In the summer of 1947 my mom and dad left New York on a decommissioned troop carrier, The Marine Carp, headed for a year of study at the Hebrew University. Mom said that there were two groups of passengers: young Zionists and elderly religious people. The former wanted to build the land; the latter wanted to ensure they would be buried there.
Dad said that they were advised to take cold cuts with them, because they wouldn’t spoil even without refrigeration. When they discovered the truth about that particular urban myth, they held a ceremony each evening, dumping the rotten food into the Atlantic.
My folks didn’t have much money, but they decided to invest in a movie camera. So we have footage from the voyage, dancing the hora on deck, lots of laughing faces, most of them long gone. We also have films of their travels to kibbutzim when they arrived, building the synagogue on Kvutzat Yavne, watching the harvest from fish ponds in the Galil. Mom would recall being at Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu one hot summer day in the Arava, where they would just lie on the tile floor, trying to gather a bit of coolness – rolling over to another spot when the first got too warm.
Dad was third or fourth generation born in Eretz Yisrael (depending on which side of the family you count). Mom was born in Atlanta, Georgia. They had met through Zionist youth groups – Young Judea for him, Junior Hadassah for her. I love seeing them in the old films, young, happy and idealistic.
They lived in a basement apartment with Dad’s grandfather, Rabbi Zvi Pesach Frank, in the Geulah neighborhood of Jerusalem. They both described to us the great celebration, intense joy and gritty determination that erupted when the United Nations partition vote passed. When I read Amos Oz’s description of that night (he was in the adjoining neighborhood of Kerem Avraham) it was already familiar to me.
They started at the Hebrew University, but that didn’t last long, given the unstable and dangerous situation in Jerusalem. Mom and Dad joined the Haganah. Dad has fond memories of Haganah training camp where the diet consisted of bread and halvah. Fortunately, dad loves halvah to this day.
Dad almost never became dad. He was assigned to the group that was scheduled to hike out to relieve the beleaguered Gush Etzion. To his great disappointment his commander decided that dad hadn’t had enough experience hiking with a heavy backpack. He was left behind; he would have been the 36th member of that doomed mission.
But it was mom who had the chance of heroics. At that time British patrols would conduct unannounced searches for hidden arms caches, the so-called slicks. When the Brits descended on great-grandfather’s house my parents’ steamer trunk naturally drew their attention. They rummaged through it, tossing belongings across the floor. Mom was outraged. She drew herself to her full height of 4’11” and addressed the officer: “You jolly well better clean up this mess!” He sheepishly handed his rifle to Mom and proceeded to clean up. Mom always said that she was tempted to use that gun, but wisely chose not to.
Part of mom’s outrage was that these British troops could even think that the great Rabbi Frank would conceal weapons in his home. It wasn’t until a few years ago that we learned that, in fact, there was a weapons cache –in fact there were two: one for the Haganah and one for Etzel.
Mom and Dad left before the establishment of the State that spring. Mom was pregnant and all of dad’s family told them to leave; not only was their safety in jeopardy but a heavily pregnant woman would be an additional burden on resources. Reluctantly, they left. And so Shaul Yechiam was born in Atlanta when the newborn state of Israel was just a few weeks old.