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Remembering Rivka Basman Ben-Haim

First, a personal note. I felt I was in mourning when Rivka died. I loved her like I loved my own mother.

Now about Rivka. 

Her husband, Mula, and she were twin souls. The Torah says about Jacob and his son Binyomin, נפשו קשורה בנפשו, “one’s soul was bound up with the soul of the other”, and that’s how it was with Rivka and Mula. 

Here are two examples (from their lives together).

For Rivka life on  Kibbutz Ha-Ma’apil was a slice of Eden. First, she watched the things she planted grow, and that was therapeutic for her. Then she became a teacher of Kibbutz children. In a poem entitled “With my students of the Rimon Class” she says of the children “and I discover/that the honey-/is in fact you”.

But for Mula life on the kibbutz was most unpleasant. He was a painter and he wanted to paint more than the few hours a week that the kibbutz allotted to him. He told Rivka he wanted to leave and without hesitation, she told him she would go with him. So  the two left the kibbutz together.

Years later, when Rivka was studying for an MA in literature at Columbia University, Mula was homesick for Israel (He was simply unhappy in the Diaspora). When he told Rivka this, she reacted much as Ruth said to Naomi: “Wherever you go, I go, too.” And so the pair left for Israel together.

I was always surprised at Rivka’s optimism. 

When I asked her about this, she said: “What can I do? God created me like this”.

I got a similar response when we watched a film about Rivka at Bet Leyvik.

There I saw Rivka in uniform holding a rifle. “Rivka”, I said, “you never told me you were a soldier!” She responded with “What could we do? They attacked us. We fought in self-defense.”

Another time, when we sat around the table shooting the breeze at Bet Leyvik, one of the folks there announced that he had something to say, but he begged every one’s pardon, he would speak in Hebrew, and not in Yiddish.

“You have nothing to apologize for,” Rivka said. “Hebrew is also a Jewish language.”