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?
The sun is setting on a fall day in November 2016. My husband and I are passengers driving towards Hebron. Our driver, Abba Claman, pulls off the road quickly to say his evening prayers. We are anxiously anticipating our next few hours as our friend, Steve Mizel (aka BBQ KING), has invited us to cook and serve BBQ to the Israeli Border Patrol with an organization called ThankIsraeliSoldiers.org.
Seven years earlier while moving, my parents discovered a box in their attic containing letters, telegrams, photos, and a diary from the 1920’s. The box belonged to my grandfather’s eldest brother, Aaron David Shainberg. The letters tell the emotional story of Uncle David’s journey to the Holy Land. His devotion to Torah, family, and Israel fill the pages as he asks his parents to support and believe in his decision to study and live in Palestine. After the box was given to me, I marveled at my good fortune to go back in time and read what was happening in my grandfather’s family’s life. I decided to archive the belongings in Temple Israel’s library.
Now, anyone can read Uncle Dave’s words and feel what it was like to make Aliyah in the late 1920’s.
October 25, 1928
“…I thank G-d every minute of the day that he brought me to the Yeshiva here in Hebron. Here, not only can I best acquire that knowledge which I seek but also, I am in a thoroughly Jewish atmosphere and on holy ground.”
December 23, 1928
“…you cannot imagine what mature wisdom lies in the minds of the Yeshiva student’s body. I am a happy – most happy person. Truly, I am unable to write coherently upon my life here – my extreme good fortune in the selection of Hebron and the ex-Slobodka yeshiva as the institution where I am to begin to realize my life’s ambition. I consider this the greatest blessing of G-d.”
In other letters home, Uncle Dave expressed bitterness over the possibility of Arab confiscation of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. At that time, Grand Mufti, Mohammad Amin al-Husayni (who later offered help to Hitler) incited his people to “Kill the Jews wherever you find them!”
August 23-24, 1929
In Hebron, the two-day massacre took place and sixty-nine of the 700 Jews that inhabited the area were murdered, including my Uncle Dave.
Houses and synagogues were vandalized. Some Arab neighbors protected families by hiding Jews. Tragically today, the events of 1929 still hang heavily over Hebron.
November 7, 2016
At first, I was nervous and scared, but we put on our aprons and got to work. I began to feel at ease. We fed over 200 hungry men and women. I couldn’t help but wonder…could I ever be brave enough to be a soldier? After the meal, the commander asked us to tell the soldiers why we had come to volunteer. I suddenly felt my heart beginning to pound! I shared our family’s story, telling the soldiers that five years ago three generations of my family had come to Hebron (for our daughter’s Bat Mitzvah) to say Kaddish at Uncle Dave’s grave. We had taken his words out of his diary and retraced some of his footsteps while he was living and dreaming of his “life’s great fortune.” I explained that Hebron holds a defined place in my heart, and that people like them, who guard our borders, make me proud. I told them that it is with great gratitude that my husband and I were able to volunteer in Hebron and I thanked them with all my heart. I was holding it together the best I could, trying not to cry, trying to be brave. Seconds later, the commander placed his hat on my head, and everyone in the room applauded! I was overwhelmed! Although, I know I will never serve in the IDF, I was able to volunteer to show my gratitude toward strangers who do serve, and I am forever grateful to our soldiers and border patrol.
I’d like to think Uncle Dave knows his love of Torah, family, and Israel have trickled down in our family and will continue on forever.
This is my Israel story.