June 14, 2013 admin

Yehoshua Hass

Over the last days I’ve found myself thinking again and again of my friend Yehoshua Hass. He’s not been alive these last few years; he was my father’s age and died at roughly the same time, about five years ago.
It must be because I’ve spent the last two days in Brussels, at an intensive meeting of European Masorti rabbis, joined later by lay leaders. It’s been wonderful to learn Torah together and my thoughts haven’t strayed during our sessions (especially as I’ve been chairing most of them). But I’ve made a point of walking everywhere we’ve gone, and as I’ve wandered the streets (‘Take off your kippah’, I was told in no uncertain terms, ‘This part of the city isn’t safe if you show you’re Jewish’) my thoughts have wandered too.
I met Yehoshua on Mount Zion; he was a painter and had set up his easel in the courtyard of a monastery. For some reason I can’t recall we fell to talking of French romantic poetry; it must have been some line from Baudelaire. We became friends, and I spent many Shabbat afternoons at his home with his family, with whom I’m still friends.
I learnt his life story partly from him, partly from his wife after he was gone. Most of it, of course, I’ll never know, as one never does, even about our closest companions. That’s what I think about now, in Brussels: ‘Did he live here, perhaps, in this street, or in that house over there?’
‘I was out when the Gestapo came for the family’, he told me one day. ‘Someone said to me: “Don’t go home; the Germans are waiting for you there.”’ He must first have found a hiding place somewhere in the alleyways of this city, then over the border in France. He crossed the Pyrenees with a group of young escapees, over what become known as theChemin de la Liberte, climbing at night the steep and freezing peaks. His group became lost and some of his companions died of the cold. But he made it to Spain, to his beautiful Mediterranean, and his beloved Land of Israel. After the war he returned to Europe briefly, on some mission for the Hagannah. He was a romantic and I learnt after he’d gone that there’d been at least a couple of broken-hearted, and no doubt stunningly beautiful, girls between Brussels and the South of France.
When I met him he’d just moved to Jerusalem from the north, where he’d lived by the sea. The sun, the wind, the waves, the bright Mediterranean colours: Naomi Shemer’s song ‘Od lo ahavti di’ gives perfect voice to the world he loved so much: ‘The wind and the hot sun against my face; Oh I haven’t loved enough’.
Yehoshua was a painter and a teacher of art. What he painted most often was Jerusalem; dark green, grey green, deep Italian red, and there were the olive trees and the steep tiled roofs against the sky. He loved it here.
Back in Brussels I find myself thinking about him in every gap between our study sessions, and how he fled, and where he hid, and how he built Jerusalem, and what about him, and my own father, I will never know.

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