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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 6/3/11

RACHEL Avnery; a Memorium

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We took some pictures by the sea, and I took her home on my motorcycle. We fell off in the sand and just laughed.

The third time was at the same experimental theater. There she appeared again, and at some point she tried to guess my age, pledging a kiss for every year she was wrong. She guessed I was five years younger than I was, and we made a date for settling the account.

We continued to date on and off. Once I was to meet her at midnight in a cafe. When I did not arrive, she went to look for me. She found a crowd outside my office, and was told I was in the hospital. Some soldiers had attacked me and broken all my fingers.

I was helpless. Rachel offered to help me out for a few days. They lasted 58 years.

We found that living together suited us. Since we despised religious weddings (there being no civil marriage), we lived happily in sin for five years. Then her father fell seriously ill. To set his mind at rest, we married in a hurry, in the private apartment of a rabbi. We borrowed the witnesses and the congregation from another wedding, and the ring from the rabbi's wife.

That was the last time either of us wore a ring.

FOR 58 YEARS, she inspected every word I published. That was not easy. Rachel had strict principles, and stuck to them. She covered some of my pages in red ink. Sometimes we had bitter arguments, but in the end, one of us usually conceded -- generally me. On the rare occasions we could not agree, I wrote what I felt like (and more than once regretted it).

She struck out all personal attacks she considered unjust. Exaggerations. Every weakness of logic -- she would spot contradictions that had escaped me. She improved my Hebrew. But mostly she added the magic word "almost."

I tend to generalize. "All Israelis know ..."  "Politicians are cynical..." -- she would change that to "Almost all Israelis..." "Most politicians..." We joked that she was sprinkling "almost's" on my articles as a cook sprinkles salt on food.

She never wrote an article herself. Nor gave interviews. To such requests she would respond: "What did I marry a spokesman for?"

BUT HER real talents lay elsewhere. She was the ultimate teacher, a calling she pursued for 28 long years.

This happened quite unplanned, after she was sent on an army course for teachers.

Before the course finished, she was practically kidnapped by an elementary school principal. Long before she received her teacher's certificate, she was a legend. Parents with connections pulled strings to get their children into her class. There was a joke that mothers planned their pregnancies so that the child would be 6-years-old when Rachel taught the first grade. (She agreed to teach only the first and second grades, as the last chance of shaping a child's character.)

Her pupils included the children of illustrious artists and men of letters. Recently, a middle-aged man called to us in the street -- "Teacher Rachel, I was your pupil in first grade! I owe you everything!"

How did she do it? By treating children as human beings and nurturing their self-respect. If a boy couldn't read, she put him in charge of tidiness in the classroom. If a girl was rejected by prettier classmates, she would be the good fairy in a play. She drew satisfaction from seeing them open up like flowers in the sun. She spent hours explaining to backward parents their children's needs.

During the school holidays, her children were raring to get back to class.

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Uri Avnery is a longtime Israeli peace activist. Since 1948 has advocated the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In 1974, Uri Avnery was the first Israeli to establish contact with PLO leadership. In 1982 he was the first Israeli ever to meet Yassir Arafat, after crossing the lines in besieged Beirut. He served three terms in the (more...)

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