Maybe We Were Sisters in a Former Life

Dear Rony,

I have known your mother Alma Swartz/Yoray since May 1961 when she came to Kibbutz Zikim as a volunteer. We have remained good friends during these years up until her death in the early hours of Monday 18th October 2010. Alma said to me, about one year ago, “Maybe we were sisters in a former life?” She was more than a sister to me & I hope that I was to her.

I last spoke to Alma on Wednesday 13th October 2010. During the week leading up to this date, I had spoken to her every day. For years, either my husband David or myself spoke to Alma weekly. We nearly always talked about her son Rony &/ or her two grandsons Shai & Yoav. Almost every time I spoke to Alma she would tell me about her conversations with Rony and/or Shai.

When Alma gave birth to Rony/Yoray in 1961, I visited her in Ashkelon hospital. She had, while pregnant, decided to have Rony adopted as, because of her life style as a dancer, she did not think she could care for him well enough. She had apparently, been told, that ‘there was very good family’ waiting to receive him. While Alma was pregnant, her father Edward arrived in the kibbutz. Alma had told me that he was/had been an alcoholic.

After Alma gave birth in Ashkelon hospital, she was reluctant to hand Rony/Yoray over & insisted on breast-feeding him. I wondered at that moment if she had changed her mind about the adoption. Her father arrived at the hospital & said that he wanted to adopt ‘Yoray’ & named him David. Alma was so appalled at the thought of her father adopting her son, that she then handed him over.
Alma felt that her father (and mother) had been abusive to her as a child, emotionally & psychologically. She was therefore, horrified at the thought of her father adopting ‘Yoray’. I shall refer to Rony as ‘Yoray’ up until the day he found her many years later, as that is the name we both always called him. She named him after the first rains in Israel, & after he was adopted, changed her surname from Schwartz to ‘Yoray’.

Alma & I continued to be good friends over the following years. I visited her in New York & Maine for four weeks during the hot summer of 1975. She also visited me in London & joined my family in our holiday home in Brittany, France.

I met, & stayed with Alma & her partner Jim, who took professional, photographs of us both. I also befriended a friend of hers called Janet Levine, and we all drove to Camden/Maine together where Janet was relocating to.

I met Alma’s sister Ella, a number of times; once in Zikim/Israel (after Alma had left) with her then husband & their two children Leah & Nadia. Janet, Alma & I also visited Ella when we were in Maine, as Ella had a holiday home further north. We were not made very welcome & had to sleep in a shed rather than in the main house. We only stayed one night.

Alma appeared to have a poor relationship with her sister Ella. She felt that Ella was unkind to her. Ella became ill as she grew older & I believe that when she separated from her husband, he received custody of the two children. I am not 100% certain of these details. I do know, however, that Alma did not feel close to her sister Ella, but did care for her two nieces Nadia & Leah.

During the last few years, when I would ask after Ella, Alma would not want to talk about her or would make negative comments about her!

In the 1990’s, Janet Levine came to stay in my house in Brittany and we talked a lot about Alma & Yoray. Janet told me that Alma often talked about Yoray & wondered about him.

Janet & I subsequently had a reunion with Alma in Poland. Janet stayed with her two weeks. I stayed one week. During this time I talked to Janet, who had lived closely to Alma & Jim for many years, both in New York & in Maine. I asked Janet if Alma talked about her son & Janet said “Often”. I wondered about suggesting to Alma to try & trace Yoray. Janet said I should talk to her, which I did.

I had recently found family on my father’s side & was very excited about it. I asked Alma if she would like me to go with her to Jerusalem/Israel, to try to find out what had happened to her son. We both knew that at that time, birth mothers could not legally contact their children. Alma & I both knew this, but also knew that if Yoray was looking for her, it would be very difficult for him to find her as she had changed her surname & was living in Poland. Alma agreed that we should go to try & find out about Yoray.  We both knew that he might not be in Israel or might not be alive. Alma said that even if she did not find him, she wanted to find his records & leave a letter for him with her details/contact addresses. I wrote this letter for her. I understand from Rony that when he searched for Alma, this letter was not in his file.

The search for Rony was very upsetting. So called ‘professionals’ at the time were very unhelpful & suspicious of Alma. They would not allow me to accompany her in the interviews even though she spoke no Hebrew & they spoke poor English. I was left sitting in the corridor.

They told her numerous upsetting stories;
1) That they could not locate the file
2) That Yoray may have become disabled
3) They confused him with a totally different child

We both left extremely upset. They promised to contact her, but never did.

I am a qualified teacher who has worked for over twenty years in child protection; education; social services & health. I was appalled & disgusted at the way Alma was treated. She was interviewed in a small, cold room, while I waited in a dirty, cold corridor.

Alma said to me that the main reason that she wanted to find out what happened to Yoray was to be sure he was still alive & had been successfully adopted as promised. She wanted to be able to include him in her will. Her uncle in America had also told Alma to look for her son so that she could include him in her will.

From Jerusalem, we travelled to Zikim. There everyone remembered Alma, especially Ora. A number of people promised to try to help her find her son. One was Rochka; another was Etty Atzili, whose daughter Noa was a social worker in Jerusalem. Ora said she would also try to help as she had extra information about the birth & was also present at the hospital when Yoray was born.

We both left Israel sad; despondent, downhearted but also hopeful. We had set the ball rolling, if nothing else.

Ann Merron (Yona), London