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Eliyahu Hillel ZL

I have written a small article in memory of my Brother, Eliyahu ZL. I had it translated to English, which you may wish to print in The Scribe. I believe Eliyahu deserves it. Moreover, I believe his story is the story of a whole generation, your generation, that is worthwhile to tell.


Shlomo Hillel

On the 2nd of Shevat (January 8, 2000), Eliyahu Hillel passed away at the age of 84.

Those passing by his grave in the Yarkon Cemetery might not know that there lies a precious man, a man of great deeds, a man who loved his fellow man and who was loved in return. They couldn't have known that there lies a fascinating life story - the story of a pioneer whose life symbolises the beginnings of the redemption of the ancient Babylonian Jewry, its immigration to the Land of Israel, and becoming involved in building it.

Eliyahu ZL was one of the founders of the Ahiever Movement in Baghdad and a key activist in it at the end of the 20's and the beginning of the 30's. Together with friends, most of them youths at the Jewish school "Shamash" he established a dynamic Zionist movement which dedicated itself to teaching Hebrew, speaking Hebrew, and promoting a strong connection with the Jewish community in the Land of Israel. During those years, while the British mandate was still in effect in Iraq, one could engage in Zionist activity more or less legally (though under the intimidating, hostile surveillance of the local Muslim population and the government institutions). When Iraq became independent in 1932, it became clear that the Zionist movement could no longer operate, due to the extreme nationalistic attitudes of the rulers of Iraq. And the movement did indeed break up, with some of the members immigrating to Israel, while others who remained in place becoming submerged in the problems of day to day existence.

Eliyahu, the son of a well-to-do businessman, decided that he wanted to immigrate to the Land of Israel and to realize the ideal he had believed in and exhorted others to realize. This was a true revolution in the Hillel family. His five older brothers had already left Iraq, but not for the land of Israel but rather for countries all around the world, where they conducted extensive business. This was the role designated for Eliyahu when he finished school - to take his place in the family business. But he stood his ground: neither business, nor commerce, instead - the Land of Israel and the studyng of agriculture - of all things - at the Mikveh Israel Agricultural School, as preparation for realizing the dream of being pioneering farmer in the Land of Israel. He was 18 years old when he left his parents' warm, comfortable home to cope with a new and unfamiliar reality of dormitory life in an agriculture school in the Land of Israel.

Eliyahu's aliyah symbolised a turning point in the life of the entire family and perhaps even contributed to it. Except for those who had already struck roots in the various foreign countries around the world where they were living, the entire family immigrated to Israel, one after another, became deeply involved in the life of the country, and became an address for many of the Iraqui Jews who later came to Israel and sought out good advice and guidance in becoming successfully absorbed in the country.

Eliyahu's marriage to Renee of the Twena family and the outbreak of the Second World War which severely hurt the citrus export industry (one of the major agricultural crops at that time), put an end to Eliyahu's dream of agricultural life.

He built his house in North Tel Aviv, a house that many remember as an open house known for its hospitality.

Another chapter in my brother Eliyahu's life began when I was recruited into the Mossad for Aliyah Bet and sent on missions to Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. It was clear that Eliyahu was the only one in the family to whom I confided the secret of my leaving on confidential missions, and his infinite love and concern always accompanied me on those missions for many years. One of the veteran members of the Aliyah Bet group said to me on the day of Eliyahu's funeral: "You thought it was only you who were recruited into the Mossad for Aliyah Bet, but no less than you - Eliyahu was also recruited. His home and his office in Wesco (opposite the old central bus station in Tel Aviv) served us at the Mossad for Aliyah Bet as a second office that was always at our disposal, day and night". And that was so, not just his office but also the home of Eliyahu and Renee became the home of the people of the Aliyah Bet group. Many emissaries, when they came to Israel, were hosted for days at their home on Ben Yehuda 121. At that time, it was not customary for emissaries who came to Israel to stay at hotels and they were glad to sleep on the rugs in Eliyahu's house and to be hosted at his generous table, abundant with the good food prepared by his wife Renee. Many immigrants who came to Israel also knew their address, found their way to it, and were given help. Testimony of that may be found by the many people who attended his funeral or who came to comfort the family during the shiva period.

Eliyahu left a wife and three loving sons, two of them living in Canada , but the youngest son, Mickey, lives in Israel and is raising his family here. The three children of Mickey and his wife Orli, Eliyahu's grandchildren, were a source of joy and delight to Eliyahu in his last years. With the good feeling that his children, grandchildren, relatives and friends loved him, he left this world. For us, his family, his wife, his children, his brother and sisters it is hard to say goodbye. The pain is deep, the loss is great.

May his memory be blessed.



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