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Purity of Arms

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Zvi Friedman's Daring Bicycle Ride  E-mail

by Arnie Friedman

"And this, yeladim, was my first home in Israel" - this is what I always said to my children years later, whenever passing "Machaneh Shmonim". A kilometer before passing the camp, I could already sense the kids nudging each other, whispering and giggling and saying to each other - "And this, yeladim was my first home...

"Machaneh Shmonim" was indeed my/our first home in Israel! To this day I cannot drive past without remembering those heady, difficult and sometimes frightening days of our basic training at this venerable and famous army camp, built & used by the British between two world wars."
April-May 1956 : Our madrichim were doing their best to knock us into shape, no easy task. Our all-South African company was finding the initial training period pretty rough, and when our officer Ari Caspi (a few months later killed in the Sinai campaign) announced in his dry and taciturn manner that we were due for our first "after" (weekend leave) the coming weekend, we were beside ourselves with joy : after all, we had already absorbed the words of the latest hit of Lahakat Hanachal, which went, in part -"Bo-i Ruthie after - duty, yom Shabat ani ve-at". How full of promise, relaxation, luxury and good food the weekend promised to be! "But" - said Mefaked Arik without blinking, in his quiet, "I - mean - every - word -1 say" voice - "You will all be back here on the parade-ground at 9.59 a.m. SHARP, out of your dress uniforms and with your SPOTLESS CHECK rifles : do I make myself clear ?" He had!

So off we went (early on Friday morning) sporting, our new uniforms, to taste a bit of Israeli hospitality with family and friends on Moshavim, Kibbutzim, towns and cities, in a land which we knew about in theory, but were now tasting for the first time. Needless to say we got back to camp at the crack of dawn that Sunday morning. At five-minutes-to-ten we were already in three rows on the parade ground, everything not only spick, but also span. All, excepting Zvi Friedman, a sign-writer (from Jo'burg) who had overslept, arriving at Hadera at 9.45, hitched a lift to Pardes Hanna, and made a headlong dash towards the camp, about a kilometer away. Puffing and panting, he met a young boy from Pardes Hanna peddling his bike slowly on the dusty strip next to the road. In his fractured Hebrew Zvi managed to persuade the youngster to lend him his bike to get urgently to "Shmonim" promising faithfully to return it to its owner. With a quick "Toda" and an even quicker jump onto the saddle, our hero peddled furiously towards the camp.
Meanwhile, back at "Shmonim", Samal Rafi was doing roll-call to make sure that the "Drom Afrikaim" had returned to base.
We couldn't believe our eyes when we saw Zvi flying down the camp road towards us, at a speed which would have done Lance Armstrong proud: Wheels and brakes squeaking he hopped off the two-wheeler standing stiffly at attention at the end of the three lines of soldiers, rifle in one hand, and bicycle handle-bars in the other:

"YOU ARE TWO MINUTES LATE!!" roared Samal Rafi - "and WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH A BIKE?"
Without blinking an eyelid, utterly poised, calm and confident, Zvi replied:-
"But - "hamefaked" - wasn't everyone issued with one" ?

All's well that ends well:   Even the officers smiled (sort of...) - the bike was returned to the boy from Pardes Hanna who was waiting patiently at the camp gate to claim his property - and the story of Zvi Friedman's daring bicycle ride, became legend.