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Sydney Abrams
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Aliyah at 96: My mission as a new immigrant in Israel

I believe I’m ripe to play some positive role using my abilities to bring people together and to see their common interests
Illustrative: The ship 'Exodus' docks in Haifa where it's passengers – Jewish Holocaust survivor – are transferred to British ships for deportation back to Europe. July 18, 1947 (PD / The Palmach Archive via the PikiWiki)
Illustrative: The ship 'Exodus' docks in Haifa where it's passengers – Jewish Holocaust survivor – are transferred to British ships for deportation back to Europe. July 18, 1947 (PD / The Palmach Archive via the PikiWiki)

In 1947, I embarked upon the “Geulah” ship from Miami that sailed to Burgas, Bulgaria, and carried Ma’apilim (pre-state olim, or immigrants). We encountered the promised land only briefly when we were towed to the Haifa harbor where the ship’s passengers and crew were transferred to prison ships and transported to internment in Cyprus. At the time, I was a volunteer for Mossad LeAliyah Bet (the Haganah’s secret agency for clandestine immigration).

It was an arduous journey. The British prevented us from refueling, forcing us to cross the Atlantic to the port of Horta in the Portuguese Azores, where we were denied fuel only to be denied yet again in Lisbon and later in Bone, Algeria.

Once in Burgas, 1,388 Jewish souls came on board. Helping bring Jewish Holocaust survivors to the shores of Israel on our ship and hearing them sing “Hatikvah” on our deck when facing the British destroyers was an unforgettable experience of Jewish solidarity and defiance that I still remember to this day.

While I’m still stunned we all made it in one piece, I’m even more surprised that 75 years later, I not only made Aliyah myself, but was able to embrace and kiss the Ma’apilim – many of whom were only born after the war – when they held an event marking the 75 year anniversary of that intrepid voyage.

At the event, a number of women pushed their way over to me and told me I helped make it possible for them to settle and raise their families in Israel.

It was a wonderful way to be welcomed to Israel – my new home.

Even though I lived an ocean away in Seattle, most of my life has been marked by service to the Jewish state in some capacity. Even as a teenager, I remember sitting with my family and talking about the fate of Jews in Europe and I knew then in my heart that if I could help, I would.

I followed the news closely, reading American Jewish journalist I.F. Stone’s reports, and attending weekly discussion meetings in which we heard from Zionist speakers and recently arrived refugees.

I was also inspired by my father’s example who, as a recent immigrant to the US from Lithuania, volunteered to serve in the American army during World War I and was commended for acts of heroism.

Some may say that at age 96, it’s too late for new adventures and that I’ve done enough for the Jewish homeland.

However, I believe I have a mission still ahead of me.

I reached my decision to make Aliyah with Nefesh B’Nefesh this past year, 75 years after I first reported to the headquarters of HaMossad LeAliyah Bet in Haifa because I thought the timing was such that I would be most useful in Israel: I wanted to be where I could help at this stage in my life. I believe that I’m ripe to play some positive role using my abilities to bring people together and to see their common interests.

And what better time to bring people together, as current events in the country continue to drive Jews in Israel further apart?

I’ve been a Zionist all my life. As such, I’ve believed in the value of building a Jewish country that seeks to help all the people, Jews and Arabs, living in the State of Israel.

As Israel approaches its 75th year and internal division becomes an existential threat, I hope to continue my service to the Jewish state when she needs it the most.

About the Author
Sydney Abrams is a lifelong Zionist who had a storied career as a lobbyist, salesman, and marketer. He moved to Israel from Seattle.
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