Chaver is a Hebrew word, spelt in English [ha-ve-r]. It means a friend, but chaver has a deeper meaning.
A friend is a person who supports, helps and is almost always available in times of need or trouble. There are a number of social circles in which friends are included: the intimate circle, the near circle and the far circle. Friendship with a friend who belongs to any of the mentioned circles is not affected by the frequency of meetings but by the degree of closeness.
Menachem (Many) Dagan (02-27-1932 – to – 10-16-2019), was my very near circle friend. Our commonality was centered on the state of Israel and the Jewish people and that common denominator extended and expanded into many other subjects and aspects of life.
After Menachem lost his wife Batya, known for her very versatile character, in 2013 (09-12-1933 – to – 12-14-2013), to whom he was very closely attached, loneliness engulfed his life. To Menachem, the loss of his, literally, other half was, as it appeared to be getting lost in the thickness of the forest.
At first Menachem carried on with the familiar house upkeep routine and added to it short drives to the market and running necessary errands. Then came the car accident that took away his driving license. The result, Menachem started to take short walks to the nearby McDonald’s for his food treat or to the Trader Joe’s store, in walking proximity, for his culinary needs. At home he would be sitting mostly in his small den, a room full of heaps of papers, watching mainly tennis games on a small TV screen and munching on some food. Then came the harsh pain in his hip and leg that limited his walking ability and brought it to an end. Finally, Menachem started showing cognizant deterioration that sunk him into dementia.
Menachem was put into fulltime care facility where he ended his life’s ‘tour’ and from where his soul left to Haven to join his loving wife Batya.
During the years after he lost Batya I visited with Menachem many times, first in his home and then in the facility to where he had to be moved. Menachem became very withdrawn. There he spent most of his time confined to a small room, totally lost in memory and thoughts.
Visiting Menachem, the man who always had a joke to tell, who lost that spark and with that he lost himself, was very frustrating for me.
When Menachem’s son texted me that his father passed away in the night, I was sad but was also relieved. Better that way, I thought to myself. He did not know what is going on around him and within himself, so what was the point of going on breathing, I engaged with my deep thoughts.
At the funeral, on Sunday, October 20, 2019, in his eulogy, Menachem’s son, Carmel, told much about his father, some of it I did not know about my chaver. I see it my honor to pen what I heard from Carmel along with my own thoughts.
Carmel began … “My father was warm and affectionate to those in his world; he had an exceedingly positive outlook and much preferred to avoid dwelling on problems, sometimes to his own detriment. But that upbeat approach won him friends wherever he went throughout his life.”
I continue to tell about Menachem while I digress.
Menachem had a few careers. As a college professor he taught international finance and accounting. He took great pleasure in advising students, from a panoply of nationalities, on chosen career paths, earning their much respect.
When Menachem became an executive at City National Bank he really came into his own. There he started cultivating relationships with hundreds of bank customers. His passion for his clients went beyond simply helping them with their banking needs. He forged personal relationships with many of them and had their phone numbers memorized – ironic for a man who would die of Alzheimer’s.
Husband and wife team
Menachem adored and idolized his wife, Batya.
Many of Menachem’s business connections became his friends. He invited them to his home to indulge in his wife’s connoisseur dinners. Among her other talents, Batya was a painter and many of her paintings were sold to Menachem’s bank’s clients, turning friends.
Menachem’s subtle charm and easygoing nature complemented his wife’s charismatic nature. Though of different personalities they shared deep bonds and worked well as a team.
Married in 1959, the Dagan couple were passionate about Israel and promoted the Jewish state’s interests and achievements. They also shared the love of antiques, which they began to collect in the early 1970s. Gradually they turned their home into a showcase of antique bells, locks, nutcrackers, scissors, inkwells, copper cookware, depression era glass collection. Many of Batya’s paintings were hanging on the walls all over the house.
Especially after his wife was no longer with him, Menachem showed much pride in their antique collections and more so their home with a very special Spanish motif.
Menachem was born in Tel Aviv, Israel, to Jewish-Polish immigrants in British Mandate Palestine-Eretz Yisrael, before Israel declared independence. He had a brother and a sister. When his father died abruptly, young Menachem had to take over and run the family laundry business, and with that, his childhood ended earlier than expected. Since he always told stories he often told me stories about his life in Israel, before and after it declared its independence. The stories were mesmerizing.
Coming to America
Menachem completed his mandatory service in the Israeli Army. He then extended his service period and rose to the rank of captain. Once, then Israel’s (first) Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, who always wore khaki clothes, made a visit to Menachem’s unit stationed in the desert. Menachem got to be in the photo standing right next to the legendary Prime Minister, a photo he proudly displayed.
Upon leaving military service Menachem worked as a bank teller. He got the urge to pursue higher education and attend college. When he found that educational opportunities for people in their late 20s in Israel were dismal, the Dagan couple headed to the United States. They chose to live in Los Angeles where Menachem attended LACC and UCLA, earning an MBA degree while starting a teaching career.
Academia proved a dead end for Menachem. Eventually, he landed a loan officer job at City National Bank. As we know, things happen in life. Since Menachem liked to talk to people his banking career of almost three decades opened up for him when he befriended a Beverly Hills millionaire from whom he was buying a used Cadillac.
A week before Menachem died I went to visit him. He was asleep. Normally I could wake him up, this time I called his name several times but he carried on sleeping.
I left the facility planning to revisit Menachem soonest. But he preceded me without me being able to part from him properly. Menachem, I am sorry for not properly departing from you.
The world is a corridor, an entrance hall to God’s banquet-grand hall. Menachem, my chaver, the citizen of the earth is now resting in the kingdom of God smiling at us from above.