How can I introduce you to someone who I did not know well; to be honest I hardly knew him at all.
I have already introduced him as an Uncle, but he wasn’t my Uncle. He was my late wife Hadassah’s uncle. Khil, by the way, is a nickname for Yehiel.
Every year on Passover, Hadassah and I would travel to Haifa from our home in Jerusalem by train and bus (4 hours) to spend the holiday with her parents and two younger brothers. Hadassah’s family lived in Tivon, south east of Haifa.
Year after year, Hadassah would convey a message in the late afternoon from her father asking if I could drive to Haifa to pick up Uncle Khil (Dohd Khil) who was coming over for the holiday meal.
My father in law drove a white Volkswagen; I had a drivers permit but was too poor to own a car, so I was always glad to have an opportunity to drive. I willingly obliged to drive the white stick-shift car and transport Uncle Khil.
The drive to Haifa was 25 minutes. There were no mobile phones then, so I got exact instructions where to pick up Uncle Khil. And I always arrived on time. To this day, I am rarely late for anything.
Waiting on the corner in Hadar (an area of Haifa) stood a very, very old man, with a full head of pure white hair. He was dressed fastidiously as if going to impress a lady friend. His skin was thin and very ancient-looking as well, yet with just a little bit of imagination; I could subtract 60 years and see a real dandy.
Uncle Khil was missing a finger, which he cut off by himself to avoid conscription back in Europe. Unable to control myself, I often found myself gawking at the surgery. He had done a very good job. There was no stump-he certainly could not have pulled a trigger with that finger.
Now I was an officer in those days and one would think that Uncle Khil and I would be very little to talk about-which is why one “would” think is wrong in this particular case. Khil knew how to cook very well, and his cholent (stew) was outstanding. I cooked tsulent as well, and we used to compare recipes in very great detail. He told me about adding eggplant to the mix, which he had learned from an Iraqi woman.
During the meal, I used to stare a lot at Khil-he spoke impeccable Hebrew without any sloppiness whatsoever. He was cognitively on top of everything. I knew that he as a ladies’ man in the past, and I could see in him the young man, now missing a finger. When we read out loud Passover prayers which can be tricky at times, Khil never fumbled.
When the holiday meal ended, I drove Uncle Khil back to Haifa in the white Volkswagen. Khil always told me what a sweet girl I had married, and we would exchange a few words on World War Two. When I let Uncle Khil off, I always wondered if I would see him again.
Hadassah always thanked me for driving Uncle Khil back and forth, but I was the one who should have been thanking her for opportunity to experience an interesting version of a healthy old man, full of stories and full life under his belt.
Hadassah never came with me on these short trips. Although she was very mild mannered, she protested against driving in a German car, having lost all her family on both sides during the war. We never argued about that, as I was smart enough just to keep quiet.