South African-Israeli Zionist Stalwarts Harold & Myra Simon Honored with Woodland Rehabilitation

Sunday, October 11, 2020 12:00 PM

The woodland chosen for rehabilitation stands near the memorial for fallen Machal (overseas volunteers) soldiers. Harold Simon serves as chairperson for the Machal organization.

Myra and Harold (Smokey) Simon. (Photo: Tali Balilius, KKL-JNF Photo Archive)
Friday, September 10, 2020: The Simons’ four children chose to celebrate their father’s 100th birthday and honor their parents Myra and Harold (Smokey) by sponsoring a woodland rehabilitation in their names.

Not everyone managed to attend the dedication ceremony that took place at the appreciation center in HaNasi (President’s)-Tzora Forest – after all, we are in the midst of a pandemic. Nonetheless, the couple was surrounded by some thirty family members – children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren – all wearing masks, observing social distancing and taking care not to touch one another.

It was a delightful ceremony, filled with love – a family ceremony, intimate, dignified and conducted mainly in English. Representatives of KKL-JNF considered themselves fortunate to be taking part.

“Choosing to dedicate a woodland is like the structure of a tree. A tree has roots, a trunk, branches, leaves, flowers and fruit. The roots are the past; they are the foundation of the family, the great-grandmother and great-grandfather. The trunk is the children, who are the present, while the foliage – the branches, leaves, flowers and fruit – are the next generation, the future: the grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I wish you all joyful growth,” said Michael Ben Abu, Director of KKL-JNF’s Israel Fundraising Department.

It was the Simons’ youngest daughter Aliza Peleg who came up with the idea. “We thought of the woodland because it would give us a place for family get-togethers and picnics, a spot where we could all meet up, even when we’re 120 years old and more…”

Aliza enlisted the support of Yuval Itah, coordinator of KKL-JNF’s Israel Fundraising Department, and together they began to search for the woodland best suited to rehabilitation in the area adjacent to the Machal memorial (Machal = Mitnadvei Hutz LaAretz, i.e., “Overseas Volunteers”).

Smokey, who is chairperson of Machal, was among the initiators of this memorial to the 119 members of the organization who died in the line of duty. It was erected in 1993 in collaboration with KKL-JNF, in the HaNasi-Tzora Forest, in a spot close to the Burma Road.
Myra and Smokey, who were born in South Africa, immigrated to Israel in 1962, but their Zionist activities began long before that. When the Second World War broke out, they dropped everything and enlisted in the South African Army, which joined forces with the British in the struggle against the Nazis. Smokey, as a pilot, helped to repel the Germans in the battle of El Alamein.

After the war, when the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed, the young couple, concerned for the future of the Jewish community in Palestine, decided to marry and make their way to the Land of Israel. To help the Jewish combat forces, they joined Machal, a group of 4,800 volunteers from 59 different countries, just a few days before the Declaration of the State of Israel. Myra served as a meteorologist who instructed local Israelis, and Smokey was again a pilot. They were among the founders of the Israeli Air Force, which they have since proudly seen develop into one of the finest air forces in the world.

In his speech, Michael Ben Abu quoted the late Yitzhak Rabin, whose words appear on the plaque beside the memorial: “They came to us in the hour when we needed them most, in those difficult and fateful days of our War of Independence.”

Smokey regards the contribution they made as a great privilege: “I remind myself that we are all living the miracle – the miracle of an ancient nation that has returned to its homeland of 2000 years ago. This is truly a dream, and we know that KKL-JNF played a significant role in the development of the country.”

The sons Saul and Dan, who had not prepared speeches, spontaneously expressed their appreciation, admiration, gratitude and love for their parents, who have contributed so much both to the State of Israel and to themselves, their children.

“We thank you for having brought us up in a positive atmosphere of giving, good intentions and courtesy and kindness to our children, the family, neighbors and strangers… This is something of great value,” said Dan Simon with emotion.

Just before the end of the ceremony, Myra added how much she and her husband feel blessed by their wonderful family, who are always by their side. In response, the rest of the family shouted out, “We love you Saba and Savta!”

The dedication plaque was unveiled, the ceremony came to an end, and the extended Simon family set out towards the woodland that will serve as their (and the public’s) gathering place for years to come.