Preface: Within a few years after Israel’s independence in 1948, Israel’s population of 600,000 Jews nearly doubled with new immigrants, mostly Jews from Arab countries and Holocaust survivors. Most of them lived for a few years in poor conditions in Maabarot: Transition Camps. Some in tents on concrete tamaracks of old British air bases, some in temporary mini housings, and some in empty Arab buildings when their Arab occupants left Israel in a hurry hoping to return after Israel’s destruction. Israel was a poor country then, and the established Jewish population had to cut many essentials, even food, to provide for the new immigrants. Many immigrants had very difficult lives and lived on minimal support for a long period.
A few years after the miracle of the 1948 War of Independence, the Israeli Chief of staf: Yigal Yadin asked Ben-Gurion for a massive increase of the military budget to be ready for the next Arab attacks. Ben Gurion answered him wisely: The majority of the budget must go to absorb new immigrants. Yadin said: But Israel could be destroyed if we are not better prepared.
Ben Gurion told him: What is the purpose of Israel if we cannot provide open immigration to all the Jews who want to come? General Yadin resigned after that decision.
Below is the first of 3 short stories about my experience with the Maabarot and their impacts.
I will do anything you want…She said
Rina left the bed slowly trying not to wake me up, but it was hard to do with a single bed. I pretended to continue to sleep but I watched her. I rarely had the opportunity to do so. Most of our love affairs were in dark secluded places. I watched her lovely face and noticed that she smiled to herself as she prepared to go to work. She was full of energy, as usual, and had a body of an athlete; after all, she was a sport trainer at that Transition Camp for new immigrants. She dressed quietly with her sport clothes over her underwear: short white pants with elastic at the legs, (for modesty) and a white blouse with short sleeves.
Then she quickly made a very light breakfast for herself. Rina took around dense Russian black bread out of a very small cupboard, cut two thick slices from it, spread rapidly and carelessly some yogurt on both of them, and a little fig jam on the top. She ate that hungrily while warming water for a coffee substitute, using a small immerseable electrical heater for just a single cup. I pretended to sleep all that time, but I enjoyed watching her dancelike motions, and when she left quietly I put her pillow on my head and finally returned back to a deep sleep. I did not remember her locking the door to the common corridor.
Rina and I were especially eager to be together since everything stood against having these rare dates. During our many years in the Lechi underground in Tel Aviv, we lived just 15 minutes walk from one another, and despite our busy schedules we sneaked in warm and powerful dates on frequent intervals. But we lived in different worlds now. Rina was busy near Raanana teaching sport to the kids of new immigrants in that “Maabarah”- Transition Camp for new immigrants. And I was in the Israeli Defense Force traveling from one side of the country to the other on my old trusted BSA motorcycle, erecting tall antennas in Air Force bases across the country.
It was glamorous to some but that job was risky, installing a 300 foot antenna could easily end in a disaster, if you did not follow all the safety rules. I insisted all the time that no short cuts would be taken. I was not very popular. My coworkers did not like my strict rules, but I did not give up. I knew how momentary mistakes in the Lechi Underground and in our kibbutz ended the life of some marvelous people who just for a brief second ignored safety. I wanted to live much longer than they did.
With my erratic locations and schedule it was hard for me to find time to meet Rina- and it was frustrating. The only thing I could do was to just sneak out a day or two out of my assignments when my officers in the IDF Unit 206 could not easily find at what base I was, and how long the jobs took.
After Rina left I continued to sleep deeply since we did not sleep much at night, and I was very tired, and did not hear a thing when someone entered the room. But bit by bit I sensed that something was wrong and I opened my eyes slowly and kept quiet. I was speechless: A lovely young lady, barely 16-18, was standing a few feet from my bed looking intensely at me. She was wearing a very dark short skirt, and loose light blouse. It was obvious that she had nothing underneath. Oops!
“What are you doing here?” I asked with surprise and frustration for invading my privacy.
Then added: “My girlfriend will find you here she will kill you and me too.”
“Don’t worry, my friend is outside guarding the entrance- she will warn us.”
“Warn us?” What do you want?”
She spoke with warmth and appeal combined: “My name is Shoshi, and I want you to take me out of this hell hole, this Maabarah.”
And she started to disrobe.
“Stop! Stop! What are you doing?”
“I will give you a good time, you will never forget it.”
“Please, Please stop it.”
“I am so good in bed; you will never experience someone like me. I know so many tricks, I will do anything!”
“What are you talking about?”
“I cannot stay here any longer, It is terrible. We have no hope, I must escape. I will be a good woman for you; you would love to take me to bed.”
I could not believe how desperate she was, she started to take her shirt further off and I saw more than I wanted to.
“STOP! STOP!” I shouted.
“Please take me out of here; I cannot stay here any longer.”
She moved closer to me and begged: “I will prove to you right now how good I am!”
“You have a lovely body, and I am sure you are marvelous in bed, better than anyone else. But I cannot take you out of here.”
She did not move at all, just pleaded with her big dark eyes at me.
“Please leave with your friend quietly; my girlfriend will kill me if she hears about that.”
“Do not worry, no one will know. Let me show you.”
I nodded my head in refusal and pointed to the door.
Then she reluctantly slowly put her clothes fully back on, combed her hair, and went slowly to the door while continuously looking at me with her pleading wet eyes. Nearly crying, she opened the door, took friend and left.
When she left I cried quietly. Her sad appeal broke my heart. I had no idea how terrible the Transition Camps. Maabarot, were for so many.
I could not stay in Rina’s place after that extraordinary experience. I wrote a note to my Rina that I forgot that I have to be at my base by noon, a 2 hours drive, for a special meeting, and will see her some other time.
And I was surprised that my motorcycle was unmolested, I was concerned that Shoshi and her friend would vent her anger at it. I left it waiting quite a distance from Rina’s room, not to attract attention to our time together, but it was noticed like a sour thumb.
I drove away slowly on my BSA, and despite the years, I never forgot that sad, painful experience.