Friday, May 2, 2014

Aliyah, Ma'alot and My "Little Brother" David Sklar z"l

The Military Section of the cemetery in Meona
"A State is not handed to a people on a silver platter" Chaim Weizmann, first President of Israel

My family and I are the "adoptive (Representative) family" of a young American who was also a new "Oleh" to Maalot in 1976, and a "Fallen Soldier" David Sklar z"l.

David was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on the 4th of June 1962 and at the age of 9 his family made Aliyah to Hertzliya. David and his family his older sister Deborah and his mother Chaya, who was divorced, arrived to Maalot a very short time before I had entered the IDF as a "Chayal Boded" in September of 1976. His mother Chaya Sklar z"l worked at that time as a secretary to Elaine Kopp -today Levitt, who had also recently arrived in Maalot in charge of a Jewish Agency Volunteer for Israel program.

David and his family lived in the "New Binyan HaMalit"(the only multi storied (8) building in Maalot with an elevator) near today's Shouk (Marketplace). David had only recently entered Yad Netan High School near Akko  and he was like a little brother to me.
David  was constantly coming over to spend time with me talking, listening to my album collection and playing American sports - softball, baseball and football. At that time the Anglo-Saxon community was very small and close and we did a lot of activities together.

David would relate to me his experiences and secrets in life as any younger brother would to an older one. Our friendship was close since he was badly treated and ignored as a child by his father and he was in need of an "older" brother to be there for him.

I had arrived in Israel as a volunteer for Kibbutz in the aftermath of the tragic Yom Kippur in September of 1974. I came here to experience my Jewish heritage up close and I came alone with no family here in Israel and I was very much alone. A stranger in a new land still not sufficient in Hebrew. 
I joined a Garin for a new Kibbutz in the Arava - the prairie north of Eilat-Garin Shikma of Kibbutz Ketura. My Garin went to do Hebrew Ulpan and Hacshira at Kibbutz Kfar Ruppin. Regretfully the Garin came apart and most of the members left Israel. During my time with the Garin I had changed my status to new "Oleh" - Immigrant.
When I left Kibbutz knowing I had a call-up for the army I had to find a place to live. The Jewish Agency offered me a singles apartment in Maalot and I went to see the area and because of the green pastoral setting of the Galilee and the local friends I made I decided to live here.
In those early years there were still very few telephones to call home by and the only means of communication was by the exchange of "aerograms" air mail letters which would take anywhere from 10 days to two weeks to arrive. So to have someone like David, his sister and mother, my fellow "Single Soldier" neighbor Kenny Sherman, my upstairs neighbor from England the painter Elana Black and her young daughter Sharon, Elaine Kopp and her two children Mike and Marla was very nice.

When my future wife Rena made Aliyah in March 1978 to Ma'alot (from Far Rockaway NY)  it was Chaya Sklar who told me about her and her arrival and she encouraged me to meet her. So when I came home on my first leave from "Mivtzah Litani" (Operation Litani) in March of 1978 I waited outside the old Aliyah Center on Ma'ale HaBenim Street at 11PM+ that night, since Rena was working as an RN at Nahariyah Hospital, for her arrival home. Since I was on a short leave and time was of importance and though the hour was now very late I went and knocked on her door and when she opened it I introduced myself and she replied; "Very nice my name is Rena and I am tired" and she than closed the door. That is how we met thanks to Chaya.

As time went by Rena and I married in January of 1979, as far as I know we are the only Americans to marry in Maalot. David was enthralled and was so happy. As time went on our "Anglo" community would meet and play sports at the park of the local symbol – a large tall water Tower, every Saturday. Local kids became participants and David was proud to be part of the "action".

In the spring of 1979 we moved to our new apartment on Karen Haysod, across the street from the original “Anglo Saxon couple” Beronica (An RN From St Louis Missouri) and Peter (An ex Egged Bus Corporation Driver born in Germany but raised in South Africa) Zilberstein and their three boys, Shai, Yoel and Gideon.

When our oldest son David was born David was ever so happy to be the proud "Uncle" he would spend hours with his "nephew". When David graduated High School in 1980 he was eager to join the IDF and to be "Kravi". Despite his handicaps, his small frame and eyesight he strove to be in the Tank Corp.

In the spring of 1982 Rena and I had made a decision to leave Israel so that I could complete my college degree so as to have a "better future". Our last meeting with David was very sad and with the threat of war that was in the air. As he sat on the couch with his "nephew" on his lap, I warned David to take care and asked him to promise me that in combat he would heed my lessons I taught him and to wear his body armor vest.

We separated saying "See you later" and not goodbye. We left for Birmingham Alabama my hometown to live and Rena got a job immediately at the Children's Hospital in the vast Birmingham Alabama Medical Center In June of that year I had just reentered studies at a junior college prior to returning to University, when the First War in Lebanon had broken out. As a Medic in Charge of a Mobile Hospital I quickly prepared to fly back but my commander told me NO stay and get your degree. According to the orders, "We are advancing only to the Litani." so the "war" will be over soon.

Near the end of June fighting intensified and I was torn between going and staying. The family did not want me to go and the pressure was on. I returned from my studies on the 5th of July 1982 to a message that my Dad had received by phone to call our neighbor. I thought that Daphne Even Zohar -our American born neighbor was calling to notify us of the installation of the phone that we had ordered three years before! (In the old days of Bezeq, the Israeli Telecommunications Company was a monopoly and they were king. You could wait years to have the privilege of having a phone installed)

When I returned the call later, due to the 8 hour time difference, Daphne informed me that David who had been gravely wounded in Beirut had died from his wounds in Rambam Hospital in Haifa.

As to how it happened I learned this standing over his grave prior to the ceremony on a very hot Yom HaZichron (Memorial Day) a few years ago. As I stood there beside the grave they came one by one and I
Yom HaZichron 2014
met his entire tank crew and his commander. The years had gone by and they were now in their 40’s with grown children. They came from all over Israel to stand there in silence out of respect for their comrade. As old soldiers do we talked and they told me what exactly had occurred and how David was wounded. What I learned that day was that prior to the beginning of the war the Commander of the Unit had wanted to transfer David to a non-combat role, due to his difficulties in his physical ability to do the heavy work demanded of a member of a tank crew. I asked his commanding officer that fateful what if question. "What if there had been a few more
days of tranquility?" He said that David would more than probably have been transferred. It just goes to show how fickle one's destiny can be and how fate had stepped in and the war had begun it stopped the process of the transfer and it had determined David's life.

They were in South Western Beirut stationed at a road block across from an IDF Field Hospital not far from the Shi’ite Quarter of Dahiya, and the “Falestinian” refugee camps of Sabra and Shatilla. They had been under fire from the PLO mortars in the vicinity of the Borj Al Brajne earlier that hot sultry summer morning when one of his crew-mates who had been on duty as the “radio listener” asked David to change with him so he could relieve himself. David eagerly replied and climbed back onto the tank to be “in communication” –listening for orders on the company network. Due to the heavy humidity and heat David had not properly closed his Flak Vest. As his crew-mates and commander recalled there was the sudden renewal of mortar fire briefly and a shell which landed near the tank sent a large piece of shrapnel into David’s back to front. They immediately rushed David to the doctors and medics at the field hospital. An evacuation helicopter was called in and David was evacuated to Rambam Hospital where the doctors labored  some 24 hours to save him but the damage had been too great and he died at the age of 20 the 5th of July 1982.

In April of 1984 we returned to Maalot to a tragic situation. We found that Chaya had "freaked out" over her mourning of David's death and her "Ex" husbands attitude towards her. She could not be consoled her grief was too much. We were informed that she had driven David's sister Deborah into leaving Israel to New York and to cutoff all communication with anyone in Israel. Chaya’s grief and loneliness drove her to attempt suicide several times and than she found religion. She became an extremist in her hatred of Arabs and she lashed out at all her previous friends and when she died in Kiryat Arba she asked to be buried near David in the cemetery in Meona.

Once she died there was no one to represent yet alone mourn or remember David. Since there was "No Family" to officially represent David, I volunteered my family out of our love and respect for him.

Now on every Erev Yom HaZichron at the evening outdoor ceremony one of my children go up on the stage and light the candle for him. And I am always at the next days ceremony at the Soldiers section of the cemetery in Meona at his grave ever year on Yom HaZichron.

Now David is remembered and will be remembered. There is and will be someone to say Kaddish for him. May his memory be blessed -יהיה זכרו ברוך Ei Hiyeh Zichron Baruch.

In the Marble Garden- In Memory of my "little brother" ‎Corporal David Sklar
Written by Yakov Marks

On that day‏,‏
I always wanted to know
When "we" are standing‏,‏
For that minute of silence
as the siren is heard throughout the ‎‎land‎ ‎
Can they see us standing there‏?‏

In the closed eyes of the grieving ‎parents
A full length movie passes
From their birth up to that terrible ‎day‏.‏

For their comrades in arms
There is definitely a different movie
From the date of their first ‎acquaintance,‎
Until that tragic moment.‏

In almost all the "Marble Gardens" ‎across Israel.‎
It's something that is generally  ‎accepted ‎
That their resting place is the most ‎well groomed and hallowed.‎


  1. Thank you Yakov for this memory. I am Kenny's brother and you may remember me and my wife Shellie. We lived in Maalot from 1975 to 1980 and were very close friends with Elaine and her family as well as with Chaya and her family. David babysat for my two sons and we have many fond memories of him. I learned of his death from the Philadelphia Inquirer when he died but I could not make contact with him mom to get the details. At every yiskor I remember David of blessed memory

    1. Thank you Aryeh for your comment! I think of you Shellie often -actually everyday when I go up the steps in our house there are two wall rugs my wife Rena made in your home when you lived on karen Hayesod in the house

  2. Thank you for this. I have never forgotten David, I remember him coming home on leave to Ma'alot. In 1980-81 I was a volunteer, and friends with Chaya and Elaine. I worked as assistant borough engineer. I was known then by my Hebrew name Ephraim. I have many memories, happy and sad.