Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

Holocaust survivor remembers why she came to Israel!

I go regularly to Tiberias to visit my long time friend, Lucy.  She moved there when I came to live in Tel Aviv. She felt that she had no friends left in Netanya where we had both lived and decided to relocate nearer to her daughter who lives in a serene village overlooking the Kinneret.

In this almost surreal place, while she sleeps and reads I sit on her balcony, captive to the exquisite expanse of the Sea of Galilee.  I contemplate the future of this historic town. As I am there often I know it well. Lucy rarely ventures out and when she does,  accompanied by her delightful carer who comes from India,  it is to visit a  doctor.

I  go for long walks in her neighborhood.  Her apartment block is close to the Great Synagogue and a yeshiva where hundreds of young men study, literally perched at the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea.

After each visit, I am more appalled at the deterioration of this town, which should be the “jewel in Israel’s crown”.

Derelict buildings including hotels on Achad Haam Street once the tourists’ delight, where she lives. One would imagine real estate developers would be vying for contracts. Hardly any tourists. Detritus is evident all around. Plastic bottles nestle under the bushes with discarded pamphlets that are distributed at every festival or against the enlistment of ultra-orthodox to the army, and those of the ubiquitous advertising food outlets.

What hurts is, that the sheer beauty which nature has provided, is neither nurtured or protected instead is abused or ignored.

Lucy is 90-years-old, born in Vienna a survivor of the Holocaust, who finally arrived in Israel from Cyprus in 1948.

From the age of 12, she experienced all the horrors of World War Two.  From the Ghetto to Theresienstadt, Auschwitz and more.

She was recently the “star” in the expose by TV presenter Micky Haimovitch on the injustices within the welfare system and the inept approach of Bituach Leumi to the needs of the elderly and infirm. Although having arrived here with her number tattooed on her now frail arm,  she was not recognised as being a Holocaust survivor by the authorities. She had somehow slipped through the cracks.This came to the fore only after she had been hospitalised and needed home care!

One cannot ever pity Lucy a talented, vital erudite lady. One can only admire her.

WE have been friends for more than 50 years, from when I arrived with my husband and sons at Moshav Habonim and she and her husband Charlie “adopted” us.

I who had been a child of the “blitz” in London immediately compared my former life to hers.  I had been sent out of London with thousands of other kids with gas masks hanging around our necks. I lived out much of the war with kindly gentiles. My education was interrupted but I felt safe. I had not endured the suffering and deprivation of mere basic necessities as she had. I had experienced anti-Semitism even then, but not baseless cruelty and dehumanisation. I had fun when she was living in hell.

I had spent nights in shelters while the Luftwaffe bombs rained down, but we were free people who trusted our leaders and our soldiers.

The only way I could try to compensate was by sharing everything I had with her and asking my wealthy aunt in London, who was petite as was Lucy, to send clothes and other luxuries which were scarce during those days of the Mitun- recession.

We became as one family our boys and her daughters and son.

We have remained such over the years.

So apart from our personal relationship and difficulties which include each of us losing a grown son and both caring for sick husbands, we have much to talk about when we spend the brief time together in her comfortable and gracious home.

These days, we talk about the demise of Israel, as we knew it.

We remember the hope that prevailed in the early years. She is appalled at those Israeli families seeking foreign passports with gusto. Wanting a bolt hole a place to run to, another way of life?  To be a people in our own land was all that our generation who came here ever wanted. Today, with all the uncertainty in our region, for us there is no other place.

Yet she is reminded that laws of restrictions and rights which are being enforced today in Israel, not only on another people sharing our land, are not rescindable and that the rise of violence in our society is a result of fear and indoctrination.

She has stopped watching our news broadcasts.She is sickened at the appalling antics both physical and rhetorical of some of our elected representatives.  They remind her of another era when hatred and aggression were evident even when there was no TV. She prefers to watch the German channels and their quiz shows which take her mind off our local problems.

I can say that my friend is possibly the most alert and cultured person I know. She carries no hatred despite the fact that her formal education ceased on Kristallnacht. Needless to say, the pain within often returns to torment her.

So in trepidation, we contemplate the future of which neither of us will play a  part. We wonder what was it all for?  If so much happened “in God’s name” why are extremists using God’s name to vilify and persecute others. Why can we not see this miracle in our time is to be nurtured,  treasured and shared, for that is our strength.

We are privileged to live here on this tiny land and must realise that we and only we, can determine its future and our survival.

The way that Lucy and I see it is we are negating the “Zionist” dream and God’s will. We are insisting that we “control” the land’ so precious to all of us who would stay here,  instead of sharing it with respect and justice, with those who were already here………… when most of the people like us arrived.

Shabbat Shalom.

About the Author
Zelda Harris first came to Israel 1949, aged 18. After living through the hardships of the nascent state, she returned to England in 1966. She was a founding member of the Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry. In 1978, she returned with her family to Israel and has been active in various spheres of Israeli Society since. Together with the late Chaim Herzog, she founded CCC for Electoral Reform, was the Director of BIPAC in Israel, and a co-founder of Metuna, the Organisation for Road Safety, which received the Speaker of Knesset Quality of Life Award for saving lives on the roads and prevention of serious injury. She is now a peace activist, blogger for Times of Israel and is writing her life story.