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A tribute to Alena Lourie (z''l)

Following the sad passing in July 2016 of Alena Lourie, Telfed’s CEO Dorron Kline represented Israel’s Southern African community at her funeral in Jerusalem.  Alena was the widow of the iconic Norman Lourie, who founded South Africa’s Habonim youth movement in 1930 and which has had such a monumental impact - literally - on the Israeli landscape.

Starting out as a Jewish scout movement, Habonim would rapidly grow to become a Zionist ideological powerhouse educating its young members to the highest ideals of Aliyah, concern for one’s fellow man and communal settlement. Imbued with this inspiring ideology, Bogrim (graduates) of the Movement formed Garinim (pioneering groups) and made Aliyah either establishing or strengthening existing kibbutzim and moshavim. The names associated today with Lourie’s legacy are: Kibbutzim Yizreel, Tzora, Kfar Blum, Kfar Hanasi, Tuval, Ma’ayan Baruch, Nir Eliyahu, Moshav Habonim and many others.  Many of its members have made huge contributions to Israeli society in nearly every field of endeavour and have been the recipients of countless honours and awards, including the prestigious 'Israel Prize'.

A lot has passed since that first Machane (camp) at Parys in the Orange Free State in 1931. How touched Norman and Alena would have been if they could have seen the blue shirts worn by the young members of South African Habonim on this year’s programme in Israel (Shnat) at the funeral. They stood there indebted to the man who has brought such profound meaning to their young lives and will inevitably shape their futures.

Known today as Habonim Dror, the Movement in South Africa “supports economic and social equality and encourages its members to positively contribute to Israeli society, as well as working actively to create a just and equatable post-Apartheid South Africa.”  

Encapsulating the spirit and values of Alena and her beloved Norman, is this inspiring eulogy delivered at the funeral. It recalls fond memories of the beloved matriarch of the Lourie family, a cherished mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.

"Alena was born in Prague with an identical twin, Irena, into an intellectual and secular home pre-war. She encountered little anti-Semitism and it wasn’t until 1939 that her whole world was uprooted and the comfortable and cultured world she knew would be totally destroyed.  Miraculously, she survived with her sister and mother and father as a nuclear family while most of her relatives would not be so fortunate.

But following the liberation of Auschwitz and the re-union with her parents in Theresenstadt the family returned to Prague and Alena and Irena despite a furlough of over 3 years without formal education enrolled themselves in Charles University in order to study Comparative Literature.  Looking back at this time in her life it is remarkable to note the zest and enthusiasm with which she embraced life and the future.

In the next few years a lesser disaster struck their lives in the form of a communist revolution and, this time, the family headed immediately to Israel.  Alena’s father had to retrain as an Israeli architect and settled down in the idyllic countryside near Netanya.

It was very soon after having arrived as an immigrant to these very shores that she met the gentle, outgoing South African film maker, worldly and dedicated idealist to Israel Norman Lourie.  A whirlwind romance followed and was succeeded by wonderful projects namely building Israel’s first Mediterranean resort in the North of the country, the Dolphin House whose doors opened in 1952.  Alena became hostess to both foreign travellers and  Israeli society alike as the Dolphin House was a gathering place for politicians among them David Ben Gurion and Moshe Dayan, writers such as Leon Uris and Amos Elon and film stars such as Paul Newman and Dany Kaye particularly during the filming of Exodus a story Alena knew only too well.
 Norman and Alena at the Dolphin House

Later it was in Jerusalem in 1961 that Alena attended Eichman’s trial at least a token of justice regarding what she had witnessed first-hand on the railway platform in the camps.

Meanwhile Alena forged what had to be her greatest personal victory of all in starting her own family. And so it was in 1952 that Michael the oldest of her two sons was born.  Following in his parents footsteps Michael would dedicate himself to Israel, serving in combat and suffering serious injuries in the Yom Kippur war and then marrying the exquisite Lea who is by my side as are his four children: Kinnereth, Irit, Shlomit and Nachum.  In all Alena went on to have eight grandchildren as my Amanda, Michael, Zack and Arthur would come into being as well as a further three great grandchildren: Ellie, Nina and Carmel.

In 1963 Alena and Norman moved to Geneva where she has resided ever since.  Norman passed away in 1978 and my beloved brother Michael, tragically in 1991.  Despite the loss of those closest to her, Alena, whilst sensitive and loving, had a core of steel and would always somehow be able to transform the negative aspects of loss for love for those surrounding her whom she cherished: whether her immediate family, friends or long lineage of long-haired Daschunds who for the last forty years were always by her side and inevitably on her bed for breakfast with a copy of the Herald Tribune and lots of coffee.

You didn’t call her before her cup of coffee as my closest friend James can attest to!  Waiting to be picked up on his way to our school when we were around 12 he dared to call the house at 7am while Alena was still asleep, and I can assure you, he didn’t call for the ensuing 5 years!  So she had a character and lots of stories full of warmth and laughter.

While I could never imagine or be prepared for this moment as we would speak every day, I will miss my best friend enormously and it leaves a gaping void inside me yet I am somehow reassured that she will re-join her loved ones – particularly Michael, Irena and Norman and her parents fittingly in Jerusalem surrounded by the peace and sweet smell of the Cypress trees while basking in the golden light that illuminates these Judean Hills."

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