Wednesday, May 05, 2021

The Lebanese Jew who now serves in the IDF

Major K  and his family were among the last Lebanese Jews  to leave for Israel. Today he works in Israeli intelligence monitoring the activities of Hezbollah and other threats from a country he grew up in. Yoav Limor interviewed him for Aish: 


Major K works for Unit 8200 in Israeli intelligence

If K. has one dream, it's to go back to Beirut. To walk around the neighborhood he grew up in, to meet his old neighbors and friends. 

To sit in restaurants, to go for vacations in the north like he did when he was a kid. "I'll be the first to go to Lebanon once it's possible," he says. Sergeant Major K. is known in Unit 8200, Israel’s Central Collection Unit of the Intelligence Corps, as "The Lebanese".

 He came to Israel from Lebanon with his family, among the last Jews who lived there, and was drafted into the IDF and made a career in Unit 8200 focusing on his former home – Lebanon and the fight against Hezbollah, who took over the country he grew up in. 

 He's 39 years old, married with two girls aged 8 and 3. His perfect Hebrew can be misleading: when he came to Israel, aged 12, he didn't speak a word. 

Everything he learned he learned by himself. Word after word, sentence after sentence. His mother tongue is Arabic, and just like any educated Lebanese, he also speaks French and English. He studied in a Christian school, and most of his friends were Christian.

 "Most of the Jews left before us. Most of them after the Six Day War, and then after the Yom Kippur War. Those who stayed, dispersed after the civil war began in 1975, many moved to France or Canada, because they knew how to speak French, and also to Brazil." 

 His parents lived in Beirut. "They were convinced that in a few months the war will end, but like all the Jews who remained in the city, they decided to go up a bit north, to a more remote mountainous area. 

They were sure they would return when the fighting subsided, but it didn't, and we stayed there." His father was a successful salesman and his mother a housewife. He remembers a normal and happy childhood of a regular family: two parents with four kids, K. and his three sisters.

 In retrospect, he can say that during those times there was considerable persecution of Jews, even though his family never felt it. "I don't remember being scared to say I'm Jewish.

 Our neighbors knew we were Jews. My father came from a religious home, and we would celebrate the major holidays – Passover, Rosh Hashanah."

 I was never ashamed or scared to say I was Jewish. They would get matzah for Passover from Syria, where there was still a large Jewish community, with a chief rabbi, kosher slaughter and bakeries. "In Lebanon all that disappeared years earlier, but we learned to get by. We lived among Christians, but we upheld our Jewish lives. Father prayed at home. On Yom Kippur the neighbor would come over before the fast ended to warm up our food, and the neighbors would move our car so we didn't desecrate the holiday." 

 Q: Weren't you scared? 

 "I was a Lebanese Jew. I was accepted like they accept a Lebanese Christian. I studied in a Christian school that was somewhat religious, and anyone who needed to know – they knew I was Jewish and didn't attend religious lessons. I didn't go around screaming that, but I was never ashamed or scared to say I was Jewish." They avoided going to the Shiite areas of Beirut. 

"We lived in a Christian area, which was protected. The moment you ventured a bit south, you were exposed. My father didn't like going to these areas. He was connected to military people who would give him passage, but he was very careful." 

 He remembers many vacations during his childhood in Lebanon: In the snowy mountains, and on the beach during summers. Long vacations that sometimes lasted the whole summer. In the 1980s the family would get in their car, drive south to the border, pass through Rosh Hanikra, and when the vacation ended go back home. 

During holidays they would come to Israel, to visit his mother's family. Today it sounds like science fiction, but in the 1980s they would get in their car, drive south to the border, pass through Rosh Hanikra, and when the vacation ended go back home. 

"I remember holidays, the hotel in Nahariya. We would usually come for Rosh Hashanah, because it coincided with the vacation in Lebanon." His father was the only one then who spoke Hebrew. The rest of the family spoke with their relatives in Arabic. At the end of the 1980s the visits became less frequent due to the security situation, and the family slowly began to think more about leaving Lebanon and moving to Israel. "My father was Zionist, and he wanted to live again in a warm and embracing Jewish Zionist community." 

 At the end of 1993, they made the decision and K.'s family prepared for the move. As opposed to Syrian Jews, who had to escape without any belongings, Lebanese Jews left in an orderly fashion. K.'s family told their neighbors they were leaving for America, packed their house, including the furniture, called the movers and put their possessions on a ship that sailed to Cyprus, where they were greeted by Jewish Agency officials. After a few days waiting, in December 1993, they flew to Israel.

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