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Yom Kippur War through the eyes of an Irish volunteer

I had to figure out how to fix the machines needed to make sleeping bags for the soldiers; the engineers had all been called up
IDF soldiers catching a few minutes of sleep during a stop-over in Sinai, during the Yom Kippur War. (Government Press Office Photo Archive)
IDF soldiers catching a few minutes of sleep during a stop-over in Sinai, during the Yom Kippur War. (Government Press Office Photo Archive)

In the late morning of October 6, 1973, I arrived at Greenville Hall shul in Dublin to attend Yom Kippur services with family members. I was 21. Somehow the mood was more somber than I had experienced in previous years. As I sat down next to my uncle George, he told me that war had broken out in Israel.

Within two weeks, I boarded an El Al flight from London Heathrow to Tel Aviv. As a volunteer, I wanted to help my brothers and sisters, as they were looking down the barrel of a gun in those early days.

Flights into Tel Aviv were restricted, and I found myself camped in a Heathrow lounge for 20 hours with a planeload of Israelis desperate to get back home. I befriended a businessman who had been in the United States when war broke out. His name was Avi and he was a tank regiment commander in the reserves. We sat together on the flight and as we approached the coastline of Israel, two Israeli fighter jets escorted us in. A line of army jeeps was on the runway as we landed in pitch darkness. Avi said goodbye to me and jumped into a jeep in his business suit. I never saw him again.

I made my way to my old kibbutz, Maanit, where I had spent several summers previously picking apples and bananas. All the men had been called up to the front and there were just women, children and men too old to serve. I was given the job of collecting the garbage on a tractor and trailer each day.

After a week, I phoned a company in Ashkelon I had worked for some years earlier to say hello to old friends. The firm manufactured sleeping bags for the army and export markets. The CEO of Noam Ltd., Moshe Wardinon, asked me what I was doing in Israel during a war. He insisted I immediately come to the factory and help. All the engineers were at the front and the machinery had stopped working because no one knew how to maintain them. The soldiers in the Hermon and Sinai were freezing, it was vital that production get underway again.

The following day, I made my way to the head office in Tel Aviv and Moshe drove me down to the Ashkelon factory. He gave me a set of user manuals for the quilting machines, which stood idle, and asked me to attempt to fix them. There were 50 women sitting at their sewing machines and no output was coming off the large, automated quilting machines nearby for them to complete the process. I had no idea how I was going to bring the machinery back to life, but I spent half a day reading the manuals and then attempted to work on the first machine. By the end of day one, I had it operating. It took the rest of the week to get the other machines up and running. We were producing hundreds of sleeping bags a day for our boys at the front.

Every day at lunchtime, I would walk up to the Ashkelon highway to the gas station which had a café and I would eat lunch there. It was always full of soldiers either on their way to Sinai or on their way back. The large transporters filling up had tanks to deliver and, on the way back, there were SAM missiles on board.

One aspect of my daily life was listening to the 8 p.m. Mabat TV news presented by General Chaim Herzog. My Hebrew was not fluent enough to understand everything he said, except he spoke with a thick Dublin accent, and it helped me enormously during one of the most terrifying times I had ever experienced at the age of 21 in October 1973.

Moshe booked me into a hotel in Ashkelon. I was the only guest at the hotel. (Although I may not have been the only foreigner: at that time, it was rumored that a fellow resident in Ashkelon was a well-known international character: Meyer Lansky.)

By mid-December, it was time for me to return to Ireland. The factory had been told the engineers were to be released from active duty and returned to their day jobs. In early January 1974, I had a call from the Israeli embassy in London requesting that I return to the factory as the planned release of the engineers had not occurred. So, I got on a flight and spent another six weeks at the factory maintaining the machinery.

About the Author
Ernest Shapero is a retired CPA and risk management consultant to financial institutions. At the time of the Yom Kippur War, he was 21 years old.
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