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David Ben Yishai

The Ranger from Emek HaYarden


Story by Sharon Tribalski

Photo by Sharon Tribalski

"Khawaja [Arabic for Mister] David who isn't afraid of anything" that is how the Arabs who lived in Kfar Ovadia and in the city of Zemah described him. He was given this nickname after riding his horse along the Jordan River for a week in search of a young man who drowned and whose body was not found. David Ben Yishai, together with an Arab man from Kfar Ovadia, finally located the body in a bush. No one dared remove it from the water. Not even the British officers who were called on the scene. David was the only one who actually got into the water and retrieved the body. That is how he earned his nickname. He is 96 years old, sharp and clear, smiles a lot and loves to think back on that time when it all started.

David was born in Germany in 1923 in the city of Breslau. At the age of 15 he was expelled from the Gymnasium where he studied, following a brawl he had with a German boy from hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth). In 1938 at the young age of 16, he immigrated to Israel as part of the Youth Aliyah and came to Kibbutz Beit Zera. Both his parents had perished in the Holocaust. In 1941 he was recruited to the "Notrim" force, a "Hagana" unit specializing in various weapons, field training and topography. He served as an instructor at the "Notrim" School and had the responsibility for maintaining the fields and coordinating communication with the city of Kfar Ovadia and the city of Zemach.

I photographed him next to a beautiful mare as a tribute to the long days and nights he rode along the Jordan River and in the valley as part of his role as a �Noter�, in charge of the land keepers in the extensive area of ??Emek HaYarden [The Jordan Valley]. We met on the path leading down to the "Nahum Bridge". He gently caresses the white mare: "I have many stories from those days" he says smiling. He tells me about how he would ride alone in the valley and along the Jordan River whose waters were still clear and clean for bathing and drinking. I imagine him galloping in a cloud of dust, just like in the American western movies, with his uniform and rank, a rifle stuck by the saddle and the wind striking his face. The sun is almost setting on the other side of the meandering Jorden River between Um Junie and Beit Zera, and David tells me about his good relationship with the Arab villagers from Kfar Ovadia and his friendship with the Mukhtar, who has often helped resolve Jewish-Arab disputes. His stories indicate that during this period, before the establishment of Israel, the area was a bit like the "Wild West".

"Bissli" the white mare that Noam brought from the stable, knows that she has a business with someone who understands her kind. She gets closer to David gently and he hugs her head. Kfar Ovadia doesn't exist anymore and the waters of the Jordan River barley flow nowadays. David whispers some secret to his mare and I take a picture.

David filled a number of key positions in the kibbutz. He served as regional commander, was in charge of security, and hid weapons in "Slicks" during the Independence war. He met his wife Clarice at the kibbutz, married her and together they set up a wonderful home and family.

The "Autographers" project is a great opportunity for directing my camera and attention to extraordinary people like David Ben Yishai. They are people who have lived among us for many years, quietly and modestly, and have made a huge contribution to the state of Israel, and to the Emek HaYarden region in particular.

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