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My father, my country

Ittay Flescher
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Published: 13 June 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

REUVEN FLESCHER was one of the first Jewish children born in the State of Israel. His son ITTAY FLESCHER reflects on what his father would have thought of the State whose life mirrored his own.

My father Reuven Flescher was born on May 16, 1948, two days after the creation of the state.

Throughout his life, family celebrations for Yom Ha’atzmaut and his birthday were often indistinguishable. If he were still alive, he would be celebrating his 75th birthday this week, together with Israel, a country he fought to defend in three wars and the place where he found love and brought two children into this world.

Reuven Flescher was born in Petach Tikva after his mother, Chava Albeck, left Berlin for Palestine to realise her socialist, Zionist dream.

She was one of five children born into the Gur Hasidic sect in Poland. At a young age, her parents wanted to move to Palestine but were forbidden to do so by her grandfather, who was anti-Zionist. Instead, the family moved to Germany for a better life in the Weimar Republic. One of her brothers, a communist, joined the Russian Revolution. Another brother was killed in the Spanish Civil War. Chava and her two other teenage siblings joined a hachshara (practical training program) and in 1931 she boarded a boat to Palestine. She had sensed the winds of change that would afflict Germany.

Reuven Flescher with his baby son Ittay in Ramat Gan in 1978
Reuven Flescher with his baby son Ittay in Ramat Gan in 1978

Chava was one of the founders of Kibbutz Hamadia in 1939. There she met my grandfather, Menachem Mendel Flescher, married and gave birth to two children, my uncle Meir and my father Reuven, the younger child in the photo above.

I often imagine what advice my father would give the people of this country today.

Reuven father was well-liked by almost all who knew him. Like me, he would always try to avoid confrontations and sought to find the middle path.

Sadly, he died of cancer when he was 51 and I was 21.

On the eve of Israel’s 75th birthday where the Jewish state is facing a civil crisis the likes of which we have never seen before, I wonder what he would have thought about what’s been happening in our streets since the first week of 2023.

When I go to demonstrations in Jerusalem against the judicial overhaul, I wonder if my father would be there with me.

It’s hard to know but given everything I know about his desire to bring peace between different people, always going by the “path of pleasantness” before the way of violence, I feel that he would be among those supporting a call for dialogue for the sake of unity, based on President Isaac Herzog’s compromise plan.

I know he supported the Oslo Agreements and the only time I saw him cry was in 1995, when he heard Yitzchak Rabin had been assassinated.  He had served under him in 1967 when Rabin was Chief of Staff and felt very close to him.

Reuven Flescher with his son Ittay after their move to Melbourne.
Reuven Flescher with his son Ittay after their move to Melbourne.

I wonder what he would say of the IDF today and its treatment of Palestinians. When he was a soldier during the Six Day War in 1967, he once refused to carry out what he felt was a manifestly illegal order. He was driving a tank after the air force had blitzed the Egyptian forces in the Sinai, and many Arab soldiers were waving white flags of surrender. His unit took captives but didn’t know what to do with them. There was no prison in Sinai to put them in and releasing the prisoners would see them reenter the war.

An order was given to my father by his commander to kill the captured Egyptian soldiers. My father refused, instead giving the bound and blindfolded Egyptians water from his own bottle (a very scarce resource in the desert) and telling his officer, “There is no way I am doing that, and if it means I will be court martialed, so be it”.

This anecdote, which I have heard many times from my father and family members since his passing typifies the kind of person he was. From it, I take the important lesson of always striving to distinguish between the rules of the law and the imperative of justice that arises almost every day for me as a resident of Jerusalem.

My father lived more than half his life in Australia, moving there shortly after I was born to work in the diamond business and later become the founder of the country’s first school for gemology.

Had he been alive today, I’m sure he would be joining the thousands of Jews in Melbourne celebrating the birth of a Jewish homeland after thousands of years and listening to the classics from Shoshana Damari to Arik Einstein.

Yet, given the reality of what Israel is today, when the ceremony ends and the minor chords of Hatikvah begin, I’m not sure if the tears that would roll out his eyes would be ones of joy or sadness at a hope not yet fulfilled.

I feel the same way.

Top photo: Reuven Flescher (front) as a child in Israel with his older brother Meir and their grandparents in 1951(All photos supplied)

About the author

Ittay Flescher

Ittay Flescher is the Jerusalem Correspondent for The Jewish Independent. For over twenty years, he has worked as an educator, journalist, and peacebuilder in Melbourne and Jerusalem. He is the co-host of the podcast ‘From the Yarra River and the Mediterranean Sea' and the author of the upcoming book ‘The Holy and the Broken.’ He is also the Education Director at a youth movement that brings together Israeli and Palestinian teenagers who believe in building equality, justice, and peace for all.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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