Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

Remembering the Yom Kippur war

Since October 6th, the official date according to the Gregorian Calendar of the War which broke out on the sacred day of prayer YOM KIPPUR, there have been endless  TV and radio talk shows,  both on radio and television. about that war,

It’s as if the Israeli public needed to be reminded of, the most traumatic and longest, of  all the Wars in our short history. Also because a series about that war is being screened on TV.

I cannot watch it, it evokes too many memories. For me this is not entertainment.

There will be tales of bravery and loss. Every single one of us who observes religious tradition will remember, where we were when we heard the news.

I was sitting in my synagogue in St Johns Wood, London when our Rabbi Louis Jacobs z”l one of the founders of the Masorti-Conservative Movement, gave the announcement. It was at 5pm, after a shul worshipper had gone into the street for air, where he saw a newspaper vendor with a placard saying “Israelis at war on Northern Border”. He came back into the Shul, waving the newspaper in his hand.

My family and I had returned from Israel to England when we failed to make it financially, due to unfortunate circumstances. However, my children had visited Israel every holiday to be with their friends. Without, exception every one of their friends had been called up to serve.

Our middle son  Anthony was on the first flight out.  He was due to start Hotel studies and in the event joined the course a year later, which turned out to be fortuitous as he met his future wife Jacquie there. Our eldest Peter was trying to get permission to leave his college studies on hold, so that he could go to Israel, too,

However, mostly the stories we hear are heart-rending and one story which is heartwarming should be told.

In the midst of the battles at a time when there were no mobile phones, one Israeli friend Morris K, whose two sons were serving, set up a telecommunication system so that soldiers could speak to their families. Not only did he do this, but also contacted people in Western countries and especially in the UK, in a quest to bring urgently needed items to Israel. Items, that were either in short supply or simply not available.  When my husband and I returned to London from our visit at the end of October, we immediately took on the responsibility of making contacts to raise funds. It was also our job to find people who were willing to transport to Israel invariably heavy items, which were desperately needed.  Cyril Stein and Michael Levy were prominent in these efforts and many others followed suit.

Remember, this war was not like the others which went on only for days or weeks. This the October War, dragged on deep into the winter and our army was ill-equipped and without suitable clothing and footwear.

So we found Wellington boots in Cyprus. Lip salve somewhere else. I remember a friend who was flying from London was asked to bring a film projector which had been donated, not an easy task.  Everything was flown in by El Al, but taxes were still demanded!  So, money and goods were donated from Jews around the world who were closely following the news, emanating from the War Zone.  We also started sending out of parcels of sweets and sox and other small items which could be distributed to the soldiers. Each parcel included a short note.  Sometimes we even received a letter back from a soldier who had been a recipient. One, I remember turned out to be a Doctor at Hadassah Hospital. I kept that note for years and called him when I came back to Israel.

The Women’s Organisation 35’s who were fighting for the “Release of Soviet Jewry”  in which I was involved at that time, changed our message to “Emergency 73”. We diverted our efforts into fundraising for Israel.  Hazel Alexander, helped by the mother of Doreen Gainsford, the leader of the 35’s and Sylvia Wallis (who very shortly after that War made Aliyah with her family)started a charity/used goods shop to which people brought items from home, while manufacturers donated goods. The income from these sales was used for purchasing supplies that were sorely needed.  It was a great day when Marks and Spencer sent in a lot of their slightly damaged goods for us to sell. We had obtained the use of an empty shop on a busy High Street. Within a few hours after contacting the local London news station, there was a long queue outside the shop. No one had ever done anything like this before!  I approached an Army Surplus dealer who offered to donate army underwear. However, I was mortified when they arrived as the vests were so small that I doubted they would fit our boys.

Then there was a desperate appeal from Israel, for blood. I phoned the Red Cross to ask if they would donate from their Blood bank? The answer was ‘You Jews can look after yourselves’. So we did. Sylvia Wallis a nurse by profession, on hearing that this was the response, set up blood donation centers in some synagogues. they were activated on Shabbat mornings when many worshippers attended. It was  Marks and Spencer’s who arranged to fly the desperately needed blood to Israel.

After the War some English friends set up an organisation called British Friends of Israeli War wounded.

I was asked if we as a family would invite an Israeli war widow to stay with us during her short stay in the UK.

A most beautiful girl came into our lives and through her we learned so much of the torment of the young women who lost their husbands. Her husband was working for EL AL and was in New York when the War broke out. He immediately got on a plane to return to Israel and join his fellow colleagues. On arrival, he called her. She never got to see him again because he was killed a short time later.

People as nature would have it have to rebuild their lives but it’s easy to talk about and extremely hard to do especially since in our small country everyone seems to know everyone!

I suppose this is why we have become a divided nation. Our Prime Minister has exploited a weakness in our society, the father figure, maybe?

Ludicrous as it may seem that an MIT graduate from a prestigious academic background can be seen as the Saviour. Please forgive me, for using the word in this context. The ultra-orthodox use the expression “If God wills it” after every statement or decision, the rest of us?

Many believe that we should be the masters of our own destiny?

I wish.

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.
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