We're not close friends, Eliezer and I. He's almost a decade older than my father would have been, were he still alive. Born in a small town in Eastern Europe, he was a teenager when his father sent him off to Budapest in the hope things would be better there, which in a way they probably were, since Eliezer survived and the rest of his family didn't. I think about that sometimes: The teenager sent off by his father; the survivor now twice as old as his father ever was.
After the war he came to Israel, and in the 1950s started a family, but it wasn't a happy ending. His second son has disabilites, and today, in his early 50s, you can still see this pains Eliezer. His wife, the mother of his three children, died of cancer in about 1970; I remember how her slow death was whispered at school, and can only imagine how horrible it was for her, and for him. Their oldest son, Avi, about whom I've written here and elsewhere, was scarred by his mother's death, to an extent that even we, teenager boys, could recognize. Then in 1982 he was killed in battle, landing Eliezer yet another body blow.
He's not a cheerful man, Eliezer, but he's very much alive. At our synagogue he's one of the stalwarts of the conservative branch of the congregation, the ones who are wary of some of the more liberal innovations which sometimes are mooted, yet he's always respectful of the liberalizers who could be his grandchildren, and they treat him with courtesy and accept that some changes can't be done so long as he and his group are still with us. A few years ago he was seriously ill, and it would have been reasonable to suppose he'd reached the tipping point beyond which old men fade away, but no. He lay at home for a few weeks, then determinedly made his way to synagogue with a walker, then a cane, and now he's back to normal; I often see him at the pool.
We're not close friends, Eliezer and I, but he knows I preserve Avi's memory, and this has created a bond between us. "Your husband knew my son Avi", he once said to my wife, who responded "I know". "You do? How?" "They were friends, Avi and Yaacov, and Yaacov remembers, and talks about him".
It's memorial day, and last week was Yom Hashoah, and tomorrow evening we'll begin celebrating Israel's 63rd Independence Day, and Eliezer is part of all these days. I usually make a point of going over to him after services to shake his hand. His grip is the steeliest handshake I've ever experienced.