Lost since 1970s, Israeli paratrooper found in Berkeley

Rain fell, snow floated and temperatures plunged as Rick Magid rode his motorcycle through Oregon a few years ago. Magid might have pulled off the road to warm up had his Israeli paratrooper training not toughened him to the elements.

“I just kept it in gear and thought, ‘I can do this,’ ” said Magid, 62. “You’re wet and cold in the army, too. You get through it and realize that your physical limitations are only temporary.”

Now living back in his hometown of Berkeley, Magid said that his two years of service with the 3rd Platoon of Paratrooper Unit 890 in the 1970s made a powerful impression on him.

Planners of the platoon’s 40th anniversary reunion — set for Aug. 30 at a member’s home in the central Israeli town of Yehud — had been looking for Magid for some time to invite him to the gathering. “Seeking Kin” found him two weeks ago with an assist from j. editor Sue Fishkoff, who knocked on Magid’s door in north Berkeley when his telephone number proved to be outdated.

Forty years ago, paratrooper Rick Magid (far right) is the lone American in his unit at an Israeli army induction ceremony. photo/jta-courtesy of shmuel groberman

Magid, a dental hygienist, had just returned from a lengthy vacation but said there was no way he could pass up this reunion. At press time, he was trying to book his ticket so he could see his old Israeli buddies. “I’m really excited,” he said.

For their part, Magid’s platoon mates were thrilled to locate  the soldier they knew as “Ricky,” who had impressed them as an extremely quiet, pleasant young man. He is now a father of four and grandfather of nine.

 “We are delighted to find him,” said Yaakov Cohen, a Tel Aviv native who has lived the past three decades in Australia and will fly in for the reunion. “He deserved our exerting all efforts. He was a volunteer twice: He immigrated to Israel, and he volunteered for the paratroopers. On top of that, I have to say that his mannerisms [were notable]. Even when things were tough, he never complained. He was a real, real gentleman. Rick Magid was really a top guy.”

Platoon members had figured, correctly, that Magid returned to the United States following his military service, but didn’t know his hometown or where he went to college.

Magid’s home base in Israel was listed as 17 Talpiot St. in Ramat Gan, which they assumed was a cousin’s address. It wasn’t. It was the home of Moshe Ben-David, whose conversations with Magid at a Young Judaea camp in Berkeley “inspired me to go to Israel,” Magid said.

After taking a few community college courses, Magid signed up for Young Judaea’s one-year program, which included classes in Jerusalem and stays on a kibbutz and moshav. He returned to Berkeley, then headed back to Israel to enlist in the army.

“I didn’t want to go to Vietnam,” he said. “I figured I should fight for my own people, for a cause I could believe in. It made more sense to me.”

At Sanur Base in the northern West Bank, the three-platoon, 120-member unit began basic training in November 1970. The grueling experience caused a third of recruits to depart the 14-month course before completing its officers-training program.

Rick Magid and his wife, Michael Sarah Magid photo/courtesy of rick magid

Cohen recalled a “days-long and really tough” 110-mile march from Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev to the southern port city of Eilat. During the hike, a Piper light aircraft released parachutes. Plastic bags tied to them contained containers of chocolate milk and letters from home.

“It was unbelievable,” Cohen said, “something you never forget.”

Soldiers in the 3rd Platoon spent three months each at the Suez Canal and in the Jordan Valley and Gaza Strip. They also patrolled Israel’s border with Lebanon and held training exercises on the Golan Heights.

The platoon fought in the Yom Kippur War, but not with Magid, who — as an older immigrant — was discharged from his service a year early. He served two years.

He said he regretted missing that battle. When hostilities broke out in October 1973, he couldn’t get a flight into Israel until after the fighting had ended. Upon landing at Ben Gurion Airport, he bumped into a former platoon mate, Avraham Sabach, who had joined the airport’s security team. Magid ended up working as an El Al flight attendant for six months before returning to the U.S. for good. Since then, he has not been back to Israel.

His Israel Defense Forces training “was the greatest experience I ever had,” Magid said. “It brought out my best attributes. It taught me a lot of lessons — that you can surpass physical limitations with your mental capabilities.”

The platoon’s Facebook page contains scores of members’ photographs and a booklet published during their service.

A post by Shmuel Groberman noted that Magid “almost always was sleeping,” making him easy to identify in the photographs. “We were always so tired,” wrote Groberman, now an architect living in Jaffa.

By Aug. 1, the 10 men listed on the “Hamador L’Chipus Krovim” (Searching for Relatives Bureau) radio program had been whittled to three. With Magid’s reemergence, only Sabach and Yaakov Tene remain at large.

“All the challenges over the years in the paratroopers were such strong character builders that any problems we faced were minute,” said Steve Goldstein, a pharmacy owner who lives in Hod HaSharon, Israel.

A South Africa native, Goldstein had befriended Magid, whose Hebrew capabilities were poor.

Of his fellow platoon members, Goldstein said: “We laughed together, cried from exhaustion and pain, guarded each others’ backs in battle, and I know that there exists a bond and a love between us that will return as soon as we meet again this summer.

“We lived with each other day in and day out, not seeing our families for months on end. This was our true family.”

Seeking Kin searches for long-lost relatives and friends. Send a brief email to seekingkin@jta.org and include principal facts and contact information. Sponsored by Bryna Shuchat and Joshua Landes and family in loving memory of their mother and grandmother, Miriam Shuchat.