Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

Deja vu

Enemy hostilities have coincided with my own milestones for more than 80 years
The flag of Israel © Ekaterina Lin/
Lonely Planet
Israeli flag. (Shutterstock)


A young couple fled Nazi Germany, found refuge in England and survived the war. Their parents were left behind and murdered. Four years later I was born, making them my parents.


V2 rockets fired on London caused the evacuation of children from the city. My 2-year old self was sent away to an institution. That was my first experience of war.


As a young university graduate, I came to live in Israel, which I regarded as the place where Jews should live and work to build a country of their own. It also had a sunnier climate and better-looking men than the London I had grown up in. To prove my point, I found and married Yigal.


The threat of war loomed over Israel with Nasser issuing bellicose statements and promising to drive the Jews into the sea. Diplomatic efforts to prevent the outbreak of war failed and Israel was attacked on all sides, resulting in the defeat of all three Arab armies and Israel’s capture of Jordan’s West Bank. I was in the eighth month of my pregnancy but refused to return to England and remained in our home in Jerusalem’s Greek Colony neighborhood. We had no bomb shelter, but felt relatively safe in our ground-floor apartment, where we were joined by several neighbors from upstairs. We stayed put throughout the six days of the fighting in and around Jerusalem, and I felt that our situation was somewhat akin to that of London during the Blitz. When the war ended I was surprised to find that the buildings around us were still standing after all the noise made by the barrage of shells and bombing. A few days later we were able to visit the Old City of Jerusalem. That was my second experience of war. Our first child, Dana, was born two weeks later.


Our third child was born on Thursday, October 4th. I was still in hospital two days later when the siren sounded. Israel was taken by surprise, Egypt had attacked and the Yom Kippur War broke out. Yigal managed to fetch me from the hospital, and throughout the period of the war I was busy tending to new-born Eitan and our two other children, aged 6 and 3. By then we were living in a second-floor apartment in Abu Tor. From time to time we were obliged to seek shelter in the apartment of our downstairs neighbor, which meant descending three flights of stairs with the baby and two small children. After weeks of fighting and the deaths of over 2,500 soldiers, a ceasefire was declared and the war ended. That was my third experience of war.


Responding to rockets fired towards Israel by Hamas in Gaza, Israel launched a ground invasion, known as Operation Protective Edge (Tzuk Eitan in Hebrew). The objective was to stop Hamas’s attacks and destroy the tunnels they had built under Gaza in order to attack Israel. Our grandson, Gil, was in one of the front-line elite units. Together with his parents and the whole family, we went through a period of intense anxiety until he eventually emerged physically intact. That was my fourth experience of war.


The peace of a sunny Saturday morning was shattered by the sound of the siren, the signal for us to go down to our bomb shelter because rockets were being fired at Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Yigal and I are by now both over 80 years old and living just outside Jerusalem. Fortunately we can still manage to descend the staircase to the basement. The bestial attacks by Hamas terrorists from Gaza, the brutal murder of over a thousand civilians and the capture of almost 200 hostages have filled us with pain and sadness. We now await the next stage with mounting concern and the hope that our army will succeed in crushing Hamas for good and all.

And yet…

Jewish history is full of tales of woe, of attempts to kill, maim, eradicate and destroy our people. I could go back to centuries of pogroms throughout Europe and Russia or even the Romans. They all failed.

We are still here. Israel is still here. We are here to stay. Israel is here to stay. We are all survivors, and we will endure.

About the Author
I was born and brought up in England. I am a graduate of the LSE and the Hebrew University. I have lived in Israel since 1964. I am an experienced translator, editor and writer.
Related Topics
Related Posts