We’re marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel with a year-long celebration! Keep an eye out for “Memphis Celebrates Israel at 70” branding at your synagogue, at events around town, and online. In this series, we’re asking Memphians to tell their personal Israel stories. Do you have a story to tell?
My Israel Story starts with the Yom Kippur War,
After two years of college my dream was to take a year off and travel to Europe and Israel. I left with a friend in May of 1973 and set out to Germany, Austria, Italy, and Greece. In Germany I had my first encounter with my family’s history. It was a profound moment as my friend and I approached Dachau Concentration Camp. I felt sick. I went to the museum first. I saw a picture of someone who looked like a skeleton, and felt as though it could have been a relative of mine. We continued through the camp walking through the barracks and gas chambers. We left with vivid, horrible memories. How could my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and family been subjected to such torture? How did my parents come out alive?
On August 1, 1973, we landed in Tel Aviv. Such an intense feeling overcame me! Everyone around me was Jewish! This was our country! I started to cry with excitement and couldn’t wait to explore and meet my relatives of whom I had only heard about and seen a few pictures.
After touring Tel Aviv and visiting the American office to receive placement to work/study on a kibbutz, we set out to Kiriat Haim (near Haifa) to meet some of my family. We arrived, the door opens, and we were greeted by my Aunt Fella and Uncle Zigmund and cousins. Although we had difficulty communicating, we managed beautifully. They spoke Polish to me which I understood and between their broken English and a little of my Yiddish and Polish, we were totally connected. I continued to meet more and more cousins and great aunts as the week progressed. I truly felt at home. My aunt and uncle became my “adopted” parents as I ended up staying in Israel for eight months. I was in love with my country! I never wanted to leave!
After two weeks with family, I drove up to Kibbutz Hanita, which is near Rosh Hanikra and the Lebanese border. As I looked down from the mountaintop, I was in awe of the beauty and felt at one with the land of Israel. With 60 other volunteers from all over the world, I began to study Hebrew half-day and work on the kibbutz half-day. I cleaned bathrooms, worked in children’s houses, and peeled potatoes and plucked chickens in the kitchen for Shabbat. I was the happiest I had ever been. Life was wonderful, I was proud to be a Jew and so content to be in my country.
The morning of Yom Kippur, my happiness turned to fright. The sirens were on, and we were told to go to the bomb shelter. The Israelis who were my age and lived on the kibbutz were walking around with Army apparel and guns on their shoulder. I was so scared and so were my peers. Some were crying, and some were shaking with fear. What was happening? Were we going to be shot at? A war! What does this mean?! As a day or two passed, my fear turned to strength. Seeing the Israelis take responsibility and do what they needed, I felt a calmness. Now, my energy was focused on providing help to the kibbutz. With so many kibbutzniks gone to fight in the Army, we took over some of their jobs without blinking. So this is war! This is how Israelis do it! After sleeping in a bomb shelter at night for two weeks and working all day, the war eventually ended. Israel won, but there was great loss. Being in our country during this time changed me forever. I developed a love for Israel that will always be dear to my heart.
I developed another love too. From the bomb shelter, to the Ulpan (Hebrew classes), to work, I fell in love with “Reuven” from Boston. We were volunteers together, and we both had a mutual love of Israel. “Rueven” and I traveled all over Israel with the other ulpanim and realized we could not live apart. Within a few months after returning to America, “Rueven” moved to Memphis. Forty-two years later, Rob (Rueven) and I are married with two daughters, two son-in-laws, and three grandchildren. Our love for Israel continues to grow and blossom.