Simie Weinstein - An iconic kind of guy
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By Rafi Dobrin – 4th Machal-Nachal Machzor (?) December 1957-April 1959
For hundreds of young South Africans coming to Israel on Machal between 1956 and 1966, one of the first personal contacts in Israel was with an amiable guy with an accent that made them think that the plane might have landed in Johannesburg again. Simie Weinstein, Telfed’s man, would be waiting there – even at 2.30 in the morning and then for the next fifteen months or so, Simie would see to it that all was well with each and every one of the newcomers. Over the years he was involved in the lives of about 500 people. At any given time there were at least fifty volunteers in various stages of their military service.
The South African Zionist Federation in Israel had taken us under its wing and Simie was in charge of our needs. He was admirably suited for this role, as he had been involved in recruiting volunteers from South Africa to fight in Israel's War of Liberation in 1948. Before that he had served as an army chaplain in the South African armed forces in World War Two.
Simie got to know each one of us personally. He made frequent visits to all the various places were we were stationed – in Machane Shmonim and other camps or at various kibbutzim. He would suddenly pitch up, wearing his white Panama hat and that sincere, weather-beaten face would break into a caring smile when he saw you. Sometimes he would meet with 30 volunteers at a base, and occasionally he would visit a remote ”he’achzut” or naval or airforce base with just one South African machal volunteer. He came to see how we were and if there were any problems or requests, and he brought mail and packages from back home and encouraged us to write home more often. His thick Oudsthoorn accent gave him a folksy uniqueness that made him become quite iconic. Many regarded him as a father-figure.
At any given time there were a number of Machalniks who needed some special attention. Over the years a few were wounded, some seriously. Some got in trouble with the army because they had gone absent without leave or because of other disciplinary problems. There were cases of serious illness and also family problems that needed prompt return to South Africa. Simie was always involved in helping out. As the liaison with the Israel Defence Ministry, he was the man you turned to if you had a problem that your army commander couldn’t or wouldn’t solve.
At the time of my Nahal service I was a very unsophisticated, callow youth of 20-21. I related to almost everything with blinkered self-centeredness and unthinking shallowness that had been typical of the crowd that I had hung around with in South Africa. To me Simie was just another guy doing a job, which was to see to it that I personally was okay. I took his involvement with us for granted.
But it was only years later as a more mature person, that I realized more clearly, how deeply Simie Weinstein had cared about his boys and girls spread out all over Israel, some enduring spartan conditions on a border kibbutz, within rifle range of enemy combatants, while others were at training camps, learning the hazardous skills of warfare, using materials that could blow one to smithereens. He cared for us and he cared about us. At a moment’s notice he would head uncomplainingly for some distant spot to handle an emergency. It was no surprise that many ex-machalniks subsequently asked Simie to officiate at their weddings.
Simie, who had been the link connecting generations of Jewish volunteers to the Israel Defence Force, remained involved in the Zionist Fed’s sterling work, helping people until almost the day he died in 1998.
All of us have had special people in our lives – apart from our parents – who were involved in our personal welfare without us fully realizing or appreciating it. Simie Weinstein was one of those special people for us all.
A-Simy 1941.JPG ¨
CAPTION: MAJOR SIMIE WENSTEIN