In memory of my beloved father – Reb Reuven Hakohen Wise zatza”l

January 12, 2012

This is a photo of my late father taken on July 18th 1944 on joining a Manchester regiment of the British Army during World War II. He wanted to join the Navy but his eyesight wasn’t good enough! So he joined the Royal Army Service Corp ( R.A.S.C. which he claimed stood for Run Away Somebody’s Coming!)

He was an only son and orphaned from his father aged 6 so made his mother sign to allow him to join on his 18th birthday. He was not called up but went to do his duty as he saw it.

He spent a lot of time on the River Nile in Egypt bringing supplies to the troops. Later he did the same in Greece.

He was a kohen, so I asked him once whether or not he had killed anybody as this has halachik ramifications.
No, he said, but there had been one incident where he had actually fired a gun.

During the Greek Civil war he was fired at in an alley by a Communist sniper. What did you do? I asked.
I fired back over his head, was the reply. Why? I asked.
‎ הבא להורגך השכם להורגו
The Halacha is if somebody comes to kill you kill them first. And it was a war!
Well, said my father, I thought maybe he’s a young single man like myself or maybe a family man with a wife and children so I shot over his head to try and frighten him off.
With soldiers like my father it’s a wonder we won the war!
He came home with two medals.
I asked him what they were for.
One everybody got just for being there and taking part. The other one was given because I was wounded.
Really, I asked, how?
I cut my thumb peeling potatoes, came back the quick witted reply.
Getting nowhere I never discussed the war with him again.

But he did tell me how he met his best friend – Rosenberg.

Although he was in a Manchester regiment there were only two Jews.
He was lying in bed one Sunday morning, excused from Church Parade when the Seargent-Major marched in.
What are you doing in bed Wise? Just because you are excused Church Parade don’t you think you are going to lie there all morning! Go and get a mop and bucket and clean the Officers Mess.

Armed with mop and bucket he started at one end and our of the corner of his eye spotted another private with a mop
and bucket cleaning in the far corner. Eventually they met back to back in the middle. Sholom Aleichem. Aleichem Sholom. Wise. Rosenberg. Nice to meet you. So they became buddies.

Where is this lovely story going you might ask? In the British Army in the middle of World War II, one could be exempt from a formal activity on religious grounds. But not in Zahal the Israeli Army of 2012. Listening to women singing is an absolute must. The whole morale of the Army rests on it.
Is this where we have been going wrong in Afganistan?

In fact my father told me that the British Army set a fine example of religious tolerance and co-operation.
He told me that the Mohammedans ( politically incorrect term today – read Muslims) were given Friday off. The Jews Saturday. The Christians Sunday. So you always had somebody doing guard duty and other essential work. And everybody got along fine.
Wise and Rosenberg used to swap their meat rations for cheese as per the ruling of Chief Rabbi Herz zatzal.

So when the lovely chayyalot of Zahal are singing their hearts out, does EVERYBODY have to attend? Or are essential services, such are security, guard duty, etc  continued as normal? And if so, as I suspect they are, would it be terrible if the religious soldiers who didn’t want to listen to shirat nashim attend to other essential duties? Perhaps guarding the base. Or even cleaning the Officers mess like Private Wise used to do?

But it seems that the Ramatkal of Zahal doesn’t have the religious tolerance of a Montgomery or a Wavell!

My father was not given to open displays of emotion and I only saw him cry three times in thirty years. Once when he visited his fathers grave on the 50th anniversary of his death. I asked him why he was crying! Did he really remember his father? After all he was only 6 when he passed away. It was a stupid question!

The second time was when his mother passed away aged 85. She had been his mother and father.

The third and last time was just before my wedding in Israel in February 1980.
It was the only time he managed to visit  Israel.

He hired a car and took my mother and inlaws to the Kotel. I met them  there to daven mincha. Afterwards in the setting sun there was a swearing in ceremony of new recruits. It was very impressive and moving. The Flags of Israel were fluttering in the background.  My father started to cry. I asked him why?

You don’t understand, he told me.
This is what we prayed for all our lives.
A Jewish state with a Jewish Army.
You take it for granted. But Rosenberg and I stood in the sand in Sinai in 1945 and faced Jerusalem – the nearest we ever got and prayed for this day.

Now, 35 years later, I wasn’t sure that I would ever see this dream come true.
Look, he said to me. All the soldiers are Jewish. They are giving  out Hebrew bibles. It’s a Jewish army. We’ve got our own army. You don’t understand.

My father said that an army marches on it’s stomach. No doubt he would have enjoyed the kosher food. But it doesn’t march to the tune of women singing. And if the British Army could accomodate the religious beliefs of it’s soldiers during a world war then I’m sure that the Israeli army should be able to now.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Wise

3 Responses to “In memory of my beloved father – Reb Reuven Hakohen Wise zatza”l”

  1. Simon said

    Thank you for sharing this inspirational piece! It read beautifully, mei’halev el ha’lev. I was at a Shiva house recently, and the aveil commented of all the tremendous achievements his parents had accomplished in their lifetime… and then ruefully contrasted their achievements with what his own children would be able to say about him – he would wake up in the morning, go to work, daven, came back home… Eich naflu giborim!

  2. Doron said

    Very nicely written Dad, yeyasher kochacha! If only for hearing untold stories about my grandparents and ancestors this blog is well worth the read. I hope you put it in book form one day. Don’t care too much for the politics. I think your idea is most logical. Alternatively, I would say to the frum soldiers “if you can’t beat them, join them… Just remember to bring the ear plugs and a pocket mishnayos”😉

  3. geoffrey hyman said

    Great piece. Yes I also used to ask my fathrr about his dsys in the army.
    On the issue of a kohen killing in the course of army duty – I’m sure your aware of the numerous teshuvot on the subject, concluding that he is permitted to duchan. One of the earliest from the controversial Menashe Adler Hakohen, mareh kohen no.20; hillel omer y”d 225; kinyan torah o”ch 12; igrot moshe y”d end of 158; yechave daat 14. Just a short selection here. …. Hazlachah and shalom al yisrael.

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