-year-
old son Raphael (Rafi), were transported
to the Nazi German model concentra-
tion camp Theresienstadt. Her husband
died in the Nazi camp, but Herz-Sommer
became a member of the camp orchestra
and gave more than 100 recitals while
protecting her son.
Liberated in 1945, Herz-Sommer and
her son returned to Prague but four years
later left for Israel. There she taught at
the Jerusalem Academy of Music and per-
formed in concerts frequently attended
by Golda Meir, while her son became a
concert cellist.
After 37 years in Israel she followed her
son to London in 1986. She remained in
London even after her son died 15 years
later at the age of 65.
At 104, she took up the study of phi-
losophy and liked to quote German phi-
losopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who said
"Without music, life would be a

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