From Greer Fay Cashman's column:
■ SOUTH AFRICANS in Israel rejoiced this week with Smoky Simon and his family as the former Mahalnik celebrated his 97th birthday.
Machal is a Hebrew acronym for Mitnadvei Hutz le’aretz (Volunteers from Abroad).
The Mahalniks were mostly ex-service personnel who had fought with the Allied Forces against the Nazis and the Japanese in World War II, and later 4,800 of them, including 832 from South Africa, took it upon themselves to fight with and for the nascent State of Israel in the War of Independence.
In January 1941, Simon, whose first name is actually Harold, volunteered to join the South African Air Force and fight the Nazis.
He was trained as a navigator bombardier and served in both the South African Air Force and the Royal Air Force in different theaters of war for a total of five years. In May 1948, together with his wife Myra, he volunteered to fight here in the War of Independence. Myra Simon was trained and flew as a meteorologist in the South African Air Force in World War II, and during the War of Independence served in the Israel Air Force as an instructor in meteorology.
The couple was blessed with two sons and two daughters. Their sons Saul and Dan each served as fighter pilots in the IAF. In June 1948, Smoky Simon was appointed the IAF’s Chief of Air Operations. In 1968, Simon was elected chairman of World Mahal, and a couple of years back, he launched Mahal’s final operation, which was to help expand and increase the facilities of the Michael Levin Center for Lone Soldiers in Tel Aviv, so that Mahalniks who went back to their home countries can have a place to relax and reminisce when they visit Israel, in addition to meeting the soldiers of today.
After he completed his service in the Israel Air Force, Simon and his wife returned to South Africa, but not for long. In 1962 they came on aliya with their four children, and Simon and a partner founded an insurance and pension brokerage company which some years later they sold to Migdal Insurance. Simon is closely affiliated with the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem. He needed very little persuasion from Harry Zvi Hurwitz, who conceived the idea of such a center, to become one of its founding members and donors.