The provider

The provider
Jerusalem Post Online
DANIEL BEN-TALMar. 21, 2004

The tale of Rahamim Moshik Levy, a former Etzel militia warrior and
one of the capital’s few surviving kerosene distributors.

Veteran Jerusalemites fondly remember the city’s once-ubiquitous
kerosene distributors.

“There was a time when everybody knew me and I knew everybody,”
recalls Rahamim Moshik Levy, who delivered heating fuel from his horse
and cart for almost two decades.

In 1968, Levy got behind the steering wheel of a much-maligned,
German-made “Gogomobile” distribution van.

“It had an aluminum motor, two flimsy chains, and couldn’t pull a ton
of fuel up the steep Jerusalem hills – I was happier with the horse.”

A road accident in 1984 forced him into early retirement and now he is
wheelchair-bound, but Levy has no regrets.

“I wasn’t spoilt,” he under-states.

The second of eight siblings, he was born in 1927 in Nahlaot – then a
struggling neighborhood of impoverished immigrants from Persia, Allepo
in northern Syria and the Urfa district spanning the Syrian-Turkish

“Life was very, very hard,” Levy relates. “People didn’t have big eyes
in those days – we were happy with what we had. I grew up in a small
ghetto: a tight community, surrounded by Arabs. We were scared to
cross the wadi into Sheikh Bader, where the Knesset and Givat Ram
campus are now. There used to be wheat fields where Sacher Park is
today – as children, we would pick the wheat until the Arabs chased us
away with rocks and dogs.”

His father Moshe (Musa) fled from Urfa to Israel by donkey back in

“The Turks were slaughtering Armenians by the hundreds of thousands,
and the Jews realized that they were next. Entire villages of Jews
left before the Turks could massacre them also.”

Levy Sr. sold blocks of Nablusi soap (traditional soap from olive oil,
water, elm ashes, and plaster still produced in Nablus).

“We maintained good relations with the Arabs before the War of

I had many friends in the Old City, and often slept at Abu-Haled’s
house,” he says.

“When I was about 15, he took me to Id-el Adha prayers in the Al-Aksa

I was young and brave, and didn’t think about the danger. I dressed
like a young Muslim, stood when they stood, and knelt when they knelt
– nobody realized that I was a Jew!” While Hebrew was the children’s
mother tongue, the family spoke Arabic at home.

“We would read the Pessah Seder service in Hebrew, Aramaic and
Arabic,” he chuckles, then playfully recites the Ma Nishtana (Four
Questions) in Arabic.

“Our parents spoke to each other in Turkish when they didn’t want us
to understand.”

The pre-state Yishuv endured an economic crisis during the 1930s, and
the debt-shackled family business fell bankrupt in 1936. Aged 13, Levy
became a cobbler.

At the same time, he was also a street activist for the pre-state
Etzel militia.

“Our family hid a weapons slick of pistols and hand grenades under an
old hut in our courtyard, but I wasn’t involved in the hit-and-run
operations – my job was to post Herut banners around the city under
the cover of darkness,” he says.

Early one morning, the British police caught Levy by the Ritz Caf near
today’s Liberty Bell Gardens, and took him to their police station
near Jaffa Gate for interrogation. After he was released, his mother
begged him to leave Etzel and join the Hagana instead, so he bought a
blue shirt with red lace – it was a good disguise against the British.

Levy vividly recalls listening to the UN partition vote of November
29, 1947 on a crackling radio.

“It was Saturday night and my father was asleep, but I woke him to
tell him the news. Outside, there was spontaneous celebrating and hora
dancing – except for one rabbi, who warned everyone that the Arabs
were sharpening their swords.”

British rule was already crumbling by the time he was sent for a
two-week Hagana training camp in Tel Aviv.

“Every one of my school class answered the call to the flag. Many did
not return,” he recounts.

On their return, his convoy of armored buses found the road to
Jerusalem blocked by Arab militants, but took advantage of a heavy
rainstorm to break through to the capital.

“The city was under siege. The rain-swept streets were deserted, and
the British were confiscating weapons from Jews to give to the Arabs,”
he recalls.

On May 16, 1948 – the day after prime minister David Ben-Gurion
proclaimed Israel’s independence in Tel Aviv – Levy was dispatched to
guard food convoys to Neveh Ya’acov.

He later spent six months defending Kibbutz Ramat Rahel.

“We lived in trenches and couldn’t raise our heads because of
snipers. On Yom Kippur night 1948, they brought us this secret weapon,
the Davidka. We fired it at Mar Elias and Tzur Bacher… The noise
scared them so much that they ran away.”

Demobilized in 1949, Levy married his childhood sweetheart, Mazal, and
moved into a 3 m. x 2 m. room with no WC or running water. He soon
found a job as one of Jerusalem’s 35 kerosene distributors, riding its
familiar streets on a horse-drawn cart with wooden wheels.

“I would ring my bell, and people shouted their orders from their
windows. It was hard work carrying kerosene containers up staircases
for 12 hours, but I earned six lire a day.”

Levy had to provide for five children, and went back to making shoes
during the summer months.

“I never let them suffer like I did as a child.”

In 1952, he joined the Shalhevet fuel distribution cooperative, and
eventually upgraded to a rubber-tired cart, loading about 600 liters
daily at the kerosene depot near his horse’s stable behind the railway

“Those were the happiest days of my life. I would ring my bell as I
rode past the Jordanian legionnaires on the Old City Walls by the
Mandelbaum Gate.”

He finished his career driving a small Dodge D-200 tanker after the
cooperative folded in 1982.

“Times move on and the market disappeared,” he shrugs.

For comments and feedback on this article email: [email protected]

This article can also be read at

Copyright 1995-2004 The Jerusalem Post –