If there is one thing that never fails to bring tears to my eyes, it is a story of a simple good done by one person for another.
Every time I visit Peki’in, I make sure to pull out that 52 year old book, ‘The People of Peki’in‘. There is one chapter in the book that always moved me long before I ever met Ms. Margalit Zinaty. It is a story of commitment and pure friendship. Please bear with me as I attempt to translate this story.
Gershon Fradkin was in his early 20’s when he served as a youth counselor at Kibbutz Yagur. The year is 1940 and he is taking his student on a hike in the upper Galilee. They will visit the old synagogue in Peki’in and be treated to the hospitality of Saada (Mazal Zinaty, Margalit’s mother). Check out the blog ‘Discovering Identities‘ for more background.
“Suddenly, we saw a man rushing toward us,” says Gershon. “At first we thought he was Arab”.
“My name is Yosef Zinaty,” the man announced. “I heard from my wife that you visited our home.”
His Hebrew was difficult for us to understand. He looked almost as if he were an ancient prophet in his sincere simplicity. He told us about his life in the village. About how the lots were small but enough for each family.
“There is only one thing missing” he whispered to Gershon. “We don’t have a Jewish school or a teacher that can teach my son to say the Kaddish for me once I have joined the creator.”
He stood up and took my hands into his. With great emotion in his eyes and said: “Dear Sir, please take my children, my treasures. Teach them to be Jewish, I beg of you. Take my girls as they need education too.”
I was so touched and moved by his words and I immediately replied: “I swear to you Mr. Zinaty that I will bring your children to the kibbutz”.
I had know idea how I was going to keep my promise. I was only a youth counselor. He let go of my hands and turned his eyes to the ground. He said: “Many people have promised us this and forgotten us once they have left. I am here, alone with my sorrows, begging anyone that passes by to teach my children.”
I took his hands again and replied: “Dear Yosef, this time you have so many witnesses.” I turned and looked at the group of teenagers behind me. They were mesmerized by the situation unfolding. I asked them all: “Are you witnesses and partners to this mitzvah?”
“Witnesses and Partners,” they all shouted in response.
Gershon nurtured a close relationship with the Zinaty family all of his life. On a wall in the their home in Peki’in there is plaque. It honors the president of Israel, Itzik Ben Zvi. Next to it is a picture of Gershon Fradkin.
13 years ago, a young man named Uriel, a father of 5 and an actor and singer, travelled to Peki’in where he met Margalit. It took him a few years to gain her confidence but the two eventually became very close. He convinced her to tell her story, the story of her family and this amazing little village, in a play that they wrote together.
Whenever a group wishes to enjoy this unique and moving performance, Uriel drives a couple of hours to Peki’in to make it happen. Together, Uriel and Margalit created a non-profit with the purpose of educating visitors to Peki’in about the Jews of the Galilee.
He is such a modest man that he will probably not like my last sentence here. But for me, Uriel, you are Gershon Fradkin, may he rest in peace.