Wednesday, August 6, 2014

From the Holocaust to the Holyland, Survivors' Strength and Determination

This has been quite a week for me, and it isn't over yet. One of my cousins came here with his wife for their first ever trip to Israel. Their daughter, davka, spent this summer on a work program based in Tel Aviv, yes, while it was under attack.

We have been living in Israel since 1970, and although Brooklyn, NY is no longer the center of our clan's life, my branch is still the only one in Israel, and visits to here are few and far between.  But actually we weren't he first.  The very first member of the clan to come was my Uncle, the father of this cousin. Uncle Izzy was one of the American heroes of the "war" against the British by manning ships full of Holocaust survivors as Chief Pharmacist Mate.

Together we did some touring, going from Yad Veshem to the Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum.

Yad Veshem, It's forbidden to take pictures inside.
Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum
The highlight of the visit was certainly meeting with my uncle's superior officer, Yosef Almog, who told us about what is was like to work with my uncle and the ships they ran together, how they were prepared for the hundreds and thousands of passengers.

The Pal-Yam, the "naval" branch of the pre-state elite forces, the Palmach, had the logistically and technologically impossible task of purchasing reject ships from various countries and then converting them into "passenger liners," which were more like concentration camp sleeping sheds. Almog's description of the triple-leveled "sleeping lofts" was reminiscent of those the Nazis constructed to house the captive Jews, lihavdil, differentiate, please.

These are a concentration camp's sleeping arrangement. It also shows how skinny people got as a result of malnutrition. Picture credit

In today's world it's hard to imagine living and surviving in such difficult conditions. But the truth was that the survivors enthusiastically competed for space on these outdated and possibly unsafe ships. Almog told us about the icebreakers that had been bought from America. They were refurbished in Europe. Sleeping lofts for over a thousand were constructed in the hold, and additional sleeping space was made in what had been the hangar for planes. That way the "Jewish State" managed to fit 2,664 Holocaust survivors, plus the crew, food, supplies and extra fuel.

The Hagana ship The Jewish State

The story behind the other ships was very similar.

We were davka in Haifa the day before the Israeli Government officially withdrew from Gaza to "end" one of the most frustrating wars Israel has had. Personally I find it difficult to accept that today's Israeli leaders lack the confidence and determination that once existed. There never would have been a State of Israel if David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin and their followers had been like the Israel of today. I pray that we regain our confidence. Yes, we did better when we had no allies and no foreign advisers.


Anonymous said...

If Israel would act like a Jewish state, it would have no allies - because Hashem is our only true 'Ally' (our Father in Heaven).

Batya said...

We need no other.