Israel at 50: Beloved Country

Growing up Jewish

Naomi and her brother, Michael, 43, a newspaper editor in Dallas, grew up in Woodstock Park, a middle-class neighborhood in Portland that's now slightly faded and needing renewal. Their father still lives in the little beige house he and Gerda bought as a young married couple, after they left Israel.

"It was a Beaver Cleaver neighborhood," Naomi says. "Once, there were Jews there but one by one the Jewish families moved out to the newer suburbs in the '70s. Now I think my father is the only Jew left."

Their home was "very traditional, very European," with Strauss waltzes and Spanish tangos on the record player. Their parents spoke German, Czech and, sometimes, Hebrew at home.

Naomi has always thought she looked different from the children she grew up with. Her mother dressed her in embroidered blouses of a style still found today in the tourist shops of Israel. But she wouldn't allow Naomi to wear white knee-high socks because that reminded her of the Nazi SS.

When Naomi visited Israel -- at 16, 21 and just last year -- she saw people on the streets she thought did look like her. And it made her feel like she belonged.

"Here, I was always the little girl named Naomi in a sea of Lindas and Cathys."

That sort of reflectiveness just makes Eric Weiss blink. He doesn't relate to his daughter's Jewish angst. It's a generational thing, they agree, something with younger people.

Eric Weiss is 83 now, a small, courtly man who still revels in the company of women and the memories of his own dashing youth. Despite his age, he moves with a certain grace, an elegance one has to look to old spy movies to see these days. He is still a man of the world who can tell you the most stylish hotel in Tel Aviv, the smartest restaurant in Vienna and -- with a sly, very Continental, chortle -- the best topless beach in Majorca.

At home, though, he rambles around a house that is crammed with mementos of a long and worldly life, framed photographs of Vienna and the casbah marketplace in Algiers, albums of Israel in the early days and of the kids growing up, books of Arabian art and Jewish history.

He calls it "The Eric Weiss Memorial Museum."


Copyright © 1998 The Seattle Times Company