From Mr Shlomo Hillel
Former Speaker of the Knesset
Thank you for encouraging me to write about my brother Frank z"l. We were very close to each other. Since my childhood he was very kind to me but, certainly during the period that I served as a member of our Knesset Mission to the UN in New York we became really close to each other. I learned to appreciate his special personality.
Dear Naim: I know you also appreciated him and loved him and this was reciprocal.
By writing this small article that I am enclosing, I am paying a debt to his memory, a debt of appreciation, of gratitude and of love.
We can say that Ephraim Hillel was a man of the 20th century. He was born at the start of the century, in 1906, in Baghdad, and died in Boston, United States at the beginning of the 21st century (January 2000).
He knew how to adjust to all the dramatic changes that occurred during his lifetime with his own strength, by making demands of himself and with an iron inner discipline. He refused to go easy on himself, and he was just as demanding of other people, particularly those who were close to him, his wife Violet, and the four sons who were born to them in New York. Three of these grew up to be successful doctors, and the fourth became an economist.
Ephraim was the son of a family of well-to-do traders in Baghdad. As was the custom there, after finishing his studies at the high school, he followed in the footsteps of his older brothers, travelling around for the purpose of trade. In this way he reached India, China and Japan, where he settled for a number of years.
Like many young Iraqi born Jews, he believed that he could only marry one of the girls from the community in Baghdad. In the mid 1930's, when he decided that the time had come to set up his own family, he returned to Baghdad and married Violet, a member of the Dellal family, an attractive and educated woman who was prepared to follow wherever he led.
Meanwhile, his parents and other members of his family had moved to the Land of Israel, and he too was inclined to settle there. In the Zionist archives there is a record of his correspondence with the Jewish Agency concerning the possibilities of making Aliyah and settling in the country. He reached the country with his young wife at the height of the bloody events of 1936-1939.
It was impossible to think of doing business in the Land of Israel in those days, so he turned his steps towards New York. This large and bustling city was good for business, but not good as a place to live in his opinion. It was a place to make a living, but not for living in.
He bought a house far from the busy town, facing a large, open and green field, with a little piece of land to grow vegetables and flowers, something he remembered from his parents' home in Baghdad in which they cared with love and fostered every plant or flower that grew there, and that he had dreamt about when he thought of the Land of Israel. Every morning, in the sweltering summer or the freezing, snowy winter, he rose early in order to reach the local railway station in good time, and from there travelled to Central Station in New York and to his place of work. He believed the effort was worthwhile, because at weekends he could work in his garden.
In the second half of 1949, after the establishment of the State of Israel and the end of the battles of the War of Independence, he visited in Israel, with a renewed hope of settling there. But the conditions in Israel at the end of the forties, a tiny and newly born country with problems of shortages and economic restrictions, were incomprehensible and unacceptable to someone from the United States. The distance between the dream and the reality was too great.
He returned to New York and buried the dream of immigrating to Israel, but his link to Israel and what was happening there remained always in his thoughts.
Eventually, in the 1960's, when I often used to meet him in New York, when I was there in the capacity of my work in the Israeli Foreign Service or in my many visits afterwards, I was surprised each time anew by his detailed knowledge of what was happening in Israel, and by his strong opinions on each and every issue.
Ephraim was not at all religious, and did not give his children any religious education, but he was a Jew to his fingertips, and his ties to the Jewish people and the State of Israel were strong and solid.
He suffered a great deal because of his eyes, apparently as a result of defective treatment he received during his youth in Baghdad in the early days of the 20th century, and there were periods when he suffered from complete blindness. But with his strong self discipline, he would get up early each morning, sit upright at his table and listen to all the news broadcasts on the radio, particularly anything concerning events in Israel, and for many hours would listen to recordings of books on topics of Judaism and Jewish history.
Whenever I visited him he would shower me with questions, not only about what was happening in Israel, but also about chapters of the history of the Jewish people, and would show signs of anger and disappointment if my answers did not seem sufficient, or if I showed my ignorance of some parts of our long history.
Ephraim was a fighter. Nothing came easily to him, but only after effort, perseverance and stubbornness. Even in his last struggle with illness he did not give up. The last years of his life were difficult years of continual struggle, which caused him great physical and mental suffering. But as usual he refused to give in or surrender, and fought his illness with all his strength, with his last ounce of strength.
By now he could not walk or see, and Parkinson's Disease had badly affected him, but I remember him from my visits, even in this condition, sitting from early morning in his wheelchair next to the table, listening to the radio or a tape recorder with additional chapters from the history of the Jewish people, that he so loved to hear.
Finally he surrendered to the angel of death, knowing that he was surrounded by a family that loved and admired him, in spite of his strictness, and perhaps because of his strictness, which they knew how to appreciate. His wife, his four sons and his grandchildren knew that underneath this strictness was a husband, father and grandfather with a loving and sensitive heart, who was ready to do anything for his family and his people.
May his memory be for a blessing.
Naim Dangoor writes: I was closely associated with Frank for many years. In 1936, on my return from London I was with him frequently in Tel Aviv where he once rushed to my help when I was in difficulties while swimming in the Mediterranean. During the war, we did an extensive trade between Turkey and the United States and in 1948 during our stay in New York on our long honeymoon, ReneŽ and I were very grateful for the help and attention that Violet and Frank gave us.
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