SA-born hero’s murder resonates 52 years later
Fifty-two years ago this week, student and Israeli army paratrooper Edward “Eddie” Joffe, who had recently made aliyah with his family from South Africa, was senselessly murdered by terrorists when 5kg of explosives hidden in a biscuit tin at a Jerusalem supermarket exploded. It killed him instantly, together with his friend, Leon Kanner, who had recently made aliyah from Uruguay.
More than half a century later, the tragedy still resonates through the generations. “Our lives were forever changed,” his brother, Harold Joffe, told the SA Jewish Report this week from his home in Ra’anana.
“My mother went white overnight, and got diabetes from the shock. My father was shattered and died at the age of 64. At the far-too-young age of 21, Edward was laid to rest in Har Hamenuchot Yerushala’im.
“He was strong, handsome, smart, a decent and fantastic young man. Full of hope, ambition, and plans. Edward, where would you have been today? Who would you have married? How many other cousins would our children have had?” Joffe asks.
These “what ifs” show the heart breaking ramifications of terrorism, and the thousand questions it generates about whether things could have turned out differently. While it may feel like something that happened long ago and in a different time and place, the story will forever be linked to South Africa, where Joffe grew up.
“Edward completed his schooling at SACS in Cape Town in 1964. He did his military service in South Africa, and at the beginning of 1966, my parents, sister, and Edward came on aliyah. He joined the garin at Kibbutz Tzora, and then went to Gedud 50 of Nahal,” says his brother.
“Edward was known for his outstanding physical abilities coupled with gentleness and a smile. A friend related to us ‘there was no hike in which he did not lend a helping hand to the weaker ones; there was no task that he did not accept without a smile’.
“Eddie didn’t expect any prizes, but he was unable to hide his pride at being a fighter in the paratroopers,” his brother says. To a friend in South Africa, he wrote, “I must admit that this is the greatest pleasure of my life. I don’t know if the fame of the Israeli paratroopers has reached you, but I have now joined their ranks. I now wear the red beret known for its glory, and on my breast are found the famous wings.”
“At the outbreak of the Six-Day War, Eddie found himself on the flank of Northern Sinai. He was injured in the neck by shrapnel which missed his jugular vein by a small fraction of an inch,” Joffe says.
A friend wrote, “I knew him as a soldier and a leader who never stopped smiling and infecting those around him with his joy of life. I saw him wounded, and I picture him thus: Eddie, the tall and powerful paratrooper, wounded with blood flowing from him, but his mouth open with a wide smile.”
The late Joffe wrote to a friend from the hospital, “It was an honour to have fought at the front and while blood flowed from me [I was conscious all the time], I thought that even if I were to die, it would have been worthwhile.”
He was injured again during his service, during the Karameh offensive in March 1968. Towards the end of October 1968, he was accepted at Hebrew University. He moved to Jerusalem to start his studies in the faculty of agriculture, and befriended Kanner. They attended the same lectures, and eventually boarded together in the same small apartment.
“On Friday, 21 February 1969, they went to the Supersol in Rehov Agron Jerusalem to make some purchases for Shabbat and an upcoming excursion. As they approached the meat counter, an explosive device – a biscuit tin filled with 5kg of dynamite – which had been placed in the store by two cowardly female Arab terrorists, was detonated, and Eddie and Leon were both killed instantly,” says his brother. A huge funeral in Jerusalem followed, attended by Yigal Allon and many other Israeli dignitaries.
“We were and are very private about this life-changing episode,” says Joffe. “However, in May 2014, my niece saw an article regarding the trial in the United States of Rasmea Odeh, Edward’s murderer, who had been found guilty of immigration fraud after serving 10 years in an Israeli jail and then being freed during one of the many prisoner swaps of the 1970s. All we wanted was closure. Unfortunately, the matter continued with extensive and mainly anti-Israel and pro-Odeh publicity, until she was finally deported to Jordan at the end of 2017. I’m grateful that my mother never lived to experience this vile tirade.
“Stripping Edward and Leon of their lives didn’t chase us away, and it did nothing to further peace. Edward will always live on in our hearts, and we will forever keep his memory alive,” he says.
Like Joffe, Kanner’s family also made aliyah, and he joined them after studying abroad. In November 1968, he started agriculture studies at the Hebrew University, where he met Joffe. He was 20 when he was senselessly killed. After the bombing, the family developed photographs from his camera that was found at the scene. One photo shows a smiling Kanner with the Jerusalem hills behind him and the world at his feet.
A Joffe family friend, Michael Jankelowitz, launched a campaign for the municipality and the supermarket to erect a memorial plaque, but today there is still nothing to commemorate the tragedy that happened there. “There is a park across the street. It would be appropriate to place a memorial there,” says Joffe. “It should have been done.”
Most of the Joffe family live in Israel. “My parents are buried next to Edward. My mother was extremely Zionist, and the terror attack never broke her Zionism, but it broke her spirit,” says Joffe.
Two weeks before she died, on 23 September 2009, their mother, Roslyn Joffe, recorded a video saying goodbye to her family, and spoke of the impact of her son’s death on her. “I’ve been blessed with wonderful children, grandchildren, and fantastic great grandchildren. Not everyone has that blessing in life. What’s overshadowed all my pleasure has been the loss of Edward. I could never get over that. It’s overshadowed all my joy.”
SA expats face ‘apocalypse now’ in Texas
South African Jewish expatriates in Texas, United States, have experienced isolation, outages, and chaos on a scale that they never expected when they made the move to America, after the state was hit by an unprecedented snowstorm from 10 to 17 February, causing a humanitarian crisis.
“It felt apocalyptic. If we’d had any warning we would have prepared, but there was no inkling that we would be in such a crazy situation,” says Deborah Barak, who is in Houston with her partner and one-year-old daughter. “We had no power, water, or heat from Sunday 02:00 [14 February] to Wednesday night [17 February], aside from a couple of hours on Monday morning. To keep warm, we stayed in the smallest room in the house with all the blankets we could find.
“Luckily, we had gas to cook with and had recently been shopping, so we ate well, but we had no water to clean with or flush toilets. After a few days, the dirt started to pile up. I dressed my daughter in layers and tried to keep her under blankets, but she’s pretty mobile and got frustrated that we wouldn’t let her out of the room.
“There was absolutely nothing open around us, and very little information about what was going on. We were truly isolated. Occasionally, we would go for a careful drive to warm up in the car and charge our phones, but we kept those to a minimum because we had only a little petrol and there was none to be found anywhere. Luckily, we had a case of water, because we couldn’t find any. After several attempts, we found some diapers. We were down to just three when we found some.
“We got our power and heat back on Wednesday, but it took several more days before we had drinkable water. Everything is back to normal now, and it’s hard to believe that we felt so helpless about keeping our child safe and warm. It’s quite shocking how easily you can suddenly be cut off from the rest of the world.”
Trevor Kobrin lives in an apartment block in Irving, near Dallas. He was hit by rolling blackouts for three days, with only intermittent power coming on unexpectedly for half an hour, often in the middle of the night. At one point he was so cold, he warmed a cup of soup with heat from candles, and tried to make a cup of tea by boiling water on the stove. Soon after his electricity returned, he found he had no water in his taps. “Almost a week later, I still have no water,” he told the SA Jewish Report just hours before his water did return.
“I was able to go to a friend to shower and I had enough to drink, but needed water for washing dishes, flushing toilets, and so on. On Thursday night [18 February], I was so desperate, I went out to collect snow and melted it. The snow has since melted, and I was able to buy water, but you are only allowed to buy two five-litre bottles a day at the moment. On Sunday [21 February], I went to the complex swimming pool to try to get some water. It was all iced up, but I found a corner where the ice had melted, and I took from there.” Kobrin says he was in Cape Town at the height of its drought crisis, and what he learnt then helped him in this situation.
Says Linda Behr, “My husband and I left South Africa on a beautiful day in January 1977 and believe it or not, arrived in Dallas, Texas during an ice storm. Since then, we have had similar ice storms every couple of years. None of those winter storms prepared us for the one we just had!”
On Thursday morning, 11 February, she says, “I was due to go get my second COVID-19 vaccine. At 10:00 I received a call that my appointment was cancelled – the distributors were unable to get the vaccines out because of icy roads.
“On Saturday, I managed to get to the grocery store, which was packed. We were told that temperatures on Monday could reach -15 C. In the 44 years that we have lived here, we had never heard of Texas experiencing such low levels. We woke up on Monday morning to -13 C. Our power had gone off in the middle of the night, and it was freezing!
“We heard we were going to be having rolling blackouts. The power was supposed to be off for 15 to 45 minutes then go on again, but the people working these rollouts had no idea how to manage it properly. So the power would come on for anywhere from one to four hours, then go off for about seven to nine hours.
“One thing saved us. We have a gas fireplace, so we huddled there to defrost! My daughter, Tracy, and her boyfriend, Moshe, were staying with us. Moshe got very creative. He took one of my pots with a long handle, filled it with water, and boiled the water over the fire. He also made toast and scrambled eggs over the fire.
“For two days, the power was more off than on. Many people had burst water pipes, some died because of the extreme cold, and other weather-related problems have caused billions of dollars of damage in what may become Texas’s most expensive natural disaster in history.”
Joan Gremont in Dallas says, “On Friday night during our family Shabbat Zoom, our son in Austin mentioned that they had been without power for more than 24 hours. I told them they should come to Dallas. Austin had precipitation which had turned to ice, but Dallas didn’t have – yet. He agreed, and at 21:00, they packed up the kids, food, and two dogs, and were on the road, a 200-mile (322km) trip, arriving at midnight.”
Her son, Evan Gremont, says they looked “like refugees after packing up the house in complete darkness”. Ironically, the power returned to his house one hour after he left, and didn’t go off again. However, since returning to Austin a few days later, he has had to boil water to drink, and people have had to queue for water.
“It was cold, but we had power,” says his mother. “It got colder, and on Monday, our power went off and on without any warning. We left a lamp on in the living room. This was our signal that it was on or off as we sat in front of the raging fire in the gas fireplace.
“When there was no heat late on Monday afternoon, we all packed up and went to a friend, who lives in a spacious house not even a mile away from us, but they never lost power. There were 14 of us in their house, plus three dogs!
“The next day, we came home after we were able to determine that our power was back on. The pool iced over. In our 42 years in Dallas, we had never seen anything like this. I put the kettle on so we could have our Five Roses tea – first priority! That night, the power was out again so we went back to our friends, and returned home on Wednesday morning. We were much better off than tens of thousands of others,” she says.
Gremont says many organisations offered assistance, for example, one of their local kosher restaurants made free, hot kosher meals to distribute to anyone who needed it.
“The only reason we were able to drive on the snow-covered roads is that our son drives a four-wheel-drive truck. Neighbourhood roads were never cleared of the snow. Texas doesn’t have the equipment or manpower for this.”
Dizengoff attack still haunts families 25 years on
South African-born Tali Gordon and her friend, Inbar Atiya, had gone to Dizengoff Center to find an outfit on the night of Purim 25 years ago, but instead of celebrating the chag, they were killed in a terrorist attack outside the shopping centre.
So many years later, her father, Barry Gordon, is still haunted by the loss of his beautiful daughter who was killed at the age of 24. Tali was killed on 4 March 1996, when a suicide bomber detonated a 20kg nail bomb at a busy intersection next to the centre in the middle of Tel Aviv.
He murdered 13 people, including Tali. Her father, who lives in Johannesburg, says, “Every time there’s another terror attack, it adds fuel to the fire. You don’t get over it, the pain gets worse.”
Tali was living in central Tel Aviv, and she and her friend went to Dizengoff Center, which had a number of shops where one could buy dress-up clothes for Purim, he recalls.
They walked out of the centre and had crossed the road to the ATM. While they were waiting at the traffic light, the Hamas terrorist blew himself up in the middle of the road. Both Tali and Inbar, who was 22, were killed instantly.
“They died together. I first heard about it when my son phoned me in the middle of the night from the mortuary in Jaffa. Tali had a small tattoo of a seagull on her right shoulder, and that’s how they identified her. They also found her car in the vicinity.”
Tali was born in South Africa, but grew up in Israel. Her father spent his whole life in Johannesburg, and attended King David schools. Fiercely Zionist, he headed to Israel straight after school as a volunteer after the Six-Day War. He was there for three years, and met his first wife there. They went to South Africa, where they had two children, Tali and Alon. After 1976, they returned to Israel, but eventually he and his first wife divorced and he returned to South Africa. The children remained with their mother, and visited him once a year. Tali spent a year in Johannesburg, and attended King David.
After school, she went to the army. Talented in languages, she could speak Arabic, French, Hebrew, and Spanish, and she worked in intelligence. She was also recruited to the paratroopers. After the army, she travelled widely.
“She was quite worldly, and went to America and the Far East. She started studying political science at Bar Ilan University, and was very politically motivated. Without a doubt, she would have gone into politics. She was a remarkable young lady and we had a special bond,” Barry says.
Strangely, a number of disconnected South African families were also affected by the tragedy, including one Durban family in which a mother and sister were killed.
“What was so harsh about this pigua [terror attack] was the range of age of victims. There was Yovav Levy, who was 13 years old. I’m in daily contact with his mother since we met at the cemetery two years ago. The oldest victim was 84. Most of the victims were young – two were 13, one was 14, and one was 15,” Barry says.
He wasn’t able to get to Israel in time for the funeral. But there was another memorial on the seventh day after the tragedy, and about 2 500 to 3 000 students attended. His daughter is buried in a cemetery just outside Tel Aviv.
Barry says the families of the victims are like a support group. “We share our sorrow. There is such a void. They relate to your tragedy, and you get a bit of closure in that moment.”
His son was deeply affected by the loss of his sister, and has never managed to live a normal life. The family has also been affected by another tragedy. Barry’s mother (Tali’s grandmother) was killed two years before the terror attack in a hijacking in Johannesburg. “Her grandmother took her travelling around the world, and her death really affected Tali.”
Barry remarried, and he and his second wife, Theresa, had a girl named Tashima. “She is named after Tali and is the spitting image of her. She is in her late 20s, and lives in Panama City with her boyfriend, working as an interior designer.”
The Gordons travel to Israel every year to commemorate the tragedy. Last year, they were there in late February and the memorial ceremony was cancelled as COVID-19 began to grip the country. Still, they went to the cemetery, and to the spot where the attack happened.
“It’s on the corner of King George and Dizengoff. There’s a memorial stone there, and a place to light candles. I don’t like the place very much, it gives me cold shivers. But when we were standing there, we saw a photographer and an Israeli actor doing an interview. They asked what I was doing there and I said I lost my daughter in the attack. They said they were doing a piece on the history of Dizengoff, and asked if they could interview me there and then. It was very emotional.”
Another strange coincidence was when they went into the centre to get something to eat, and spoke to the security guard who checks everyone at the entrance. “I told him I lost my daughter in the attack, and he said he was there that day. He got shrapnel in his arm, and it took almost nine months for him to recover. He saw the carnage.”
Barry says that in a strange way, the people who die in terror attacks are “the lucky ones”.
“They go to heaven, they’re with the angels, they’re done. But the families left behind – their lives are changed forever, never to be the same.”
Even though the Israeli government pays a monthly stipend to families of victims of terror, “the injured and their families suffer the most. The ramifications are endless”.
For him, the pain never goes away. “Terrorism has an impact on a person mentally, physically, spiritually, and religiously. Your loved one is there one minute, gone the next. I wonder about so many things, like if I would have had grandchildren by now. Terror means you don’t just lose that person, but an entire generation.”
Master’s degree in Jewish education – a game changer
“For more than 80 years as a community, we have sent into battle our motivated teachers, rabbis, rebbetzins, and adult educators relatively unarmed and untrained. Tonight, that changes.”
So said Rabbi Ramon Widmonte at a historic graduation ceremony held online last Wednesday, 17 February. The event celebrated the first-ever cohort of candidates for the master’s degree in Jewish education in the history of South Africa’s Jewish community.
“We have been driven by one simple question,” said Widmonte, the co-founder and dean of The Academy of Jewish Thought & Learning. “Without outstanding trained educators, how can the South African Jewish community sustain itself or thrive? They are our lifeblood.
“In 1940, the Cape and Transvaal Boards of Jewish Education proposed a merger, driven by a desire to build a teachers college for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. That merger, had it materialised, would have changed our school system and rabbinate, but it fell through.”
The degree offers the opportunity to rectify this, Widmonte said, with the academy creating the country’s only symposium for Hebrew and Jewish Studies educators. Through its adult and environmental education programmes and educator training, the academy has reached about 6 000 students in South African and almost 15 000 worldwide.
“Our graduates come from around the country, representing major Jewish schools, educational organisations, and shuls,” Widmonte said. “We’ve helped rabbis, rebbetzins, and adult educators get to the top of their game.
“Our community has such a powerful message. To deliver that message in the 21st century, we need our educators to be equipped with the best training. There is no reason our maths and science teachers should be best equipped but those who man our pulpits and classrooms should have no such options.”
Widmonte, Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein, and other guest speakers paid tribute to the graduates.
“We are celebrating teachers but also excellence in teaching, dedicating ourselves to making sure that the way that we teach is the best possible,” said Rabbi Joseph Dweck, the deputy president of the London School of Jewish Studies (LSJS) with which the academy has partnered to make the programme possible.
“Education is our lifeblood, and has kept our people going for 3 000 years. For you to dedicate yourselves to teaching and making sure that it’s of the highest quality is work of the highest order. It is a service to G-d and to the Jewish people.”
Rabbi Raphael Zarum, the dean of the LSJS, stressed that the qualification is not a mere piece of paper but a tool with profound implications.
“It professionalises the field of Jewish education,” he said. “This masters turns you into shapers of Jewish education instead of doing what has always been done. It allows you to read, learn, reflect, choose, and grow.
“Our students and community members can get a better education,” Zarum said. “We can learn from experiences around the world, from our own experiences, sharing ideas with each other. We can make decisions based on evidence and knowledge.”
Of course, passion and a love of Jewish people is fundamental, but “when you couple that with systematic thinking and professionalism, Jewish education becomes unstoppable”, he said.
“That was the idea of this master’s degree. You have raised it in South Africa to a level I couldn’t possibly imagine.”
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