Shabbath Eve. April 24, 1948. Pesach night had set over the Holy Land.
It was only three days since the Palmach’s commando led Operation Nachson to break through the Arab Palestinian siege and its near starvation of the 100,000 Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem had been completed. Nonetheless the Arab Palestinians did not relent in their crippling siege. Food, medicine, and other vital supplies were desperately needed.
My father, Motke, otherwise known as the Axeman, a Palmach commando and commander, only 19 years old, who had participated in Operation Nachson was now summoned to fight on the following morning at Katamoun, the southern district of Jerusalem. Knowing that it might be both his last battle and the last Passover Seder to spend with his family my father would not let anything stop him from feeding his starving family.
With four live chickens placed in a bag and hung over his shoulder, and at great risk to his life, my father stealthily managed his way across the Jerusalem streets and sneaked pass British patrols and Arab fighters to surprise his parents, brothers and sisters, and bring the much needed food.
Seated around the table, my grandfather was conducting the Seder as my father burst in, surprising everyone. Ecstatic by his unexpected visit the family hugged and kissed him. My Father did not tell them of tomorrow’s battle, and the great possibility that it may be the last time that they might see him.
Nearly 70 years would pass since that night when I would hear the story of my Father’s great commitment to both fulfilling the three mitzvahs of Kibud Av and Am (Honoring one’s Father and Mother), Pesach and Family as told by my Uncle Avinoam. Hearing it from my Father while growing up left a great impression on me, but hearing from the perspective of my uncle only intensified its importance.
One never knows how the deeds and behavior of one’s parents effects them. Growing up under the influence of a great man, capable of amazing deeds of self sacrifice had always influenced me.
But I would not know to what extend until this Pesach, the Corona Pesach 5780, Passover 2020.
And so I write this blog as a tribute to the exemplary example my father had set for me.
On March 5, my wife, Patty Sarah Dalia, and I had returned to Israel to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary in my hometown of Zichron Yaacov. Our plan was for my wife to stay until March 16, and then return to the United States where she works, while I would return on April 5th, three days before Pesach.
But what we planned was about to be radically changed due to the Corona pandemic. The returning flight we had originally booked had been canceled since all travel via Europe had now been closed off since the virus had spread throughout the continent. The only available option was Turkish Airlines, taking off from Ben Gurion to Istanbul to the United States.
We had decided that since I had work to do in Israel, and that traveling back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean would now stop for up to four to six months, it would be best if I stayed in Israel and complete the things needed. And so each of us would separately spend Pesach with friends.
Saying our farewells at the airport I watched my precious wife walk towards the boarding gate.
Returning home to the apartment in Zichron we both knew that our decision was hard but necessary.
But within 48 hours after she landed in the United States all our plans would come to a screeching halt. Israel was now entering a lock down. The economy in the United States had come crushing down. My wife lost her job. And worst yet, the community in which we live in the United States had also gone into lockdown. But the difference between my wife’s situation and mine was that for Pesach she would be alone. At least I could join my friends across the street. Furthermore, the worldwide lockdown and the economic collapse, including the airline industry, meant the possibility that we might not see each other for another year.
There were now only two options. Either to remain in my birthplace, my homeland, the land of my dreams, the home to my family for over 137 years – the very meaning of my whole being as a Jew and as an Israeli. Or to let my precious wife be alone on Pesach, as she would need to overcome the economic hardships and the danger of the Corona, all alone. Furthermore, it was predicted that the virus would be worse in the United States than in Israel.
At the moment I knew Patty would not have the proper Pesach, which this most incredible woman so richly deserves, the choice was simple. The race was on. It was now March 19 and we had only a matter of days to book a flight, coordinate all the matters I still had to do in Israel, and to figure out a way to travel to the airport, as now the lock down had taken a more drastic measure. My flight would be on Turkish Airlines, set to fly on March 23 from Ben Gurion to Istanbul to the States.
With daily reports of the country closing off its borders the tension was high. I had called family and friends during the late hours of the night in order to arrange travel.
The day had arrived and my close friend, Avshalom, picked me up with his 8 wheeler truck ‘n trailer, and drove me to the train station at Benyamina. With my carry-on and suitcase, I barely made the train doors as my train pass would not work. Shouting out to the station officer to activate the turnstile I passed through the exit. Now aboard the train I was on my way to Ben Gurion.
Arriving at the airport the very emptiness was surreal and sad. Though I had arrived two hours before take-off, airport security had searched for my whereabouts since the flight was ready to take off, as I was the last remaining passenger to board. The jet plane was a ghost ship.
Once arriving in Istanbul the cold wind and rain only added to the gloom of the day as I entered the shuttle to the airport. At the Istanbul airport the tension increased as I now lost an hour due the time difference. I could not find my way to the connecting flight, and there was now less than an hour for take off.
Running around. Getting different information through sign gestures from various personal, I eventually made it to the passport and border security. With only a few minutes left to pray afternoon prayers I now boarded my plane.
For the next 15 hours, flying through very dangerous weather turbulence, time and again, I had arrived.
Seeing my beautiful wife and the joyous look in her eyes, I could see her anxiety had subsided.
The heroic act of loving kindness which my Father did in 1948, as a young man of 19 years old, has effected lives in the Passover Corona of 2020. His deed and influence instilled in me the same mindset that he had, namely, that for the Mitzvahs of Pesach, Family, and Love one must set aside their personal needs, and even travel over 6,000 miles across the globe, overcome physical discomfort, and monetary hardships to create a holiday of joy, happiness, and solidarity.
My Father’s Palmach’s teaching of Po Lo Maznichim Chaver – PaLMaCh – Here We Do Not Abandon A Friend, is alive and well, as now will spend Pesach – the Passover Seder – retelling, reliving, and re-experiencing the Exodus as we raise the Four Cups of Liberation, eat the Matzah and Marror of Redemption, and partake of the Afikoman of Hope, all within an atmosphere of AM YISRAEL CHAI – THE NATION OF ISRAEL LIVES.
Thank you my Father, ABBA, for your incredibly and exceptional example of what it means to be a Jewish hero.
I thank G-d for His incredible kindness, in the Merits of my Holy Parents, to let me fulfill this most special Pesach with my amazing wife!
May all of us have a meaningful, kosher and happy Pesach – Passover!