Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

To Karoline Cohn of blessed memory

I just keep thinking to myself where was I in 1943, when Karoline Cohn was stripped naked, her head shaven and a pendant engraved with “Lechayim” was wrenched from her slender throat, before she was shoved into a gas chamber to suffocate and die? All because she was a Jew and born in another place that had turned into hell for millions of Jews and others too in Europe from 1941 onwards.

Was it the same day in 1943, when  I a year her junior, with a Star of David hanging on a gold chain around my throat  entered a packed hall in a London Hotel? There I encountered  hundreds of young members of the zionist movement Hashomer Hatzair, which had had its roots in Europe, dancing the Hora.

Most of the vociferous teenagers kicking legs in the air and hanging on to each others’ somewhat sweaty bodies,were German and Austrian refugees who had escaped from the Nazi nightmare. They had been fortunate enough to make the precarious crossing of the 22 miles of ocean that separated  England from the landmass of Europe.   No Channel Tunnel then.

Inside the great ballroom  crudely drawn  posters  covering the walls were boldly announcing “We will go to Eretz Israel”.

Outside in the streets,  graffitti on the walls  called out  “Jews go back to Palestine”. There was anti semitism in the UK but we were fighting the Germans not joining them.

“There, but for the grace of God go I”!

Little did we realise what a close call that was.

Only  words and they bring into focus the stark tragic times we all lived through ,ordinary people what had we done?

Like me Karolina probably had enjoyed a happy and fulfilled childhood until the war.  Kids have a way of finding the lighter side of life whatever! Unlike me, where she was born  the people had been brainwashed by the sadistic regime whose leader was determined to solve the “Jewish Problem”

There was no shortage of anti semitism in Britain, from the Royal Family down and had the tables turned I would not be writing this blog. The Mitfords and Mosley and  King Edward who fortunately was deposed, would have seen to that.

A few words over the radio yesterday morning had connected me to my history with such intensity. This at a time when we the privileged Jews of today’s world who are in Israel, are being torn apart by the question of humanity and inhumanity in connection with another people,with a claim to this “The Land”  which we fought so hard to return to.

Biblical this land maybe but we are the here and now and that is why I think we Jews and Arabs are privileged.

On Motsei Shabbat Dana Weiss of Channel Two interviewed Kathleen, daughter of the late Senator Robert  Kennedy, who is visiting Israel.

Her father had been victim of a political assassination as had his brother President J.F Kennedy,they happened to be a catholic family.

When asked how she felt as a Democrat being here at this time, her response was   “This is a wonderful country and you are blessed to be here”

We Jews cannot and must not deny our history or the role we have played in the history of others

We are not “chosen” to be better than anyone else but rather to be an example of all that is to be cherished in the human condition. We have been proven to be a people with tenacity,courage and the will to survive whatever life throws at us. Now here in this esteemed place we have to decide whom we really and what we want,its up to us.

Our fellow Jews and Israelis who have opted to live “outside” are entitled to their choice although mine was fashioned at the age of 13 in 1943 and since that moment there was no other option for me.

Difficult and even untenable circumstances forced us to leave Israel not once but twice but we returned with our family without coercion and no special concessions.

Some of our brethren are not comfortable with their Jewish background and either deny it or use it against when it suits them.

Everything that we should uphold that is honest and just regarding our own people and those who live among us is paramount and one should be cautious in condemnation or praise of a society in which you do not actually live.

That’s the way I was brought up!

Perhaps the British education I received paradoxical as it may seem gave me the values of right and wrong. I refuse to be naive about what has influenced our passion for the land. On the other hand I find it abhorrent, that having lived here most of my adult life I am confronted now with attempts to deny basic freedoms of expression and action, and ashamed of the fact that we have an appalling record in child poverty,education and social economic disparity.

After living through the rationing of World War Two  I came here to even more severe rationing. Later I lived with my family through Mitun and know what it is like to manage on a small income and immense shortages, but our kids never went to bed hungry.Somehow in the early days the priorities were right even if the politics were askew.

We need to do some soul searching and yes think too of the holocaust survivors who for years were hungry for the basic necessities of life and some still are. We have to be ashamed to see the adverts of sad faces of old and young people who are needy. Why should be be expected  to put our hands into our pockets so that the government can continue to abrogate responsibility on this issue leaving it all to the voluntary organisations to deal with and the numbers continue to rise.

Its not for me to compare the Levantine court of our leader and some of his followers, I do not think that he was ever hungry for food.

So  Karolina Cohn  if you are listening up there, I bow to your purity and your example. You and those who went with you actually gave me one  who survived, the opportunity to live in this wonderful land and celebrate Shabbat  with our beautiful families.

I wish you could have shared that. ”


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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