Judith Maro, Welsh author, wrote of Haganah, dies at 91
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Judith Maro, Welsh author, wrote of Haganah, dies at 91

Author Judith Maro was born in Jerusalem, fought for the Haganah, and moved to Wales after marrying a British soldier stationed in pre-State Palestine, went on to become a noted novelist who wrote in Welsh and English, and who published a thriller two years ago at age 89. Maro died recently at 91 in the British resort town of Swansea. No date was given.

Her publisher, Robat Gruffudd, of Welsh publishing house Y Lolfa, called her a "special person, a cultured and committed Jewish woman who enriched the life of Wales through her books in Welsh and English, and through her interesting and creative family  Even at a good old age, she had a sharp, independent mind and a challenging and questioning spirit. It will be strange without her."

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Her last novel, “The Stoat,” was a murder mystery set in Wales that features a Jewish girl, Polish recluse and Welsh detective. Her publisher described it as “a tense political thriller about the hunting down of a wartime Nazi executioner in the Welsh countryside by, among others, a Jewish girl” set in the early 1980s.

Maro was quoted by her publisher at the time as saying, “I do hope the novel will also stimulate discussion about some difficult political issues which are relevant to Israel, Lebanon and Gaza today.”

Her 1974 book, “Hen Wlad Newydd” (“New Old Land”) discussed the similarity between Wales and Israel. Another book only in Welsh, “Atgofion Haganah,” was based on her experiences with the Haganah in the Israeli War of Independence. A novel about the establishment of Israel, "Y Porth nid a’n Anghof," was translated as, "The Remembered Gate."

Maro was born and raised in Jerusalem. She was in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women’s branch of the British Army during the World War II, but was also in the Haganah. She met Jonah Jones, a British soldier, in the British army education center at Mount Carmel. According to Jones’ 2004 obituary, they married clandestinely in defiance of military protocol.

During the early days of Israel, Maro taught Hebrew to new immigrants, but Jones, who later became a prominent sculptor, had a deep desire to return to his Welsh homeland, and they resettled there. Maro, whose skill at languages gave her fluency in Arabic, Russian, Hebrew, English, and Welsh, immersed herself in Welsh culture and identified with it – yet remained something of an outsider. In an article in which she mentioned the biblical names of villages near her home in Cwm Pennant, she wrote:“I was home – almost."

She also wrote that being in a friend’s garden in northern Wales reminded her of Israel:  “That night in the garden, I felt that my memories had come full circle. Does this mean I have completely settled in ‘this strange Celtic fringe of Europe” (as I referred to Wales once in my diary) by now? Perhaps.”

Citing those items and others, Grahame Davies of the University of Wales, in a scholarly paper titled, “Welsh and Jewish: Responses to Wales by Jewish Writers,” said Maro was one of the authors who had done the most to explore the relationship between Wales and the Jews:

Much of her work deals with the deep identification she found between her homeland and her adopted country. Here, in an extract from Hen Wlad Newydd (1974), she reflects on the fondness of the Welsh for Biblical nomenclature for their landscape: Where else in the world could I reach Carmel, Nazareth, Tabor, Cesarea, Hebron, Rehoboth, Moriah, Seion, Bethel and Talpiot in a day’s journey. Places corresponding to all these exist and have their precious Biblical derivation in Israel. I left them behind me—only to rediscover them being affectionately commemorated by a people as devout as my people were at one time. Is there anything that could touch more deeply an Israeli in a sudden exile?

We’re used to the Welsh feeling hiraeth in a foreign land. We’re less used to people feeling hiraeth within Wales itself. But that was Judith Maro’s experience. It is yet another form of hiraeth.

(Interpolated note by The Eulogizer: Wikipedia defines hiraeth as “a Welsh word that has no direct English translation…as homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed. It is a mix of longing, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness, and the earnest desire for the Wales of the past.”)

Maro expresses what many other Welsh Jews must have felt, that Wales itself, for all its welcome, can, for some people, be the land of exile. This final extract from Maro’s work is taken from the translation of Haganah Memories. She describes exile as “a physical pain.”

I am writing about a HOME…. To me, Israel is a HOME, the only home I ever had, perhaps. I have lived in Wales for many years now, for more than half my life, to tell the truth. And it is true that Wales is very dear in my sight; the welcoming and warmhearted affectionate land which accepted me with open arms. Despite all this, even if I live to a good old age (which may God forbid) I will still feel that I was a visitor here – a visitor who got a heartfelt welcome, it’s true, but only a visitor all the same.

The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org.