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Ruth Dayan with her son Udi Dayan in the courtyard of a a stately Arabesque home in Jaffa
photo by Rhonda Spivak


Ruth and Moshe Dayan on Moshav Nahalal, before Moshe lost an eye
photo by Rhonda Spivak


Udi Dayan standing next to a sculpture he made of his father Moshe
photo by Rhonda Spivak


the port of Old Jaffa
photo by Rhonda Spivak


Ruth Dayan in her apartment
photo by Rhonda Spivak

 
Remembering Ruth Dayan, Who Married General Moshe Dayan-My Drive With Her Through Jaffa

by Rhonda Spivak, May 2, 2021

 
Remembering Ruth Dayan, Who Married General Moshe Dayan-My Drive With Her Through Jaffa
 
I hitched a ride with the iconic  Ruth Dayan, who was General Moshe Dayan’s first wife and the mother of all three of his children. At the time  Ruth was 95 years old and still driving. "It's a  new car. I totalled the last one in an accident," Ruth  said  as she got behind the wheel. 
 
I knew that Ruth was a long time social activist on behalf of the underprivileged and immigrants and also an ardent peace activist devoted to bringing about Arab-Jewish reconciliation. Additionally in 1954 Ruth had founded Israel's fashion house Maskit. Before getting into the car, Ruth had just spent  the entire day at her son Udi Dayan's art exhibition that took place in a stately old Arabic  house in Jaffa that he rented out with another artist.  Udi was a talented 70 year old  sculptor  who welded pieces of metal into birds, animals and  faces of people.  Udi used to run the farm that  Moshe and Ruth Dayan had on Moshav Nahalal but he became a sculptor after he sold the farm when his second marriage failed. Udi  told me that his father Moshe was upset when he lost the farm. ‘He was upset that I cut off the roots of the Dayan story” [from Nahalal]."

Ruth, the energetic matriarch of the Dayan dynasty told me while driving that  "I usually help him [Udi] with the set up in advance of his art shows.” Udi told me, that everybody liked Ruth, who was always so generous with her time in helping people-both Jews and Arabs.     
   
 
Ruth, who had sat outside in the courtyard area  of the house greeting guests, explained to me that the light green cotton dress she was wearing was "from Maskit in the 60's- “they don't make dresses like this by hand anymore," she said, adding  that the same dress in white was made for  Suzy Eban, the wife of UN Ambassador Abba Eban for when she went abroad.
 
On the ride through Old Jaffa we passed by the  Peres Centre for Peace in the Ajami Arab neighborhood of Jaffa, a strikingly modern building, whose architecture was far different than that of the old style stately Arabic homes. Ruth explained that she disliked the building. "It should have been designed to fit into the neighborhood. It is not at all compatible with the surroundings," she said.
 
Ruth navigated her way through the narrow streets of Jaffa, saying “I remember these streets from my childhood."
 
While talking, she missed a turn off and we ended up having to go through the tourist part of the old city of Jaffa, where one needed to pay to get in.
 
"We are still going to get home," Ruth said, "It's just going to cost us ten more shekel."
 
Ruth asked the guard politely if it was possible to drive through the area without paying. "We are not looking to park here-we want to just drive through. I missed the other turn off."
 
He nodded, and said, "O.K. Just this once."
 
Ruth smiled and said. ‘You see some people here can be nice."  
 
 "In Jaffa, I'm not used to all these new buildings on these streets--They weren't here during my childhood days,” Ruth explained.
 
She pointed out a building  that was the old police station, "Look they are tearing it down, to make a hotel...Who needs more hotels here."
 
Yael, Ruth’s daughter, who is a former member of the Knesset told me Ruth regularly used to drive with a pistol in the car -although not anymore.
 
Ruth drove through Tel-Aviv until she stopped to drop by Yael’s apartment. She delivered two sculptures of seagulls from Udi's art show that she bought for her grand daughter for her 41st birthday. I got out there, happy to have arrived safely, and I make my way home. 
 
Sadly, both Ruth’s two sons, Udi Dayan ,the sculptor, and Assi Dayan, the famous Israeli actor and filmmaker, predeceased her. When Ruth passed away this year (in February 2021) she was just shy of 104 years old. She  was buried between her two sons on Moshav Nahalal, where she spent the some of the happiest days of her life.
 
Ruth had told me in an earlier interview that her time at Nahalal, where she met and married Moshe Dayan and began a family, “was very significant.”  She arrived in Nahalal in 1934 at age 17 to attend an agricultural college for girls.
 
Ruth had spent her early childhood years in London. On returning to Palestine in 1926, her family moved to Jerusalem where their daily life involved significant interaction with Arabs.
 

“My mother [ who knew Arabic] taught in an Arab kindergarten near Damascus Gate as part of the British education system, and became involved in [setting up] the first Arab-Jewish playground on Mount Zion – it was like a community center,” Ruth recalled. Her parents had “real Arab friends, not just for politics”.
 
“When people think I am with the Arabs… I was born into it from my parents. I remember religious [Arab] schoolmasters coming over for tea. Moussa Husseini came to my house in Rehavia once a week to give me Arab[ic] lessons at home and he didn’t even take money.
 
I never thought this was unusual when I was 15. He was the son of a friend who was one of the headmasters of the schools. He [later] came to Nahalal to see me. This is not done in the Arab world,” she said.
 
“In order to have a country, we were supposed to work the land and not go to university. I was accepted in the Nahalal [agricultural school]... It was the first college for women… with barns, sheep, chicken and cows. We learned about housekeeping, baking bread, making cheese...," Ruth told me
 
“I met Moshe [Dayan] because all the boys from the farm would come after work to the college to see the girls that came to school." Soon enough, as Moshe’s girlfriend, Ruth moved into the Dayan family dwelling in Nahalal.
 
“When I went to the Dayan family there was nothing ... A table and chairs and a room only a bed could fit into and a wooden shed. The farmers were very poor...Moshe was 18 or 19.” Ruth and Moshe got married for practical reasons.
 
“Moshe wanted to study very much and my parents liked Moshe and wanted us to go to London like they did. But [we couldn’t] to go to London when I was 18 and he was 20 in those days when we weren’t married.
 
You couldn’t go as a couple like that and take a flat, so we got married,” Ruth  told me
 
When  their first born child Yael was only eight months old, Moshe Dayan was arrested by the British and imprisoned for two years for illegal military activity.
 
“When Yael was a year old, every time she’d see prisoners working on a road, she’d yell ‘Abba!’ We had a picture of Moshe so she knew what he looked like.” When Moshe returned from prison, it was only a short time before “there was a knock on the door and a top officer [from the Hagana] came to tell him that he’d got to go.” It was World War II. He was to form a unit and cross into Lebanon “to seize the highway bridges” and guard them for Allied Forces to repel any German invasion.
 
“My life all the time was like James Bond. I never knew what the day would bring,” Ruth told me.
 
In 1945, “after prison and after losing his eye,” Moshe and Ruth wanted to settle on a farm of their own.
 
“My father helped us, he bought a farm for us [farmstead 53 on the Nahalal circle],” Ruth explained.
 
The couple lived at the farm, which Ruth loved, for only three years until the 1948 War of Independence broke out.
 
“Those three years were fantastic because we worked together... I loved to experiment. We had a lot of fruit, grapes and what not." 
 
In 1948, when Moshe Dayan was transferred to Jerusalem, “we gave our farm to someone to run it.” Years later, when Udi finished his army service, he took over the farm, which was sold many years ago. But there are still Dayan farms on Nahalal, including that of Moshe’s parents, which is still in the family. 
 
Ruth divorced Moshe in 1971 and  Moshe is buried in Nahalal’s cemetery. Ruth told me “He was only 66 when he died [in 1981] and he was an old man then. I only saw him on television. I felt I had to cut off the relationship. I only think of him now as a human being – with the good memories and the bad memories.” 
 
In 1973, a couple of years after she divorced Moshe, Ruth wrote “Yet I have never regretted our life together and if I were asked to relive it all over again, I would not choose otherwise.” ( Or Did I Dream the Dream at 206).
 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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