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Ziporah Segal 1925-2015

Ziporah Segal ... happy air of optimism

My aunt Ziporah Segal lived to the ripe old age of ninety. When my sister and I visited "Tsips" as we called her, to celebrate her ninetieth birthday, she told us "I am so lucky to be alive!" These words encapsulated her philosophy of life as she was the most positive person you could ever wish to meet.

She was born on August 10, 1925 in Jerusalem to Haim and Pesa Maskalik, two Russian pioneers who fell in love while draining the swamps in the Hula valley. Unfortunately, there were no facilities for married couples on their kibbutz, so they left to marry and to raise a family in Jerusalem. 

Pesa Maskalik with her children in Jerusalem in 1929, Ziporah (4), Isaac (7) and Yehuda (2)

When Haim went to South Africa in 1929 to look for work during the Great Depression, the Hebron riots broke out and Pesa had to fend for her family in Jerusalem to where the rioting had spread. She covered the heads of her children, Isaac, Ziporah and my father Yehuda, with caps and scarves as their blonde hair marked them as Jews and targets for attack. Faced with rioting Arabs, Pesa decided to take her family on a long, perilous journey to South Africa to join Haim there.

It was while growing up in South Africa that Tsips joined the Zionist youth movement "Bnei Zion" in Johannesburg, and began to study art.

Her paintings, which were influenced by the Expressionists and Impressionists, were a riot of color and movement, a style that expressed the colorful personality that she herself became. Her early paintings were of South African characters like the Zulu gardener or African women selling maze. Her later paintings were mainly of landscapes in Israel, and when Jerusalem was once more united under Jewish sovereignty; her paintings of the Golden City were to become a key theme in her work.

She held many exhibitions, in Miami, Philadelphia, London and Johannesburg, always painting and promoting scenes of her beloved Israel.

It was also in South Africa that Tsips met and married Zundel Segal who was the Chairman of the Youth Aliyah Committee for the South African Zionist Federation. She was introduced to Zundel by Hugo Franco who together with his wife Gertrude were to become firm friends of the Segals.

Gertrude recalls that "Ziporah was stunningly beautiful. She was a very caring person and had a heart of gold. She was like a breath of fresh air, effervescent and colorful, yet at the same time she had a powerful personality."

Being staunch Zionists, Ziporah and Zundel made aliyah to Israel in 1952 with their children Moshe and Ilana. In Israel their youngest son Doron was born, the first member of the family to be born in the new State of Israel, and Ziporah was swept into the whirl of life in the young country.

There were strikes at her husband's business MEFI (Middle East Furniture Industry) which was temporarily shut down as a result, and austerity measures, the time of "Tzena", affected the young mother as it did the lives of thousands of Israelis who had to queue daily for staples such as oil, sugar and margarine.

In the early 60s, the family moved to a small home in Herzylia Pituach. My sister and I loved visiting her home, where we had free reign to build a huge Bedouin tent using up all the blankets she had, or to cook unlikely meals at midnight with our cousin Doron. The only drawback was that we had to sometimes model for Ziporah while she painted us, an excruciating exercise for my hyperactive sister Ingrid, who squirmed miserably while being painted.

After Israel's incredible victory in the Six Day War in 1967 resulting in its occupation of vast new tracts of territory and a changed political landscape, Ziporah quickly understood the importance of building connections with overseas diplomats.

She was a founding member of "Women's International," an organization which encouraged the creation of friendly ties between visiting ambassadors and local Israelis. Ziporah worked tirelessly to promote Israel, befriending many diplomats and their families, took them on tours around the country, painting portraits of their family members, and generally infusing in them a strong connection to the place.

Her love of Israel as expressed in her Zionism was unwavering. She wrote in a letter to Telfed Magazine in 2013, "While the entire world today pours scorn on Israel and Zionism I am proud to scream – I AM A ZIONIST. For me the journey to Israel was literally a homecoming." This passion for Israel was well illustrated in an incident at her grandson Michael Mocatta's wedding in London. 

Painting of Jerusalem by Zipporah Segal

Tsips and I had an unfortunate altercation with a guest at our table who was virulently anti-Israel. When called upon to speak about her grandson, an agitated Tsips fired away instead at the bewildered wedding guests, telling them that they could enjoy their freedom as Jews in a foreign country only because of the existence of the State of Israel. I will always smile at that memory – that was Tsips at her finest, defending Israel as if it were her child.

Ziporah was a devoted wife, mother and grandmother, and she doted on her children, grandchildren and her great grandchildren, always talking about their achievements and successes and enjoying their company. She surrounded herself with photographs of her family, hung together with charcoal sketches of their portraits that she would draw from life.

She always dressed impeccably and exuded an air of happy optimism. Ziporah's love of life, her appreciation of Israel and her joyous and colorful personality will be missed. 



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