HONOURING ELI

Soldiering on, the indomitable spirit of Eli Kay- murdered by a terrorist in Jerusalem in 2021- is today back at his base

By David E. Kaplan

Soon after arriving by bus at a training camp for some of Israel’s toughest highly-trained soldiers – Tzanhanim (paratroopers) Training Base in the Jordan Valley – our group soon understood the poignant symbolism behind the insignia of this ‘Paratroopers Brigade’ of the snake with wings. A history of “carrying out special forces-style missions”, it operates “like a deadly snake striking quickly with the element of surprise and then rapidly withdrawing,” explained our army guide. One of the biggest surprise raids in its illustrious history was the famous Operation Entebbe when on the morning of July 4, 1976, a counter-terrorist hostage-rescue mission  headed by Brig. Gen. Dan Shomron succeeded in rescuing 102 passengers and crew of a hijacked Air France aircraft at Entebbe, Uganda. The 102 rescued hostages were flown to Israel via Nairobi, Kenya, shortly after the raid.

Strike Force. The insignia of the snake with wings of Israel’s prestigious Parachute Brigade.

Turning into a day “full of surprises” as the day was advertised, no less surprising for our group, was learning that for these young soldiers it was not only about protecting the citizens of Israel but protecting “our history and connection to the land of Israel.” We heard how for the past year, these soldiers, as part of their training, teamed up with the Israel Antiquities Authority to  excavate a nearby archaeological site of a 5th century Jewish dwelling. As was explained:

Being a soldier in the Israeli army is more than about combat in the field; it is also about connecting to the land, the history, the geography and to understand that we are part of the nation of Israel embedded to this land.”  The discovery of the fifteen hundred year old Jewish dwelling in the confines of this army base, affirms the link of the Jewish people to the land and the need of a strong army to ensure ‘never again’ to be conquered and sent off into exile to be at the mercy of others. ‘Mercy’ it never was!

BOOTS AND ALL

We looked at the young men addressing us – all lone soldiers from abroad  –  who were telling us their personal stories and who look forward proudly to the day when they too will wear their regimental maroon beret with the infantry pin and reddish brown boots that will clearly identify them as being in the distinguished ‘Paratroopers Brigade’.

Eli Kay, a South African immigrant who at 25 was gunned down last year on the 21 November in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem’s Old City, had worn that highly prized maroon beret with the infantry pin, and his once calloused feet from the rigorous training had  proudly walked, ran and marched in those reddish brown boots.

Serving his People. Eli Kay proudly displaying his hard-earned maroon beret and parachute wings.

We were here today because of Eli, who although his physical presence could no more grace his base, his spirit most certainly permeated as we entered into the newly renovated soldier’s clubhouse renamed in his memory with funds generously donated by EMEK Lone Soldiers, Keren Magi and Roger Ademan & family (London) through YAHAD, theEnglish Speaking Branch of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers.

All listened spellbound, as Eli’s father Avi Kay spoke movingly about his beloved son and his journey that although murderously cut short – had nevertheless been jam-packed with enriching experience and self-fulfillment.

Thank you to the hosts and the young soldiers here without rank because you are at the beginning of your journey. When Eli came to Israel, he first went to the Yeshiva in Kiryat Gat and thereafter signed up for Tzanhanim,” began Avi.  

Field of Dreams. Whether in the field on army manoeuvres or for recreation, Eli loved the open space of the outdoors.

He fought very hard to get in here and fought no less hard to stay in this unit. This was his home. As a lone soldier at the time, before we, his parents, made Aliyah, this was his family. And when the opportunity arose to do ‘Course Makim’ (commanders course), he grabbed it because firstly it was an honour and secondly because he could impart the hard lessons he had learnt to the next intake of soldiers.”

These endearing themes about the son’s army experience in Tzanhanim – of ‘home’, ‘family’ and ‘preparing the next generation’ – was brought home to the father when “I was with Avi walking through the shuk  – Mahanei Yehuda  in Jerusalem – and he received a WhatsApp on his cellphone about one of his soldiers becoming a Katzin (a commander). I watched his animated reaction. It was almost like the expectant father standing outside a delivery room, who had just heard the cry of his first child….that’s how proud Eli was. And that is what I think this unit represents. Once you are part of it like Eli was, you are part of a family.”

Celebrating a Life. Rabbi Shalom Myers (right) and Avi Kay at the ceremony of the newly renovated clubhouse in the name of Eli Kay (Photo: David E Kaplan).  

Working alongside Ian Walbaum and Ian Fine of  YAHAD that has been making an invaluable contribution to the welfare of Israeli soldiers by finding donors around the world to sponsor clubhouses and provide recreational equipment at military bases across the country, has been a very special rabbi from Jerusalem. Like Eli, Rabbi Shalom Myers is also a former South African. From helping English-Speaking lone soldiers to engaging and embracing soldiers from the Haredi community, Rabbi Myers pursues his vision of ensuring Israel’s lone soldiers are never alone. Most importantly, he has been providing spiritual as well as material support to the ever-increasing Haredi soldiers in the IDF.

A Blast from the Past. Bringing everone together in a spririal embrace with our ancient past, Rabbi Shalom Myers blows the Shofar at Tzanhanim Training Base (Photo: David E Kaplan).

To this end, Rabbi Myers is a frequent visitor to the Tzanhanim Training Base, engaging weekly with religious soldiers and it was in this context where he had earlier met with Eli. His Emek Lone Soldiers’  – a home away from home for religious soldiers – is thus a proud partner in the newly renovated honouring Eli Kay clubhouse. Explaining his role following a quote from Rav Kook, Rabbi Myers said  of the soldiers who are there to defend and protect us:

 “If I can serve those that serve that is my biggest honour.”

Proud Parents. Devorah and Avi Kay about to cut the ribbon at the opening of the army clubhouse in the name of  their late son, Eli (Photo: David E Kaplan).

On that fine note, Rabbi Myers hit another fine note  – literally – when he surprisingly took out his shofar (rams horn), put it to his mouth and blew a sound that reached out to the heavens inviting Eli to join us in a warm spiritual embrace that connected our ancient past with our future. To safeguard Israel’s future and avert the Jewish tragedy of the past 2000 years, we need our brave soldiers like Eli.

Rabbi Shalom Myers in full throttle with religious soldiers at Tzanhanim Training Base Chetz synagoge.

TUNNEL VISION

Our group of fifty would later in the day reflect on the services of these young boys and girls in uniform and think again of the symbolism of the regimental emblem of the snake with wings when we visited on the Gazan border a thankfully discovered-in-time Hamas tunnel. Seventy metres underground, emerging 600 metres on the Israeli side in an open field on a kibbutz, what would have happened if it had not been discovered by soldiers like Eli and killers emerged to wreak murder and mayhem?

We know only too well the answer to this horrifying question!

Light at the End of this Tunnel. Lt. Colonel (Res) Shirley Sobel Yosiphon, Foreign Affairs Director of the LIBI Fund the Association for the Wellbeing of Israeli soldiers (left) with Dr. Hillel Faktor at the entrance to the discovered Hamas tunnel, 600 metres inside Israel (Photo: David E Kaplan.

I would later further reflect on the words of Eli’s father, Avi, in an interview following the funeral of his beloved son. Speaking about the warmth he and Devorah felt from people in Israel and around the world, he said:

 “Know when your child goes into the Israeli army, the whole Jewish world is behind you.”

It should be, because when Jews around the world are today threatened, they can rest assured who will be there for them. As the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks expressed in 2018:

One of the core ideas within Judaism is contained in the famous Talmudic phrase: Kol yisrael arevim zeh lazeh, meaning all of Israel are responsible for each other.”

This was something Eli understood and this message will resonate with all the exhausted and fatigued young soldiers who enter daily the newly renovated clubhouse at Tzanhanim Training Base. 


Avi Kay, Eli Kay’s father: This is my son’s message to the world




________________________

For more information on the English-Speaking Branch of the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers, contact volunteer Ian Waldbaum at Tel: (054) 4745 092.

Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers

To learn more of the work Rabbi Shalom Myers with Lone Soldiers in particular the Heredi soldiers, visit Emek Lone Soldiers’ at 64 Emek Refaim Jerusalem or contact by email at: shalommyers56@gmail.com and/or +972586355207.





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF HERZL

Musings and thoughts from the 125th anniversary of the World Zionist Organisation and Congress recently held in Basel, Switzerland

By Rolene Marks

It doesn’t matter where I am in the world or what I am doing, if I hear the opening strains of Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, my heart swells and my eyes tear up. The feeling of pervasive pride is visceral. It is not just that I am a proud Israel, it is the knowledge that the words have sustained Jews in our darkest times – and also our greatest triumphs. Whether it be the scenes of Jews singing in Bergen-Belsen after liberation or Linoy Ashram standing proudly on the podium as she receives Olympic gold, I get the feels.

So you can imagine what I felt last week in Basel, Switzerland as I joined my WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation) delegation and over a thousand others as we stood in the Stadtcasino, 125 years after the first Zionist Congress and sang the anthem of the country that had been but a dream a century and a quarter before.

Members of WIZO delegation

Over a hundred years ago, when a young journalist called Theodore Herzl, recognising the growing threat of antisemitism and motivated by the sham trial of French Jew, Alfred Dreyfus, wrote an article and then two books called The Jewish State and Altneuland, where he presented his vision of what that would be. Herzl recognised that this state could only manifest in the ancestral and historical homeland of the Jewish people – Eretz Yisrael, then called Palestine. The Romans, seeking to wipe out any reference to Jewish history and culture had named it thus. 

“The Jews who will it shall achieve their State. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and in our own homes peacefully die. The world will be liberated by our freedom, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind,” Herzl said.

Herzl also famously said, “If you will it, it is no dream”. And so they gathered in Basel, laying the foundations of willing a Jewish state. From these seeds would spring forth the World Zionist Organisation, the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency for Israel. Just a couple of years later, the Women’s International Zionist Organisation would be founded. All of these organisations, would help prepare the land and the ingathering of the exiles for what would be the fulfillment of the Zionist dream – a Jewish state.

“Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word- which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly- it would be this: “At Basel, I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. If not in five years, certainly in fifty, everyone will know it,” mused Theodor Herzl.

Dr. Theodor Herzl.

Herzl, like Moses millennia before him, would lead his people to the Promised Land – but never enter it himself. Herzl died on the 3 July 1904, in Edlach, a village inside Reichenau an der Rax, Lower Austria, having been diagnosed with a heart issue earlier in the year, of cardiac sclerosis. A day before his death, he told the Reverend William H. Hechler: “Greet Palestine for me. I gave my heart’s blood for my people.” He certainly did.

Herzl’s vision would come to life with the birth of the modern state of Israel in our ancient, ancestral homeland. The Jewish people had come home.

In Basel some 125 years later we would gather to celebrate this vision and pay homage to the man who inspired hope in so many. And gather we did from the four corners of the world, 1 400 Zionists, representing different communities and ages and holding many different opinions. We were all there – the organisations, the social media personalities, familiar faces, those whose opinions veered to the right, those firmly in the centre and those to the left. In the city that birthed the modern Zionist movement, we debated, argued, agreed and discussed.

A stand out moment for me was the honouring of Druze Sheikh, Mowafaq Tarif and the presence of Emirati Sheikh Ahmed Ubeid Al Mansur.

 WIZO delegates with Sheikh al Mansur

Yaakov Hagoel, the chairperson of the World Zionist Organization, said of Al Mansur, “Herzl never dreamed that the day would come that a brave Arab leader would participate in a Zionist Conference together with thousands of Jews from all over the world whose goal is to strengthen and develop the independent and sovereign state of Israel.”

This gathering in Basel was not just a prime opportunity to pay tribute to Herzl or to discuss the challenges facing the Jewish world like rising antisemitism, the Iranian threat or how we will contribute to the fight against climate change; but also allowed us a moment to stop and take stock and marvel at the miracle that is the embodiment of our dream – the state of Israel.

In the presence of our President, Isaac Herzog, whose own family story is a reflection of Jewish history and First lady, Michal, we took a moment to look back – and forward to the future – of what Israel has achieved in a matter of a few decades. When Herzl envisioned a state that would see “the world be liberated by our freedom, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness and whatever we attempt there for our own benefit would redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind”, I don’t think even his wildest imagination could see what we have achieved.

In that hallowed halls, in the presence of the President and in the company of those who from generation to generation take up that promise to keep building, singing Hatikvah has never sounded so sweet.

 In the footsteps of Herzl on the balcony of Les Trois Rois Hotel

Standing on the balcony of “Les Trois Rois”, where the iconic visionary once stood I contemplated what he must be thinking as he watched on from high in the heavens.

How proud he must be. His will is no longer a dream. It is a reality. And it is ours.



Herzl and I reflect





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

107 Years Late for Dinner: How I Uncovered My Grandmother’s Lost Identity

By Grant Gochin

(*First appeared in the “Lithuanian Jewish Community” blog)

Dinner between cousins was scheduled for Shabbat on Friday, May 14, 1915. How was I to know that the Shabbos meal never took place? Without warning, Russian forces launched a genocidal mass deportation of Baltic Jews into the depths of Russia. Families were torn apart, lives were destroyed, and communities of Jews devastated.

The first inkling I had was on my grandmother’s deathbed. Her final lucid words to me were: “I wish I knew my name. I wish I knew who my family was.” We thought we knew her name – Bertha Lee Arenson. We were wrong.

My grandmother had been adopted. She had a genetic brother and maternal cousins. I knew her youth had been traumatic; nothing more. A deathbed plea for her own identity from a beloved grandmother is nothing a grandson can turn away from. The search for my grandmother’s identity became my life’s mission. It was the only act I could still perform on her behalf. There were clues to her real identity, but in a then-pre-internet age, they were not viable.

Throughout the years-long research, MyHeritage was critically important in tracing the family connections.

Uncertain country of origin

My grandmother had not known her country of birth. At times, she had claimed she was born in Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and even Russia.

I hired 6 different researchers in five different countries.

Her date of birth had been randomly imposed upon her, yet she remembered her mother’s first name had been Sirella, her father Jankel, and their last name approximated Novosedz. Novosedz just means “new settler” in Russian – it was not a hint of any value. I had little to work with.

 Jankel and Sirella Novosedz. (personal archive)

The discovery of my grandmother’s identity was accidental, a series of random searches where the puzzle pieces fit. Sirella was the diminutive of Sire Elke.

Jankel was the abbreviation of Iankel Ber. Novosedz was Lithuanian. Bertha Lee was actually Brocha Leya. Her fictional date of birth, December 7, 1912, was actually July 10, 1911. My grandmother was Brocha Leya Novosedz, born in Birzai Lithuania, to Sire Elke Garrenbloom and Iankel Ber Novosedz. The Garrenblooms and Novosedz families were both well-established, prosperous families, living in Lithuania for hundreds of years. It was a good marriage!

Birth record for Brocha Leya Novosedz

Lankel, my great-grandfather, worked for Baron Von Fredrichshof on the Fredrichshof estate in Riga. Sirella’s family, the Garrenblooms, were a prosperous family in Raguva, Lithuania. The children were well cared for, education was primary.

Deportations

Jankel, Sirella, and all of their relatives were deported into Ukraine in a mass deportation of Jews from Lithuania and Latvia on Saturday, May 15, 1915. The Russian-instigated deportations were sudden and brutal. Immediately, and sometimes even before the Jews were forcibly removed from their homes, Lithuanians plundered their possessions. Ordinary people’s lives were utterly destroyed simply because they were Jews.

From being a wealthy successful family, they were placed on cattle cars and transported into the Russian hinterlands without food or means of survival. My grandmother was 4 years old. Her younger brother Moshe was two. Criminals indeed! The Shabbat dinner obviously never happened.

In Ukraine, Sirella, her sister Sonia, and their mother Esther sold candy at the roadside trying to eke out pennies to survive. Sonia (mother of the South African national hero Esther Barsel) swept the cemetery, begging for crumbs.

Pogroms and prison

These were the times of massive pogroms in Ukraine. Jews were forbidden from trading in grain. They were not allowed to possess food, they were not allowed to trade food, they were not supposed to remain alive. Jankel was thrown into prison for the crime of trying to feed his family. He was beaten and starved. He contracted typhoid in prison from the torturous and filthy conditions in which he and other Jews were held. On the very morning of his death, prison guards threw his almost lifeless body outside of the prison so they would not have to deal with yet one more dead Jew. He died that same day.

Pogroms against Jews in Ukraine were considered a “national good.” They were planned with the approval of local authorities. Often Jews would know their intended date of murder and rape. They were helpless against the hordes and officials that sought their eradication.

Sirella died of deprivation and illness while Jankel was imprisoned. Brocha and Moshe were made orphans, fending for themselves, living with their Aunt Sonia and their grandmother Esther. They were exhausted, starved, and persecuted. How could children understand that they were made orphans just because they were born Jewish?

Sonia and Esther took the children and relocated to Kharkov where Sonia met and married a Ukrainian Jew, Joseph Levin.

Holodomor

Stalin and Lenin imposed their first Holodomor on Ukraine in 1922. There was no intention that disposed Jews should survive. Sonia and the children somehow made their way back to Lithuania in hopes of survival. There is no trace of Esther.

Officials in the newly independent Lithuania cared just as much for Jewish wellbeing as Stalin. The newly created Lithuanian government tried to prevent the return of Jews. Nonetheless, Sonia and her wards reached Raguva to live in the old Garrenbloom home.

Sirella’s siblings Sarah, John, and Abraham had previously emigrated to South Africa. Sonia reached out to Sarah. She told her that she could no longer care for their sister’s children, and to send rescue.

Rescue

Sarah’s husband, Abraham Arenson, was dispatched to Lithuania to collect the children. This was simultaneous with the Ochberg Orphan rescues (the rescue of Jewish orphans from the Ukrainian pogroms who would otherwise have starved to death).

When the Novosedz family was deported in 1915, a Lithuanian friend entered their home in Birzai and removed Esther’s gold watch (see the photo above), and some silver serving pieces. They held these few remnants in safekeeping on the slim hope the Novosedz family would survive.

While Lithuanian officials did not want Jewish children inside Lithuania, they also did not want Jewish children to survive anywhere else. Abraham had to smuggle the children out of Lithuania. Along with the children, he packed Esther’s gold watch and chain, and the silver saved from the Novosedz home. Abraham stated that when he found the children in Lithuania, they were starving, wearing only rags, and were living on the streets.

South Africa

Abraham brought the children to the safe haven of South Africa. Abraham and Sarah transformed my grandmother, Brocha Leya Novosedz, into Bertha (Bee) Lee Arenson. Her relationship to the Garrenbloom family remained. The Garrenblooms knew nothing of Sirella’s husband’s family, Novosedz. That connection was destroyed. The Arenson family was poor. At age 14, Brocha was removed from school and sent out to work. Russians and Lithuanians had ensured her life opportunities were taken from her.

Esther Garrenbloom with her grandson Moshe (Morris) and granddaughter Brocha. Photo taken in Ukraine in about 1919. (Source: personal archive).

Traumatic memories

Brocha and her brother Moshe’s memories were so horrific that they psychologically blocked them out. Their adoptive parents tried to protect them by reinventing their identity. All memories of Lithuania and Lithuanians were so traumatizing that Sarah and Abraham forbade Lithuania from ever being mentioned in the home (PTSD was unknown at that time). It was only on my grandmother’s deathbed that she referred to her past for the first time. When she expressed her terminal losses, I was simply unable to not try to discover her identity.

There had been Novosedz survivors from the 1915 deportations, but they too were murdered by Lithuanians during the Holocaust. No Jews were intended to survive in Lithuania, they were supposed to be completely eliminated, and so the ethnic cleansing by Lithuanians was almost total. Just 0.04% of Lithuanians rescued Jews during the Holocaust, a miniscule number. The only reason any Jews survived in Lithuania was because Lithuanians hadn’t reached them yet. Had my grandmother not been smuggled out of Lithuania as an orphaned child, Lithuanians would have murdered her also.

Cemeteries ransacked

For decades I searched for clues. The Garrenblooms had been from Raguva, the cemetery in Raguva Lithuania should have offered clues. After WWII, Lithuanians dug up the cemetery in Raguva looking for gold fillings on “rich Jewish skeletons.” They stole the Jewish gravestones for use as building materials. Thus, there were no clues coming from the dead.

 Brocha Leya Novosedz became Bertha Lee Arenson who
became Bee Smollan. Born July 10, 1911, in Biržai, Lithuania.
(personal archive)

Birth record

It was an accidental search that led to the discovery of my grandmother’s birth record and began to unravel the mystery of her descent. The Novosedz family was a storied family from Birzai, Lithuania with a traceable history back to the 1700s. Even before the arrival of Nazis into Birzai, Lithuanians chopped off the heads of rabbis and displayed them in storefronts for the entertainment of the local population. Lithuanians raped Jewish girls, and murdered Jewish families, leaving only scraps for Nazis to finish off. Lithuanians ended the known survival of the Lithuanian Novosedz family.

Upon her death, my grandmother entrusted to me with her grandmother Esther’s gold chain and watch. She gave me the napkin rings and cutlery taken from her childhood family home in Birzai.

Through MyHeritage DNA testing, I found a Novodesz cousin — Cantor Daniel Singer of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York. His Novosedz family came to America before Lithuanians, Russians and Nazis seriously began to murder Jews.

On July 10, 2022, Daniel Singer and I met in person. Two Novosedz cousins breaking bread on Shabbat, 107 years and 7 weeks late for dinner. We used the cutlery last used by the Novosedz family in Birzai in 1915. The table décor included the Novosedz napkin rings. The candles in the candelabra were given to Brocha as a wedding gift by Sirella’s sister, Sarah. July 10, the day of our reunion, is both Daniel’s birthday and my grandmother’s Brocha Leya Novosedz birthday. It is also Daniel’s grandfather William’s birthday.

Despite the annihilationist efforts of Lithuanians, Nazis, and Russians to eliminate all Jews, two remnants of the Novosedz family remain alive to represent our Jewish people. Today, Lithuania celebrates the murderers of our Jewish families as their national heroes. A simple dinner between myself and Daniel proves they did not have a total victory. 3.6% of us survived and have gone on to bring incredible benefit to the world.

My grandmother has her name back. Her family is now known. I have given her back some of what was so brutally taken from her. Dinner is ready. There is life and joy and family at our Shabbat table. They tried to murder all of us. Lithuanians and Nazis did not win. Let the Shabbat dinner begin.



About the writer:

Grant Arthur Gochin currently serves as the Honorary Consul for the Republic of Togo. He is the Emeritus Special Envoy for Diaspora Affairs for the African Union, which represents the fifty-five African nations, and Emeritus Vice Dean of the Los Angeles Consular Corps, the second largest Consular Corps in the world. Gochin is actively involved in Jewish affairs, focusing on historical justice. He has spent the past twenty five years documenting and restoring signs of Jewish life in Lithuania. He has served as the Chair of the Maceva Project in Lithuania, which mapped / inventoried / documented / restored over fifty abandoned and neglected Jewish cemeteries. Gochin is the author of “Malice, Murder and Manipulation”, published in 2013. His book documents his family history of oppression in Lithuania. He is presently working on a project to expose the current Holocaust revisionism within the Lithuanian government. Professionally, Gochin is a Certified Financial Planner and practices as a Wealth Advisor in California, where he lives with his family. Personal site: https://www.grantgochin.com/





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

“WHAT THE WORLD SAYS ABOUT ISRAEL IS UNFAIR, UNTRUE AND UNACCETABLE”

Tribute to the passing of Freda Keet whose inimitable “VOICE OF ISRAEL’ carried from Jerusalem across the globe

By David E. Kaplan

Backtrack to a time when Israel was struggling to survive.

The Jewish state faced multiple enemy states waging war as well as multiple terrorist groups attacking Jews on planes, ships and murderous infiltrations across Israel’s borders. All this, while struggling to establish a viable economy and absorbing Jews from all over the Diaspora. It was in this vulnerable and fragile milieu, that anxious Jews around the world would tune in to listen to the English service of Kol Yisrael – the ‘Voice of Israel’

Radio Royalty. Foreign journalists, diplomats and opinion-makers all tuned in to listen to Freda Keet broadcasting to the world in English on ‘The Voice of Israel’.

Those older enough, may well remember hearing the unmistakable commanding but eloquent voice of Freda Keet – born and bred in the former Rhodesia, today Zimbabwe – who passed away this August in Israel.

As well as an investigative journalist and war correspondent, Freda anchored the English radio news during Israel’s tumultuous years from 1963 -1985. She was one of a handful of journalists granted permission to travel to the Suez Canal during the War of Attrition (1967-1970) and again in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War. Following her retirement from fulltime broadcasting, Freda became deeply concerned about the growing crises with Israel’s public relations, and went on to  lecture widely – at her own expense – across the world, particularly throughout the United States. In 2002, I interviewed Freda for Telfed Magazine on how the media had changed and its implications for Israel.

Look, with radio it was very different. There was no TV in Israel in the early days and everybody used to be glued to their radios for news. We all recall how passengers sat quietly in a bus while the news came on. Radio was king and the English service was well respected – foreign journalists, diplomats and opinion-makers all tuned in. We made a huge impact.”

How familiar her voice was  – even in lands that had been at war with Israel – is revealed in this chance meeting she had following the 1967 Six Day War, when as a war correspondent, she crossed over into the liberated sector of Jerusalem that had been occupied by Jordan and visited the Russian Orthodox Church on the Mount of Olives.

 “It was unbelievable. The Mother Superior, who had never seen my face, knew all about me from my voice on Kol Yisrael. She, and all the nuns, used to listen to the English news. We were truly a bridge to the outside world.”

Broadcast News. Investigate journalist Freda Keet taking notes to later use in her international radio broadcast on Israel’s national news service, Kol Yisrael.

In a talk she presented in 2014 at Beth Protea, the South African retirement home in Herzliya in central Israel, she spoke about her youth growing up in a vibrant Jewish community in Bulawayo:

Looking back, I can see quite clearly that everything I became, or did in my life came from growing up in Bulawayo. My Judaism, my commitment to Israel, my love of theatre – I started acting very young in school productions – so looking back now,  not only was it an amazing life,  it molded the person I am. I grew up in a home full of books; all very left-wing and we grew up on these books. My father had come from Belarus and had actually fought in the Russian Revolution; my mother was from Lithuania. They met in Bulawayo. My Dad had earlier settled in South Africa and rumours spread that  gold had been discovered in Rhodesia, so he rushed up to Rhodesia; he never found gold. Instead he found my mother.”

Freda was the product of that lucky strike!

Most influential said Freda, was belonging to the Jewish youth movement Habonim. “It was my or should I say our lives. I remember the Sunday mornings, the scramble to get dressed and always spending hours,  looking for this thing called a ‘woggle’ – that platted piece of leather that held together your blue and white scarf. I thought about it later…. We used to stand by this little palm tree – simbolising the land of Israel –  that never grew an inch in all the years I knew it,  and which we used to recite the Habonim pledge:

“The upright shall flourish like the palm”.

The palm may never have grown in all those years, said Freda, but she and all those idealistic youngsters did as did Israel.

When later as a roving goodwill ambassador for Israel, Freda carried the symbolism of that palm tree with her. “I travel constantly. I’m on the road morning, noon and night, spending my life at airports and I always wear something like a scarf or a broach that identifies me as an Israeli.”

Maybe a throwback to the impact of the Habonim ‘woggle’ – holding it all symbolically  – like a scarf – together!

Zionism in Africa. All in their youth movement uniform, Southern African Habonim in the 1950s. Note the scarf and woggle on each member fondly referred to by Freda Keet.

Freda, who dedicated her life to Israel outreach, explained in the 2002 interview about the unique Israeli word of ‘Hasbara’ (loosely meaning public relations):

Israel’s obsession with Hasbara is understandable. Foreign to any other nation’s lexicon, the need for Hasbara is tied in with the history of the Jewish people. Being a pariah people reviled and abused for over 2000 years, we finally made it into the ranks of the family of nations. We have paid a price, an appalling price, for this membership.”

Freda stressed three reasons why Hasbara should remain an obsession.

Firstly, for the dignity and honour of the Jewish people.  What the world says about us is unfair, untrue and unacceptable. We are obliged to fight it. Secondly, the war that was once against Israel has become much wider. Today, it’s a war directed at the Jewish people worldwide and we are obliged to fight it on their behalf.”

The third reason, asserts Freda, is:

for our survival. If initially the strategy of the Arab world was to delegitimise the State of Israel, they have now gone way beyond that. We are now defending an attempt to delegitimise the very existence of the Jewish People in their land, in effect, to delegitimise Jewish history. The plan is to eat away at the roots, the very bedrock of this nation. The message is clear. What is taught to Arab children, appearing on Arab websites and TV networks, is that Jews have no historical belonging in this land.”

Freda articulated this point by citing Arafat’s behaviour at the Camp David talks.  “With his back to the wall, Arafat had to come up with a reply to the offer made by Israel. Arafat’s response was, ‘I can’t negotiate with the Jewish people over Jerusalem. There is no historical evidence linking these people to Al Kuds. There is no evidence linking the Jewish people with our land of Palestine.’ True, this diatribe is not new. We’ve heard it all before. But to have said it before the President of the USA and that it hardly solicited a ripple of protest was staggering. If the Arabs can be so brazen in the articulation of these lies eating away at the very legitimacy of the Jewish people to this land, then the whole existence of this country is a fake and a bluff and therefore unacceptable to the family of nations. The disappearance of the State of Israel will become an absolute matter of course. It is for our sheer survival that we have to fight back by whatever means possible.”

CRISS-CROSSING AMERICA

On the lecture circuit, mainly in America where she had become  a familiar figure to thousands of Christians, she was often asked:

Why is the world so obsessed with Israel?” A classic example of this obsession was the case Freda cited at the time of “the UN Geneva Convention of Human Rights, which passed into International Law after WWII. “It has met only once – not to address the massacres that took place in Africa’s Rwanda or Burundi, or in Europe’s backyard of Bosnia and Kosova. The only occasion it saw fit to assemble for Human Rights violations was to condemn Israel.”

Trains Planes and Automobiles. Freda Keet used to crisscross the US addressing audiences on Israel.

Opening today’s papers in August 2022, an Israeli can be justified in asking what has changed since Freda’s observations nearly two decades ago in 2003. The editorial in The Jerusalem Post (29 August 2022) reads:

Despite  the critical refugee problems taking place around the world as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, and the Ethiopian-Tigray conflict – to give just a few examples – only the Palestinians merit an ongoing UNSC monthly spotlight….”

The obsession with Israel is unrelenting!

In answer to the obvious question of “Why?”, Freda replied:

They attack Israel because it’s easy. Israel is the equivalent of a cheap date. There are no consequences. Attacking Israel exacts no price. You can’t attack any other country because they all belong to geographic blocks and the members protect each other. You cant raise the issue of Tibet because you would offend the Chinese. Zimbabwe is taboo at International Conferences. There was recently a meeting at the UN where Zimbabwe was on the agenda, but South Africa insisted that it be removed. So if you cant discuss Africa because it will annoy the Africans, can’t raise violations in Muslim countries because it will offend Muslims, what are you safely left with? Israel! It will not annoy anyone.”

Bringing Israel to Jews Abroad. Lecturing overseas, Freda Keet addressing a synagogue in the USA.

Freda amusingly reveals how easy it is to misread a situation. “I share a birthday with VE Day, the 8th of May marking the end of the war in Europe. I recall when I was very young the Church bells in Bulawayo ringing on that day and I always thought it was to celebrate my birthday. It was a knock to my pride to discover later it was not.”

Freda did not need church bells to herald her presence. For that she had her unique voice.

The woman who was “The Voice of Israel’ and thereafter for over two decades waged an unrelenting public relations campaign for Israel abroad leaves a lasting legacy. Her eloquence and passion won her a huge Jewish and non-Jewish international following.

If Israel “radio was king” Freda Keet was its queen.


Freda Keet addressing Beth Protea on growing up in the Jewish community of Bulawayo, Rhodesia, today Zimbabwe. This clip was filmed by Dave Bloom as part of his Zimbabwe Jewish Community project started 20 years ago with a website www.zjc.org.il  (currently being rebuilt) and a Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/zimjewishcommunity






While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

MY FAVOURITE GENTLEMAN

Remembering a pioneer, a Lay of the Land writer but most of all, a wonderful gentleman and friend, Jonathan Danilowitz.

By Rolene Marks

We make a living by what we get; but we make a life by what we give”. These were iconic words once spoken by Winston Churchill. Jonathan Danilowitz epitomised this. Jonathan lived his life dedicated to helping others; and he leaves behind an extraordinary legacy.

Fought for Change. Jonathan Danilowitz fought to earn partnership benefits for gay and lesbian people in Israel.

I used to tell Jonathan he was my favourite gentleman. And he was. His quiet dignity, integrity and the elegant way that he carried himself was the embodiment of being a gentleman. In the wake of his death, the tributes coming in from all over the world were a testament to the great legacy that he leaves behind – but seldom drew attention to. This was his way of doing things – quietly making an enormous impact without wanting or needing the spotlight on him.

Born in Krugersdorp, South Africa, Jonathan made Aliyah to Israel in 1971.

Jonathan was a pioneer and made his mark in the world with his customary grace and dignity. 

Jonathan’s first job was working for El Al, the national airline as a flight attendant and would later become an in-flight manager. He would make his mark not just through sterling on-board service to his passengers; but would change the landscape for Israel’s LGBTQ+ community.

In one of Israel’s most widely publicized legal cases which made history with the precedent that it set, Jonathan sued the airline in 1989 in the Tel Aviv Regional Labour Court to receive an airline ticket for his longtime partner. For many that may seem a trivial issue to take to court but the reality for same-sex couples was very different.

The suit was filed as a response to El Al’s agreement with the Histadrut labour federation that entitled employees to two free tickets a year, one for the employee and one for his or her “spouse”. At the time this excluded same-sex couples and Jonathan fought for the right to have his same-sex partner recognized as his common-law spouse so that he would enjoy the same civil rights as his colleagues.

Flying High. The man who took Israel’s national airline all the way to the Supreme Court and won – Jonathan Danilowitz.

The case would eventually go to the Supreme Court in 1995.

The Supreme Court agreed with the National Labor Court ruling in 1992 against El Al, saying the national airline’s discrimination against Danilowitz and his partner was illegal and obliged it to grant equal benefits to LGBTQ+ partners. This ruling is considered to be a landmark case in the history of Israel and is featured in the Supreme Court Museum in Jerusalem.

Reflecting on his trailblazing legal victory in his book “Flying Colours”, Jonathan wrote:

 “Deep down inside, I harbour a chip of pride that I played a small role in the way the world views homosexuality. ‘Gay Pride’ – I savour the true meaning of those words.”

Book of Revelations. Writing of his experiences with pathos and humor, Jonathan Danilowitz cracks open the closet and many other doors in his intimate yet revealing book ‘Flying Colours’ that deals with issues ranging from Apartheid to airlines, Israel and the struggle for gay rights.

Jonathan didn’t just fight for what is right in the courtroom but also in the battlefield of public diplomacy. Jonathan, or Jonny as he was known to so many of us was a tireless advocate for Israel and Jewish issues, taking on some of the most preposterous invective with his usual aplomb. He took great pleasure in supporting many of us. I was so honoured to have Jonny in my corner, cheering me on, especially on those days when facing the tsunami of hate just became too much to bear. He would remind me exactly for what I was fighting for and I have no doubt I was not the only one.

I clearly remember attending a protest with him and how he relished being in the trenches.

Along with all of Jonny’s amazing activism, he still worked tirelessly for LGBTQ= rights and served as Chairman of Aguda, Israel’s LGBTQ= task force. In 2020, he was awarded Tel Aviv’s Yakir Ha’ir in 2020 in recognition of his struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

Jonathan was a pioneer, a trailblazer and activist but more than that he was just a wonderful human being who enriched the lives of all of us who knew him.

“He was a life lived to its fullest, a friend to all, a loving and loved being who will be sorely missed” says cousin, Vanessa Fisher.

He will be sorely missed. Rest in peace Jonny, you remain my favourite gentleman.





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

THREE DECADES LATER

The long arm of Iranian injustice takes out famed writer’s eye

By David E. Kaplan

Be warned – those that stab you in the eye will have no compunction to stabbing you in the back. This is the cautionary message to those participants in the Iran nuclear deal from the murderous attack on Sir Salman Rushdie!

Marked Man. Living with a bounty on his head since 1989, Sir Salman Rushdie was stabbed onstage multiple times as he was about to give a public lecture in 14 August 2022 at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua , New York. [File: Charly Triballeau/AFP]

There is no time limit on an Iranian threat to inflict harm; whether on an individual or a country. This is why Israelis are observing the ongoing Rushdie affair through a microscope and not rose-tinted spectacles. They understand clearly the razor sharp message delivered on August 12, 2022,  in a place few outside the USA have ever even heard of –  Chautauqua, New York and they worry about allowing a menace state to get hold of menacing weapons. Particularly when the intended recipient of Iran’s venom is the world’s only Jewish state. For a people that failed to heed the warnings in the 20th century are not going to make the same mistake in the 21st century. Jews today take it very seriously when Iran bellows “DEATH TO ISRAEL”, exhibits the Star of David on its paraded missiles and is HELL-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.

The Writing is on the Missiles. What could be clearer of Iran’s intentions when “Death to Israel” is plastered on its Islamic Revolution Guards Corps’ missiles?

While much of the ‘civilised’ world was horrified at the stabbing of Indian-born British-American novelist Salman Rushdie on a public stage, what was Iran response? Afterall, the attempted murderer, 24 year-old Hadi Matar, was specifically carrying out the fatwa (religious edict) delivered on the 14 February 1989 by the then world’s most prominent Shi’a Muslim leader and the Supreme Leader of Iran. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The edict  called for the death of Rushdie and his publishers. 

Words Kill. Born in the US to Lebanese parents who emigrated from Yaroun, a border village in Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon,  Hadi Matar arrives for an arraignment in the Chautauqua County Courthouse in Mayville, N.Y.(Gene J. Puskar / AP)

Iran blamed the victim – Rushdie! He had it coming; he deserved it.

Extensively commenting on the attack, Iranian media were calling the attempted murder “divine retribution“, while the state broadcaster daily, Jaam-e Jam, highlighted the news of Rushdie might losing an eye with this tasteless admonishment:

an eye of the Satan has been blinded“.

It was a play on words following Rushdie’s famed novel ‘The Satanic Verses’.

Matar’s Mug Shots. Facing charges of attempted murder and assault of author Salman Rushdie, Hadi Matar is reported in a New York Post interview saying that “I respect the Ayatollah. I think he’s a great person”.

So while Rushdie – widely regarded as one of Britain’s finest living writers – was knighted for his contribution to the arts in 2008 by Queen Elizabeth II by the traditional placing of a sword on his shoulder, the long arm of Iran instead inserted a knife into the esteemed writer’s eye.

Despite Iran’s fingerprints found glaring at the scene of the crime in Chautauqua, the Islamic republic not only denies any culpability but  accuses the victim and his supporters. Is this a country we are seriously believing will engage honestly regarding the nuclear deal that has existential ramifications for Israel, the region and the world?

Marking the country’s first public reaction to the Rushdie attack, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said the following In a televised news:

Regarding the attack on Salman Rushdie, we do not consider anyone other than [Rushdie] and his supporters worth of blame and even condemnation.”

Dead Set to Kill. Iranian women are seen on February 17, 1989, holding banners reading “Holly Koran” and “Kill Salman Rushdie” during a demonstration against British writer Salman Rushdie in Tehran. (Norbert Schiller/AFP)

Kanaani should have been reminded that on 14 February 2006, the Iranian state news agency reported that “the fatwa will remain in place permanently”. The following year, Rushdie reported that he was still receiving a “sort of Valentine’s card” from Iran each year on 14 February letting him know the country has not forgotten the vow to kill him.

It was a vow they kept – thankfully not successfully –   on August 12, 2022, and Rushdie is thought likely to lose sight in one eye as well as suffering nerve damage in his arm and liver.

Is Iran’s theocratic leadership ever to be believed and trusted, particularly as the country wants to make good on its promises, not only to kill Rushdie but to wipe out Israel?

Rogues Gallery. A view of banners depicting Iran’s late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in the Lebanese town of Yaroun, where the parents of the attempted killer of Rushdie emigrated to the US from. (August 15, 2022. REUTERS/Issam Abdallah)

Since being elected Supreme Leader in 1989 – taking over from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – Ayatollah Sayyed Ali  Khamenei has made it crystal clear he wants Israel – as a country – to disappear.

On December 4, 1990, he expressed:

Regarding the Palestine issue, the problem is taking back Palestine, which means disappearance of Israel. There is no difference between occupied territories before and after [the Arab-Israeli war of] 1967. Every inch of Palestinian land is an inch of Palestinians’ home. Any entity ruling Palestine is illegitimate unless it is Islamic and by Palestinians. Our position is what our late Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] said, “Israel must disappear.”

Doubling down on Iran’s commitment to hasten the demise of the Jewish state, Khamenei on August 19, 1991, expressed:

“. . . Our view regarding the Palestine issue is clear. We believe the solution is destroying the Israeli regime. Forty years has passed [since establishment of the state of Israel], and if another forty years passes, Israel must disappear, and will.”

Iran’s obsessional determination to expunge  Israel from the map has persisted unabated.

In the opening speech to an international conference in support of the Palestinians’ Intifada on April 22, 2001, Khamenei endeavours to mobalise the Muslim world to the mission of destroying “the Zionist regime”:.

He tells his listeners:

 “rest assured that if even a portion of the Islamic world’s resources is devoted to this path [Intifada], we will witness the decay and eventual disappearance of the Zionist regime.”

“Israel must Disappear”. Ayatollah Khamenei has made it crystal clear he wants Israel to disappear having expressed: “Any entity ruling Palestine is illegitimate unless it is Islamic and by Palestinians. Our position is what our late Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] said, “Israel must disappear.”

A decade later in a Friday prayer sermon on February 3, 2012, the Supreme Leader addressing past and future Iranian involvement in anti-Israel activities, expressed explicitly that Israel must not be allowed to survive:

“We have intervened in the anti-Israel struggle, and the results have been the victories in the 33 days war [the 2006 war with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon] and the 22 days war [Israel’s attacks on the Gaza strip in December 2008]. From now on we will also support any nation, any group that confronts the Zionist regime; we will help them, and we are not shy about doing so. Israel will go, it must not survive, and it will not.”

When it comes to ending Israel, there is no letup in warning signs. If the Nazi imagery of the Jew was that of the rodent, for the Iranian leadership it is a “cancerous tumor” that “must be removed”. Speaking at a meeting on June 4, 2013, about the steadfastness of his predecessor Ayatollah Ruhhollah Khomeini – the man who issued the apostasy fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the present Ayatollah said:  

our magnanimous Imam is the person who never changed his mind about the Zionist regime; that ‘the Zionist regime is a cancerous tumor that must be removed’.”

For Iran’s leadership, there will never be an acceptance of the Jewish state. It is in their words, “a tumor that must be removed.”

Is it any wonder that Israelis are warry of the future when they read recent headlines in The New York Times:

Some Glimmers of Optimism About Iran Nuclear Deal.

You won’t find too many Israelis feeling positive about an Iran that is as dead set on ending the existence of Israel as it is dead set on possessing nuclear weapons.

Iran Calling the ‘Shots’? Iran wants compensation if US pulls out of nuclear deal again.

And what is the current status of the deal that at best is little more than kicking the can down the road to confront a nuclear Iran later?

Well, instead of iron clad assurances from Iran, what is apparently holding up the deal is not a worried world seeking assurances but a Tehran seeking guarantees that it will be compensated if a future US president pulls out! For Iran it is all about resuscitating its economy and that means the removal of the sanctions regime.

Hadi Matar in court accused of attempting to murder Salman Rushdie

However, in the wake of the US withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Accord, Iran has increasingly violated the agreements it made under the deal and expanded its nuclear programme.

If Iran wants these sanctions lifted, they will need to alter their underlying conduct; they will need to change the dangerous activities that gave rise to these sanctions in the first place,” the State Department spokesperson, Ned Price, said at a recent briefing.

Does anyone really believe that Iran will “change its dangerous activities”?

Would love to get Salman Rushdie’s take on this!





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

FLIGHTPLAN TO FREEDOM

Reflecting on the impact of a Russian Jewish pilot’s plot to hijack a Soviet plane to freedom

By Jonathan Feldstein

I’m relaxing on the beach in Tel Aviv reading a book that I’ve been enjoying. More than enjoying, it’s an important piece of our history as a people, specifically related to the struggle to free the Jews of the Soviet Union of which I was active in my teens and early adulthood, and which is so important to remember.

Hijack for Freedom” is the memoir of Mark Dymshits. Unlike other memoirs with the writer’s intention to be published, Dymshits’ writing was only discovered after he died, and only then published.

Made his Mark. Mark Dymshits’ writings were discovered after his death and published as a memoir.

Mark Dymshits was a former Soviet Air Force pilot who, discriminated against as a Jew, sought to leave the USSR which was nearly impossible in 1970. He and others planned to hijack a plane and fly themselves out of the USSR to freedom, eventually to be able to go to Israel. It’s a compelling read.

Unlike many of the most prominent refusenicks and Soviet Jewish activists of the time who became a household names, Dymshits’ personal history  was different.  From being a loyal Soviet citizen he would in time resent the increasing discrimination until he realized that the Soviet Union was not his true homeland and could never be. This pilot ‘plotted’ a course of action that went beyond a flightpath and would change the course of how Soviet Jews looked at their own identity.  Unlike many others, Dymshits did not spend years learning or teaching Hebrew in secret, studying or practicing Judaism, nor was he particularly involved with any of the Zionist groups and leaders at that time. He only wanted to leave the USSR and immigrate to Israel.

Breacher of the Iron Curtain. Soviet pilot Mark  Dymshits whose brave plan inspired a generation of Soviet Jews to set their sights on freedom in Israel.

As a pilot, he spearheaded a plan – “Operation Wedding” – to hijack a small plane that would be filled with other Soviet Jews, and fly himself and them to the west and freedom. Perhaps, because he didn’t spend years hiding his identity as a Hebrew teacher or live the lives of other Jewish or pro-Israel activists, he was less sensitive to the dangers of h the KGB and how it had effectively infiltrated these groups. Dymshits and his co-plotters were caught, arrested, and tried and in December 24, 1970, a Leningrad municipal court sentenced former military pilot Mark Dymshits, age 43, and a dissident Eduard Kuznetsov, age 30, to death by firing squad. Seven defendants, ages 21 to 30, were sentenced to 10 to 15 years in labor camps, with two receiving shorter sentences. With two exceptions, all the defendants were Jews.

‘Mark’ed Man. KGB file on Mark Dymshits.

This case of the “Leningrad hijacking plot” caused an uproar in the west, and was a catalyst for other Soviet Jews to begin their own ‘flight’ to freedom. In a way the Dymshits case was not unlike that of the case  Alfred Dreyfus  that had such an impact on Theodor Herzl to “hijack” the complacency of Jews in “enlightened” countries and set a goal to establish a Jewish state.

From Plight to Flight. Aeroflot’s An-2, the same plane the Dymshits–Kuznetsov group tried to hijack.

Fifty years after Herzl, the dream of establishing a Jewish state was realized and 50 years after Dymshits and the others involved with “Operation Wedding”, the majority of Jews who wished to leave the USSR were able to do so.

BACK ON THE BEACH

As I wiggled my feet in the soft sand, I became aware of a family speaking Russian behind me, clearly three generations: grandparents, their children, and their grandchildren. I understand some basic Russian from teaching myself in order to get by on my own in the USSR back in the 1980s. One of the little boys had a unique way he rolled his ‘R’s which I attributed to his growing up in Israel but speaking Russian at home among his immigrant family.

At one point as they chatted behind me, I read the following passage related to Dymshits’ arrest, trial and imprisonment and how in many ways that was a catalyst in the USSR to inspire Jews to try to leave, and a catalyst in the west to advocate on their behalf.

He wrote:

The KGB had a choice to make between (charging us with violating Soviet laws of) article 83 with short prison terms, or article 64 with long prison terms and even execution. If the KGB had chosen article 83, and given us prison terms of up to three years, they would have made themselves look humane in the world’s eye. After serving our short sentences, we would have gone off to Israel without causing a fuss, but without a fuss there would have been no large scale aliyah. They would have given exit visas to a few thousand Jews, and everything would have gone quiet for a few years.”

Rising Tide against Soviet Russia. A protest rally is held against the death penalty in Russia at Kikar Malchei  – today Rabin Square – Israel in Tel Aviv.

As I’m reading these words and hearing the Russian behind me, I see Dymshits’ vision being fulfilled. Eventually, the Jews of the Soviet Union would have come home. But if the high-profile nature of the bold plan, then the trial, and subsequent protest of the verdict had not taken place, it is indeed possible that at that point there would have not yet been a large scale movement, or exodus, of Soviet Jews.

Welcome Home. In the years following, Jews emigrated en mass to Israel as seen here with then Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin shaking hands with new Russian immigrants on their flight from Russia to Israel. 27 April 1994.

Friends who are former Soviet Jews who live in Israel have articulated what a hero and how pivotal Dymshits was. His book is a personal memoir, much about his early life and leading up to the hijack plan, and then the imprisonment, trial, sentence, and serving his time in successive prisons.  Spoiler alert, he was not killed. The sentence was commuted to fifteen years in a Gulag, and he was free after nine years thanks to an American-Soviet prisoners exchange in 1979. He then emigrated to Israel where he lived until the age of 88.

As much as Dymshits and the other defendants were pivotal in changing the dynamics, I’m sure that if I had asked the Russian speaking family sitting behind me on the beach who Mark Dymshits is, they’d probably have no idea.

We have a lift off. Jewish emigration from USSR to Israel ‘takes off’.

Today, it is not uncommon to see planeloads of new immigrants landing in Israel from different parts of the world. It’s important to know and never forget that only 50 years ago the Jews of the Soviet Union were prohibited from leaving and discriminated against. It is the heroism of people like Dymshits who changed the paradigm.

Especially as this week, I celebrate my 18th anniversary of making aliyah, thank God we’re all home.


Hijack for Freedom. The Memoirs of Mark Dymshits: Soviet Pilot, Jew, Breacher of the Iron Curtain

Gefen Publishing





About the writer:

Jonathan Feldstein ­­­­- President of the US based non-profit Genesis123 Foundation whose mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians – is a freelance writer whose articles appear in The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Townhall, NorthJersey.com, Algemeiner Jornal, The Jewish Press, major Christian websites and more.





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

DAVID GOES TO WAR

A personal account marking the 40th anniversary of the First Lebanon War in 1982

By David E. Kaplan

When Israel launched 40 years ago on June 6, 1982, Operation Peace for Galilee (‘Shlom HaGalil’) also known as the First Lebanon War against Palestinian terrorists based in southern Lebanon, 27-year-old David David was back living with his parents in Holon following his graduation in engineering at the prestigious Technion in Haifa. An army reservist, who had “long forgotten what it was like to be in uniform”, war was “the furthest thing from my mind.” Yes, like everybody in Israel, he was up on the news following the attempted assassination in London of the Israeli Ambassador to the UK by one of the terrorist groups operating out of Lebanon. Only a year before on July 10, 1981, the PLO based in Lebanon began shelling the north of Israel with Katyusha rockets and 130 mm artillery shells. Periods followed when civilians in the north had to live in shelters or as many did, move southward to escape the terror.

Israeli troops in Lebanon, 1982. (Michael Zarfati / IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

It was an untenable situation!

All this however was not on the young engineering graduate’s mind. Rather than catching up on the news, he was instead catching waves, surfing off Tel Aviv beach.

It was mid-summer, which meant time for fun.

Reality hit home – literally and figuratively – when returning from the beach his distraught mother came to him with papers in her hand:

 “You have been called up”.

Both David’s father and mother had survived the  ‘Farhud’ – the violent pogrom carried out against the Jewish population of Baghdad, Iraq, on June 1–2 in 1941. Leaving everything behind, their lives  and livelihood, they escaped to the new State of Israel – a place of salvation for Jews.  However, wherever there are Jews, it is never entirely safe and their son David was off to war.  

HAIR-RAISING EXPERIENCE

It was funny; the expected thing do when called up as a reservist was get your hair cut. Not me; I was suspicious about trimming my locks before going to war; maybe it was the Samson syndrome, so I went off to Lebanon in uniform but with a black slightly afro-hippy hairstyle,” relates David whose parents were so proud of their biblical surname felt it deserved repetition – hence David David!

On the road to Beirut, “a CNN correspondent tried to interview me. He remarked he found it strange how in the Israeli army  some with no hair and you have plenty. I explained that I was a reserve soldier and had come from the beach. The main thing I told him was  “that I am here’ hair or no hair.”

Refusing to cut his long hair, David David in Lebenon in 1982.

While war is ugly David is proud of how he and his comrades conducted themselves. He cites examples:

 “Our food truck on the way to Beirut was bombed and there we were, 30 of us with no food and we arrive at a supermarket. All I wanted was milk and a chocolate. Loudly, we were collectively working out the exchange rate as we only had Israeli currency. Meanwhile, the shop owner was terrified; all these soldiers with firearms, speaking loudly in Hebrew; he suspected the worst. He was overwhelmed when the accountant in our group went up to him with all the money we collected and said in Arabic,We do not have any of your currency but this is the equivalent in ours that you can exchange”. He could not believe it.  He broke into a smile he was so relieved.  I doubt any soldiers of previous invading armies over the millennia have ever so conducted themselves.”

On another occasion, David was in his amoured vehicle driving through a Palestinian refugee camp. This was during a later reserve duty in Lebanon and in Winter. “We always made a point when we saw children, to stop and offer them food if we had any. On one occasion as we came across a kindergarten it suddenly started raining hard. All the kids were rushed inside both because of the downpour but also because they saw us soldiers and in the tumult, one little girl was left alone crying outside in the rain. Although dangerous to stop so exposed in an unprotected area, we did, and I said, “keep alert;  I’m going to take that girl inside”. I got out, took the little hand of the shivering and frightened girl and knocked on the door of the kindergarten. The teacher partially opened, looking terrified and then revealing surprise as she saw me – a soldier holding the girl’s hand. She grabbed the kid and shut the door as if trying simultaneously to shut out the complexity of war. I often think, of that little girl who  would today be about 44-years- of-age, herself a mother and possibly a grandmother. Would she even remember the incident and if she did, what would her thoughts be?”

During the war in Lebanon, David David (centre) with his fellow comrades.

Asking what impact the war had, David replies that every year on Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day), during the celebratory fireworks, “I always think about Lebanon. The BOOM BOOM of the fireworks reminds of the noise of shells falling around me. This year I did not experience it and then I realized the fireworks were silent this year in consideration for dogs who become traumatized.”

David David and a comrade on top of their armored vehicle in Lebanon.

David has reason to believe in a guardian angel watching over him. In the second week of the war, he obtained a brief leave of absence to attend a family wedding.

No sooner had David climbed aboard the Egged bus seconded to the military, he was told by the driver “to get off”. Only authorized to carry  a maximum of 25 passengers, David was number 26. “I tried to argue; offered to sit on the floor, but the driver refused.”  David got off the bus and upset that he might miss the wedding, he then noticed a military truck that was about to leave for Rosh Hanikra, the most northern Israeli town on the Israeli-Lebanese border. It had large tires on the back “I begged the driver for a lift to which he replied if I didn’t mind curling up with the tires.”

It possibly saved David’s life!

 “We started to drive and at about 500 metres, two missiles  struck the bus I would have been on, causing multiple casualties. The tires shielded me from most of the blast with pieces of shrapnel piercing my face and finger. I still have a piece lodged in the finger and every time there is pain it reminds me of the war.”

David did manage to still attend the wedding and returned a day later on aboard an IDF military helicopter. “Once we entered Lebanese airspace we were pounded by enemy fire and missiles but the crew took all the necessary evasive actions to redirect the incoming missiles and we landed safely. It was very scary. That was one hell of a wedding to attend – both getting there and getting back!”

ROAD TO DAMASCAS

There were moments for David on this road but hardly what one can describe akin to biblical revelations. David can honestly claim to have captured 25 Syrian soldiers without firing a bullet or injuring anyone. In charge of an important machsom (military roadblock) at Bhamdoun, east of Beirut, “Anyone going to Syria had to pass through me. I examined all identification papers and travel documents and my good grasp of Arabic, having studied it at school, would serve me well.  One day, a group of 25 men arrived at the roadblock and each presented me with their papers. They explained they had been in Lebanon and were now returning to Syria.  I noticed in each of their ID papers, the same word جندي (“jundi”), which I knew meant ‘soldier’. I quickly deduced this was a Syrian Commando unit that had fallen behind our Israeli lines and were trying to return to their area. They had obviously ditched their weapons and uniforms and found civilian clothes. Without raising any alarm, I casually over the radio called for the Shabak (security service) who quickly arrived and took the group away as captured Syrian prisoners.”

On the road leading to Damascus,  David David with a convoy behind.

When not engaging the enemy, Bhamdoun proved full of surprises. “We had no access to showers but came across an abandoned villa with a natural hot spring swimming pool. It was a real treat.”

Also abandoned was  “a synagogue we discovered. It was once used by Jews visiting this resort town. We honoured its past by some of us praying outside its walls.”

On a lighter note,  “a IDF military bulldozer had just completed digging a trench near our checkpoint when the driver looked up at a nearby hill, saw some soldiers and said I’m finished here; I’m going there. I said to him jokingly, ‘maybe you will come back; maybe you won’t’. He asked, ‘What are you talking about?’ I said those are the Syrians. ‘WHAT?’ he bellowed. He never realized how close he was to the frontline,  He said “I’m outta here. He turned his bulldozer around and headed back in the direction of Beirut.”

David David (2nd left) and his fellow soldiers discover an abandoned synagogue in Bhamdoun, east of Beirut.

Pressing David as to what helped him get through the war he replies:

  “It was humour-often very black humour.  Look, we had no proper food;, nowhere to shower; to sleep properly but what we did have was very high moral and humour .We were always telling jokes and funny stories and laughing loud at everything. This is how we got through this war. Also, sharing stories about our lives.”

Having no access to showers, David David and his comrades found an abandoned villa with a private swimming pool.

Merging the two, David explains that whenever a person received a parcel from a loved one, it was “a big occasion shared by all. It was opened in front of everyone. One day, one of us received a parcel from his girlfriend. We were sitting in a cherry orchard; the whole of Lebanon seemed to be one big cherry orchard – they were everywhere. Anyway, he opened this parcel from his beloved and inside was none other than a box of cherries with a note “Because I’m so sweet, I know this will remind you of me.” We could not stop laughing; even the Syrians must have heard us.”

Missing loved ones was alleviated on one occasion when out of the blue an IDF mobile phone truck arrived at David’s base and “we had access to it for the day to phone our families, friends and girlfriends.  Cut off as we were, it was wonderful and we did not want the truck to leave. And then a miracle happened. At the end of the day, the truck could not leave, there was a problem with the engine but of course, no problem with the phones. For three days we used the phones. To this day, I am convinced that it was no ‘miracle’ but some talented soldier in our unit who had craftily disabled the truck’s engine. After all, we’re Israelis!”

“The morale was so high,” says David David seen here relaxing with his comrades somewhere in Lebanon.

EPILOGUE

Forty years later, there is still no peace for Israel with Lebanon. It was once falsely believed that Lebanon would be “the second country to make peace with Israel”. It has proved not to be. Under the grip of Hezbollah and Iran, it may prove to be the last.

However for my good friend David David  living with his South African-born wife Henrietta (née Wolffe) from Cape Town in Rishon LeZion,  to the question of whether there will be peace one day, he replies:

I hope so; and  when there is, the first thing I am going to do is take my family there and see all the places where I was. The place is beautiful – trees, water, mountains. It is breathtaking. That is the paradox that there is also war with the beauty. Not only with Israel but more with itself. When the war is all over, I will return.”



Operation Peace for Galilee (‘Shlom HaGalil’) emblem (1982)






While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

“WORDS, WORDS, WORDS”

Tapping into famed Israeli poet and musician, Nancy Pelosi’s recitation of lyrics struck the right note

By David E. Kaplan

They say Israeli food in New York has never been hotter!

This is tantalizingly reflected in the ever increasing number of restaurants owned or run by Israelis with such alluring names from ‘Operation Falafel’ conjuring up the image of a culinary Middle East offensive on the palette to the mouthful ‘Balaboosta’, a term of endearment in Yiddish, which means “perfect homemaker” suggesting someone who loves to bring family together by cooking. However, the smorgasbord of delicious delights from Israel does not end at its cuisine, for Israeli culture has an endearing irresistible resonance that permeates American life and even its politics. This was spectacularly illustrated this week by none other than the United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who in an emotional response to a controversial Supreme Court ruling rolling back reproductive rights in the United States by half a century, recited a poem by the celebrated Israeli lyrist and poet, Ehud Manor (1941-2005).

My country changed her face”. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi reacts to the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, June 24, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

At a pivotal disturbing moment in America’s history where the leading country in the world is shown to be as “never-so-divided  since the Civil War”, one would think there was no shortage of fine words to recite from an American poet that would capture a frustrated people’s torment. None quite cut it for the Speaker because America’s leading Democrat in the House – while directing the cataclysmic cause for America’s backward somersault into the past on former president Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate for a decision that gives American women in 2022 “less freedom than their mothers”, Pelosi found solace in the words of an Israeli.

From Capitol Hill to Israel’s Capital. As part of a Congressional delegation to the country, Nancy Pelosi at the Knesset in February 16, 2022 where she reiterated her country’s “iron clad” support for Israel’s security. (photo: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

With this divided America facing an uncertain future over the Supreme Court overturn of Roe v. Wade, a downhearted and dispirited looking Pelosi walked to the podium at the press conference at the Capital and recited Ehud Manor’s poem:

I Have No Other Land” (“Ein Li Eretz Aheret” in Hebrew)

The words that were heard by American ears – her intended audience – were heard too in Israel whose citizens are however more familiar with the words in Hebrew.

She recited:

I have no other country

though my land is burning

Only a word in Hebrew

penetrates my veins and my soul –

with an aching body and with a hungry heart.

Here is my home

I will not be silent,

for my country has changed her face

For Pelosi, her country has indeed “changed her face” as Americans have been heard saying, “We have awoken to a new America”, and not an America they feel comfortable with.

Poignant Postage. A 2009 Israeli stamp commemorating Ehud Manor. (Photo: public domain)

Emotionally distraught throughout the recitation of Manor’s poem, Pelosi felt compelled to repeat which might have been for her the most compelling line “my country has changed her face” and were in not for who she was – and where she was – one sensed she could have gone on repeating that line over and over again like a stuck gramophone needle so shocked and shaken was she.

Her fighting spirit to ‘march on’ returns when she concluded with Manor’s final line:

I shall not give up on her. I will remind her and sing into her ears until she opens her eyes”.

 The poem having ended, Pelosi laments:

Clearly, we hope the Supreme Court will open its eyes

With a conservative 6-3 majority of the judges this is unlikely to happen and with multiple states, including Texas, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee where abortion will now be illegal under all circumstances – including in cases of rape and incest, there is little wonder that a protest movement is mobilising with its voice heard loud and clear as well as in Israel.

On Tuesday evening, 28 June, over a 100 people gathered in Habima Square in Tel Aviv to protest the US Supreme Court overturning of Roe v. Wade. Filling the square were loud chants of carefully crafted wording such as:

Pro-life that’s a lie,

you don’t care if women die

A young 8th grader with family and friends in Texas – one of the states where abortion will be banned without exception, even in instances of rape or incest – was Rut, holding a sign that said, “Women just want to have fundamental human rights”. Devastated, she told  The Jerusalem Post that she decided to attend the protest for more than one reason.

I’m really young, and I already have friends who have gone through incredibly hard things. I think it’s incredibly important that we have rights over our own bodies. I spent three years in the US. I go there every summer. It’s extremely important to me to be here today.”

Sign of the Times. Rachel and Michael, two protestors holding signs during a pro-choice protest in Tel Aviv, Israel, June 28, 2022 (Photo Simcha Pasko/i24NEWS)

Not everyone at the protest was born in the US or even had a personal connection to the country like Rut. While many expressed feelings of solidarity with the women in the US who have had their access to reproductive healthcare revoked, others shared fears that their own rights would be taken next, that the ‘infection’ that has inflicted the US could spread like an all-to-familiar pandemic.

Is this another Covid coming our way?” was the prevailing sense of fear.

This fear was emphatically conveyed to The Jerusalem Post by a protestor who requested to remain anonymous. Having no connection whatsoever to any family or friends in the US,  she said that the overturning of Roe v. Wade indicated:

 “worse things to come for women everywhere, not just in the US.” She went on, “…. It doesn’t make a difference where in the world it’s happening – a woman is a woman is a woman. It can happen to all of us.”

Redirecting ‘Aim’. A woman holding a sign reading “Pro-life would be regulating, not this,” with a picture of a gun and a uterus at a pro-choice protest in Tel Aviv, Israel, June 28, 2022. (photo Simcha Pasko/i24NEWS)

This was not the first time that Pelosi had responded to worldwide events through poetry or even the first time she has cited this particular Israeli poem by Ehud Manor – “I Have No Other Country”.

Awarded in 1998 the Israel Prize, the country’s highest cultural honor for his contributions to Israeli music, Manor remains an icon in Israel. Why his songs remain ever so popular, his widow Ofra Fuchs, whom Pelosi has met on her visits to Israel, explains:

 “the perfect language, which sounds contemporary to this day. That is why young singers keep performing his songs, and that means that Ehud is still alive. He had the ability to create perfect harmony between the words and the music.”

Lasting Legacy. Considered to have been Israel’s most prolific lyricist of all time, having written or translated over 1,000 songs Ehud Manor with his wife Ofra Fuchs.

May the day soon dawn when Nancy Pelosi might find cause to recite another of Manor’s poems In the Year to Come  (BASHANAH HABA’AH), where the refrain reads:

Just you wait and you’ll see
How much good there will be
In the year, that’s to come, that’s to come
.”

Clearly, major battles will have to proceed before!





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

SIX DAYS IN JUNE

If it took the Almighty six days to create the world; 55 years ago it took the almighty IDF six days to perform another miracle

By David E. Kaplan

When Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran in May 1967 to Israeli shipping, it also opened the minds and hearts of Jews around the world who knew that war was coming. In the weeks that followed – before, during and immediately following the cessation of hostilities  – over 5,000 – mostly young people from Jewish communities across the globe, put their lives on hold to volunteer in Israel.

Unlike the earlier wars of 1948 and 1956, this time it was not to hold a rifle but the metaphoric rake, not to grab a grenade but the teat of a cow as they mostly served on kibbutzim taking the place of those who were in uniform. It kept the wheels of Israel’s still a very much agrarian economy turning.

The Volunteers of the Six Day War – 50 Years Later – Featuring former Director Solly Sacks, who takes a look at those volunteers who came from abroad to Israel in 1967 to assist the State of Israel during and following the Six Day War.

Leading the pack of countries from where volunteers came was England with 1,295.One of those volunteers was 23-year-old Barry Kester, who was articled in a West End accountancy practice and due to take his finals in December of that year. That was all to change Barry writes on his blog:

On the 20th May 1967 I was at Wembley Stadium cheering on my beloved Spurs as they defeated Chelsea in the F.A. Cup Final.  Had anyone told me on that day, that just a couple of weeks later I would be in Israel working on a kibbutz close to the Golan Heights, I would have thought them crazy.”

Following England in the largest number of volunteers was Southern Africa with 861. For a region with a small Jewish community – never more than 120,000 Jews in South Africa and 5000 in then Rhodesia (today Zimbabwe) at its peak – the figure of 861 Southern Africans represented an extraordinarily high percentage. It also repeatedly matched with the over 800 volunteers who came from this same region in 1948 to fight in Israel’s War of Independence.

Responding to the Call.  Young adults, probably students, volunteer on a kibbutz in 1967.

Capturing the atmosphere at the time –  from the anguish in the build-up to the war to the jubilation following the overwhelming victory –  are the contemporaneous accounts and later recollections of people that lived through it. Apart from people I have interviewed over the years, we are fortunate to have letters written by many of these young people that were collated by the late Muriel Chesler in her book, ‘A Shield About Me’. In it, she writes:

 “I was in Cape Town during the Six Day War and thought the end of the world had come.”

She was hardly alone experiencing those apocalyptic thoughts!

Joy & Jubilation. Young men and woman in the IDF following victory in the 1967 Six-Day War.(Terry Fincher/Express, via Getty Images)

RESPONDING TO THE CALL

I was petrified of having to inform my accountancy firm of my decision to go,” recalls Solly Sacks of Jerusalem then living in Johannesburg. As head of Bnei Akiva, he would serve on the screening committee of his group. “People were shocked and tried to dissuade me,” but Solly would have none of that and by the time “I arrived at the third floor of the Fed [South African Zionist Federation] building, it was crowded with hundreds of people. I was unable to get out of the elevator.”

Having ensured that most of his youth movement group were booked or had already left for Israel, “I managed to ensure that the remaining few of us got on that last flight.”

One in his group is the founder of Carmit Candy Industries Ltd., Lenny Sackstein. Back in June 1967, Lennie was a 21-year-old law student at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits). 

Studying was a serious business. You attended classes wearing a tie, submitted papers on time, and passed your exams or you were history.”

Having a Field Day. Volunteers from abroad being driven early in the morning by a tractor  to the fields on a kibbutz in 1967.

However, history was precisely what Lenny and his fellow volunteers were about to make!

On Thursday, the 11th June, Sackstein presented himself to Professor Ellison Kahn, the dean of the Faculty to advise him he was off to Israel as a volunteer.

He looked at me straight in the eye and said, “Sackstein, if you do not present yourself at class on Monday, you will be removed from the course for the year.”

A Fruitful Experience. Young volunteers from abroad picking fruit in a kibbutz orchid in 1967.

Having discharged his duty as dean, Kahn then went on to say, “Well done Sackstein! Can I assist you in any way?

The Jewish community was united.

Lenny arrived with his group to Kibbutz Shluchot in the Beit She’an Valley in northern Israel .in 40-degree heat – a far cry from Johannesburg’s crisp winter. Welcoming them, the kibbutz representative said:

 “Freirim; vot you come for? Ve have already von ze var.”

Hearing this, the 40-degree temperature “was nothing in comparison to my blood pressure.”

The upbeat in Cape Town was no different.  In May 1967, Sidney Shapiro – who would later become Director of TELFED, the South African Zionist Federation in Israel – was then a student at the University of Cape Town (UCT). Being National Vice-Chairman of the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) and Chairman of the Student Jewish Association (SJA), he felt it was only natural that it fell on him to make the appeal on campus for volunteers. “We called a meeting during the day at the SJA centre in Mowbray hardly expecting too many students to pitch during lecture time.”

In High Spirits. Volunteer Gerald Abelson from Cape Town (top) on the ladder picking fruit at kibbutz Gadot.

How wrong he was!

The SJA hall was bursting at the seams with students piling into the garden and into the street. There I was, standing in front of these hundreds of students ready to read from a prepared speech, when I was suddenly caught up in the excitement and set aside my notes and spoke from the heart.”

Sidney had reservations about volunteering as “I was in my final year. However, I got caught up in my own words and volunteered.”

The excitement peaked when “some of the students grabbed the podium, turned it on its head and the next thing, students began throwing money in it.”

Sidney, like many Jewish students throughout South Africa, would have good reason to be apprehensive – not only because of the impending danger in Israel, but “we had to break the news to our parents. I knew I would be flying out on the first plane available, which meant not completing my degree that year. As difficult as this was, I knew there was no way that I could not have volunteered. My parents understood.”

In 2007, on the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War, Michael Cohen, Vice-Principal of Bialik College, Melbourne, recounted the atmosphere in Cape Town in the period leading up to the war when he was undertaking postgraduate studies in History at the University of Cape Town. “The local Zionist offices were flooded with applications from would-be volunteers; meetings were held in synagogues and at other venues to raise money for Israel, whose very survival was under grave threat; and potential volunteers, of whom I was one, were taken to outlying Jewish-owned farms to learn to drive tractors in preparation for work on Kibbutzim. The aim was to replace young Israelis who were being called to arms.”

On arrival in Israel, “we were sorted into groups after interviews. A select number of us, mainly those who had youth movement leadership experience or spoke Hebrew, were dispatched to Jerusalem to work as non-combat members of the Israeli army. We were accommodated in East Jerusalem, at the Jordanian Police School next to Ammunition Hill in tents while the girls were located in nearby hotels. Our task was to collect the ‘booty’ left in retreat by the Jordan army. We joined with Israeli soldiers, and each day we were transported to locations in the West Bank where we loaded equipment – barbed wire, army boots, large bombs in canisters and other items – into trucks.”

Later relocated to Shech Jerach in the Sinai Desert, “our duty was to collect the hundreds of abandoned Egyptian armed vehicles. I recall, on one occasion, being given a gun and being asked to accompany a group of Egyptian prisoners on the back of a truck to a nearby army base. My anxiety levels were exacerbated by the fact that I did not know how to use the weapon! I chatted briefly with one of the prisoners whose English was passable and who told me about his family back in Egypt. Those Egyptian prisoners who had earlier escaped, making their way to the Suez Canal in an effort to return home, and who had survived on water from the radiators of abandoned Egyptian armoured vehicles, quickly gave themselves up to our forces when they discovered that Egyptian soldiers returning to Egypt were being shot to prevent news of Egypt’s defeat spreading.”

UNDER FIRE

Not a volunteer but a conscript in the Israeli army was 31-year-old Ian Rogow, a former South African, fighting fiercely on the outskirts of Jerusalem. He recounts the battle in this letter to his family in Cape Town:

On Monday, 5th June, my company was moved after dark to the front where kibbutz Ramat Rachel, east of Jerusalem, forks the border with Jerusalem. That night we took a terrible hammering, and the shells of heavy 120mm mortars and long-distance artillery beat down on us like hail storms.

It was a long night and the machine gun and rifle fire found only brief moments of respite during the dark hours.

Homecoming. The war over, Ian Rogow returns to his wife Pearl and kids in 1967 after having fought at kibbutz Ramat Rachal, Mar Elias and the Jordanian front.

I shall carry with me to the end of my days, the memory of the long, drawn-out, sibilant whistle that so ominously precedes the explosion of a mortar shell. At first, you’re frightened as hell, and you strain to push your whole body into your steel helmet like a snail retreating into its protective shell as you dig into mother-earth tighter, and wish your trench was deeper, and you think of God and pray. But you have to fight back, and soon you condition yourself against hitting the dirt with every bone-chilling shriek of an incoming shell.

By the time dawn broke, Ramat Rachel was safe and by nightfall, we were in Bethlehem; white flags flying from the rooftops and the Royal Jordanian army not in sight. The next day we were in Hebron, and here too, the white flags fluttered prominently from every roof-top.”

Preparing for the Worst. High school boys digging trenches in a Tel Aviv street on the eve of the Six Day War.

The remaining danger, Ian writes were:

 “unseen snipers. We lost many a life to the bullet of a rifle fitted with a telescopic sight and triggered by a well concealed finger.”

Ian concludes this long letter of further wartime encounters through Gush Etzion with:

Let our political successes match our military victory as some small compensation for the heavy price we paid – so as not to let down those who gave their lives for the gain we have made by the sword.”

One of the many South Africans who fought in the Six Day War was the late David “Migdal” Teperson. No surprise here – he held the exclusive honour in the IDF of having participated in every war from 1948 to Protective Edge – most in combat. It was only from the Second Lebanon War, he was no longer allowed in the frontline but could bring supplies by truck “to my boys.”

On the 5th of June 1967:

 “we were lined up under our camouflage nets, amongst the trees at the side of the road in company formation. We had orders not to move around too much so that we would not be spotted by the Egyptian air force. At daybreak, we saw our airplanes fly over us, flip their wings in salute, and continue towards the Sinai. Suddenly a dispatch rider on a motorbike came charging down between our columns shouting, “switch on your radios.” As soon as we did, we heard the password “red sheet” and the orders “move, move, move”! We launched our attack against the Egyptian forces in Sinai.”

Migdal’s division was ordered to break through a fortified stronghold at Rafiah, situated between the Gaza strip, Sinai and Israel. For Migdal, it felt like déjà vu. Following the War of Independence, the 1956 war and “now again in 1967 – this was the third time I was fighting in the same area.”

His division’s objective was to cut off El Arish. “We captured close to 800 Egyptian prisoners of war, who we kept in a temporary stockade. I had taken prisoners of war around the same position in 1948 as a corporal; in 1956 as a platoon commander, and now again, in 1967 as number 2 company commander.”

While waiting to move on and listening to the Israeli news, “we heard that east Jerusalem, and the Western Wall had been captured by our paratroopers. On hearing the news, the boys cried, especially the old soldiers who had fought in the 1948 war.”

Migdal would fight all the way to the Suez Canal and remained there after the ceasefire.

HOME FRONT

Capturing the atmosphere at home are revealed in these letters to family in South Africa that appear in Muriel Chesler’s book.

A week before the war, Raie Gurland writes on the 28th May 1967,  to her family in Cape Town:

Blankets, sheets, towels and hot water bottles were collected. No-one refuses. We all give and more. It’s like caring for a child in danger – Israel is our child and we want to protect her. How extraordinary to be in a country expecting war. The stillness and partially empty streets – its ominously frightening, and I often feel butterflies in my tummy, but then it passes.

Journalists, like vultures are flocking in from the four corners of the earth with the prospect of disaster. The panic at the airport is over and most of the tourists have left….

No job is too menial or too small. Rabbis – with a special dispensation concerning the Sabbath – were digging trenches at the school yesterday, driving delivery trucks and writing out instructions – all on Shabbat!

….I would not be anywhere else – as a Jewess, this is where I belong.”

Dig This! Digging trenches on kibbutz Gan Shmuel in northern Israel before the Six Day War.

Capturing what a young wife must be feeling not knowing of the whereabouts or fate of her soldier husband are these two letters by Avril Shulman to her parents in Cape Town.

On the 9th June, she wrote:

I am so proud to be the wife of a sabra. In the last three weeks, I have lived a lifetime. Even as I write, I do not know where Amnon is or how he is. I hope and pray and wait.”

Avril had to wait until the 20th June when she again wrote to her parents:

It was two o’clock in the morning and there was a knock at the front door. I jumped out of bed, daring to hope, and on opening the door, there stood a hunk of man dressed in an Israeli uniform with Egyptian boots, a Russian gun, and a South African tog bag, covered from head to foot in Sinai dust, but looking very familiar. The reunion is something I cannot describe.”

On the 9th June, Muriel receives a letter from her sister Pat Slevin, a resident of Eilat.

It seems it’s all over bar the jubilation and the heartache of the families who have lost loved ones, and the pain and suffering of the wounded.

Who could have thought on Monday morning when the Egyptian tanks crossed the border, that on Friday morning I would be writing to you like this! Last night at 10 o’clock, we received the news of Egypt’s consent to a cease-fire; this morning at 7 o’clock Syria’s, and at 8 o’clock, the telegram from our Southern commander that our men were on the banks of the Suez Canal. I’m privileged to have been here and to have lived through this moment in Israel’s destiny.”

Fifty-five years on from the Six Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem, the nation is strong. Israel is a vibrant democracy in a neighbourhood of autocracies. Its economy is booming and its universities are churning out graduates that will spearhead our small country into a big future.

While the history of this land may read like a chronicle of ‘War Stories”, the Israel of 2022 is a resounding ‘Success Story’.


_____________________



List of countries from which volunteers came and their number as at the 5th July, 1967.

England                   1,295

Southern Africa          861

France                        607

USA                            301

Belgium                      285

Argentine                    277

Spain, Germany, Switzerland & Austria  262

Canada                        236

Scandinavia                135

Uruguay                       117

Australia                       111

Italy                              110

Holland                           90

Brazil                              68

Chile                               66

Venezuela                      55

Other Latin countries    164

Total                          5,043





While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).