Although I spent my early childhood in Jerusalem, my family moved to Tel Aviv when I was just five. In those days, the 1930s, it was customary to live in rented apartments. Contracts were usually drawn up for a year, after which time the tenants usually moved out.
Our first apartment in Tel Aviv was on Rothschild Boulevard at the corner of Sheinkin Street. The building had recently been completed, and was considered modern for the time. It was a four-room apartment: two rooms were occupied by my mother's parent, and we lived in the other two. One room was allotted to the four children (my sister Hanna was born in Tel Aviv); the other was both a dining room and living room, and at night doubled up as my parents' bedroom. Overnight guests slept in my parents' room in winter and in summer on the large balcony.
We didn't have a great relationship with our grandparents. For a start there was the language barrier. Grandmother was incapable of learning Hebrew, and spoke only Yiddish til the day she died. Even the Arab who came to sell us eggs learnt to communicate with her in Yiddish. Grandfather, an ascetic who devoted his life to studying the Torah, refused to use Hebrew other than in prayer. He was a remote and austere character and I wonder if we would have been able to communicate much with him even had he spoken Hebrew.
Rothschild Boulevard was not paved in the thirties and travel was by horse-drawn carriage (droshke). The carriage station was opposite our home and the Arab drivers would take water from our courtyard to give to their horses. We thought we might be given preferential treatment because of this, but we were lashed just like the other children when we hung onto the back of the carriages for a ride.
At six I started the religious Bilu School, which was initially housed in a wooden hut in Bilu Street, and later moved to a permanent home in an ornate building facing Rothschild Boulevard. We recited the morning prayers together, studied a great deal of Torah and Talmud and were severely punished for any misdemeanors. We kept the same class teacher from first grade to graduation. I remember one incident when our teacher, Shimon Monson, slapped a child who was creating a disturbance in the courtyard during recess. The pupil was hurt, both physically and emotionally, and ran home at once. An hour later, he returned with his older brother who burst into the classroom during a lesson and asked Monson to come out into the courtyard to clear the matter up. Monson refused and tried to push him out. A vociferous argument ensued, in the course of which the boy hit Monson in front of the whole class. We were stunned and feared he would start on us after he was done with our teacher. Before this could happen, the principal and several teachers rushed in and threw him out. After this incident all corporal punishment temporarily ceased.
On Saturdays we used to pray in the school synagogue. Mishori, the principal, was very strict about order and discipline and did not allow us to converse during prayers. A professional cantor, accompanied by the school choir, conducted the service. As a member of the choir, I took part in the prayer service from beginning to end, but sometimes a group of us would slip away before the end of the prayers. One Saturday four of us left the synagogue to play ball in the courtyard. We did not notice Mishori on the balcony and were caught red-handed. The following morning we were summoned to his office and informed that we would not be allowed to return to school unless we brought in our parents. Since we did not dare tell our parents what we had done, we continued to leave home each morning as if on our way to school, but would go to the Yarkon River and sail boats until school was over. After four days, the principal sent letters to our parents inviting them to school to discuss the fate of their sons. When my father asked me the meaning of the letter, I told him the whole story. He asked me if anything else had happened, since it did not seem feasible to him that pupils could be expelled from school for such a minor offence. The following morning we went to school together. My father went into the principal's office whilst I waited impatiently in the corridor. The principal asked my father to punish me, but my father replied that he could see nothing wrong with my conduct; on the contrary, he felt the principal should be admonished for suspending pupils for no good reason. The outcome of the meeting was that I was reinstated and felt proud that my father had come out in support of me.