This last year I have been having regular skype meetings with my sisters in Israel. Judith lives on a moshav, a few kilometres from the border with Gaza. Naomi lives in Jerusalem, in the same block of flats, on the same floor in fact that our late parents lived – our father until his death in 1994, our mother until her death in 2013.
Our mother Betty Gillis was born in Sunderland in 1918, and became Betty Yoffey when she married our father Joseph Mendel Yoffey in 1940. They (we) lived in Bristol until 1967, where our father was Professor of Anatomy at the medical school, and spent years researching the lymphocyte cell – his ideas being, we were proud to know, ahead of his time. After leaving Bristol our parents spent a year in San Francisco, then a year in Australia, our father lecturing, continuing with research, and writing another book on his branch of haematological research. Finally, in 1970 they settled permanently in Jerusalem, which they had long envisaged as `home.`
Zionism, or (my interpretation,) an up-to-date and common-sense version of religious Zionism coloured their lives and ideas – and inevitably ours. Both my sisters left the UK happily behind, and are now Israeli grandmothers, completely bilingual, and satisfied – not exactly with the political leadership in Israel – but basically satisfied with who and where they are.
Why all this information? In her eighties, our mother wrote her memoirs. After her death, we read them. For two years Judith and Naomi worked together to translate her work into Hebrew. This year the three of us have been working together to edit and put the whole thing together. Much of `Our Mother`s Memoirs` is already in the hands of a printer, and in weeks the project will be complete. A volume in both English and Hebrew.
Our mother was a highly intelligent woman, and literate and thoughtful enough to know that writing memoirs was easily within her powers – but objectively speaking, not the easiest thing to do. We have each loved mining these memoirs, and agree, the three of us, the project has brought us closer than ever as sisters. For me personally, the close reading of what our mother wrote, together with my/our different responses to all kinds of situations and issues – has been, I would say mind-blowing. How on earth does one set about recording anything, accurately? Accurate and truthful for one person is never quite the same as it is for another.
I am left smiling at the fact that we couldn`t quite agree on the content of a preface – so after some laughter and much thought, decided we would honour our mother`s memoirs with three prefaces. Now, when I read a preface written by an offspring of someone, I immediately ask myself: but what would her/his siblings write if they had written the preface? Surely it ought to be the rule everywhere!
Not making comparisons here, but I might as well mention my memoir, M E and Me. People are contacting me with comments – and for this I am grateful. It is available on Amazon and Kindle. Look for Deborah Freeman M E and Me.