Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Jerusalem - seen through the veil of time.

When did I first encounter Jerusalem?

It was a longing of mine of old to see, what had been but a dream since my childhood-days. Biblical stories that I had heard as a child in Germany seemed in those days to me like fairy tales.

In July 1945 when I arrived in Erez Israel to join a Kibbutz in Emek Jesrael I was already pregnant. At the end of nine months of breastfeeding my daughter, I was given a 9 days leave.
This gave me an opportunity to do and see what I had dreamed off.
Autumn 1946 and off I went by bus which drove along the ancient Kings Road via Affula, Meggido, Je’nin and Nablus to Jerusalem.
A cousin of my father, the Nathan family and her old father Adolf Brotzen, the brother of my grandmother, lived in Ben Jehuda Street. They kindly put me up on a couch in their living room.
Their charming son, then still in school, took me to see many of the sites in the old city, some Churches, the spice market, the sheep market and other sections of the markets, each with its distinct smell.
In the narrow lane (that is how it was in those days) I stood in awe looking skywards up the Wailing Wall.
All of these places are unforgettable sights for me.
The next day I went up to Mount Scopus and walked into the magnificent building of the Hadassah Hospital. It seemed like palace to me, all glittering and shining.
When I approached the matron and mentioned to her that I was a new immigrant, she called on a young nurse and told her to show me every thing I wanted to see and hear about.
Such treatment, I felt like a queen. She also directed me to the amphitheater of the university with the magnificent view over the Judean dessert, the Dead Sea and mountains of Moav beyond.
The next day I traveled by bus to Kalia at the Dead Sea.

The house in Ben Jehuda Street, that my relatives had lived in and Dr. Nathan had his dental clinic, was badly damaged when a bomb blew it up in 1947. They, and others like them, were put up in temporary quarters in the Bezalel building.
This charming schoolboy, who had introduced me to Jerusalem, fought in the War of Independence and fell in 1948 in the defense of Gush Ezion, a settlement near Jerusalem.
His sister married a police officer and moved to Herzlia. The parents whom I visited in 1950 were heartbroken and died soon afterwards.

In April 1948 the Old City of Jerusalem, after a long struggle, fell into the hands of the Jordanian Army. Jerusalem was divided into East and West with a strip of no-mans-land in-between. Dividing concrete walls were build to guard against snipers.

My next encounter with Jerusalem was as a Tourist guide from 1960 on wards.
The Tourists arrived in Israel via the border crossing at the Mandelbaum Gate from the Kingdom of Jordan , where they had visited many of the holy sites and it was up to me to show them around the Western part of Jerusalem.
Mount Zion, the Dormition Church and the Room of the last Supper. Climbing up the to the roof of King David’s Tomb, I used to point out what ever sites in the old city were visible.
From Abu Tor I looked towards the Old City while I stood facing the Jordanian Guard.
Another vantage point was the roof of Notre Dame. The front of the building faced the Wall of the Old City and the New Gate, which was in Jordan while the back entrance was from the Israeli side. The Street below, thrown with barbed wire was “No-Man’s-Land”.
Climbing unto the roof, a vast panoramic view spread out in front of my eyes.
A long, pasted together yellow strip of nondescript paper cardboard was sold to help identify all the lovely places one could see and yearned to touch, longed to walk in the lanes and discover long forgotten history.

My guiding experience and encounter with Jerusalem changed drastically with the Six Day War in 1967, as result of which the dividing line between East and West became invisible on the surface.
On the way to Mount Scopus one could drive back and forth and cross again and again what had been for so long the borderline. I could walk along streets in East and West, that had been closed and walled up for the last 20 years.
Within two weeks of the end of the fighting a small group of Tourist Guides, I among them, was shown all the places that I had been pointing out from the distance. We were very fortunate to be guided by Prof. Seew Vilnai, the author of the then prevailing and excellent Guidebook. He had been a commander in the Old City during the War of Independence in 1947-49 and knew the place inside out.
Tens of thousands, if not millions, of tourist streamed into Israel and I was guiding group after group through the narrow lanes sharing with them the excitement of being able to visit the many Holy Sites without having to cross borders.

1968 my daughter got married to the son of one of the founding members of Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, on the southern border of Jerusalem. Six grandchildren are the result of it, one of whom fell in 2002 while fighting in Je'nin. He is buried in Ramat Rachel where he was born.

It was early on a Saturday morning that I stood in Ramat Rachel, watching the sunrise from afar over the mountains of Moav waiting for the Rabbi, being a very religious man, who walked right across Jerusalem to perform the circumcision of my second grandson. I suddenly realized that my grandson is born a free person, born of parents who were born as free people in this country.
Somewhere in one of my bottom drawers, there is something I wrote then and there. It was a very moving moment for me. It gave me the feeling, as if my generation had been put to sleep and on the sudden awakening realized the next generation had accomplished what we had not been able to achieve. Jerusalem was no longer devided.
My son got married in 1980 and settled in Jerusalem, soon there were three more grandsons. That was as good an excuse as any for me to make frequent visits aside from my guiding.

In the meanwhile much water has flown under the bridges.

For 40 years we lived in Haifa where my husband had found work.
1995 I was widowed after having nursed my husband through his illnessd , and looking after him in hospital, during treatment and at home.
Suddenly there I was, all alone. My son Danny encouraged me to move to Jerusalem, so that if necessary he could look after me.
All my grandchildren are grown up by now and soon number nine of my great-grandchildren will be born.

The thirteen years that I live in Jerusalem are a very unique and special period in my life. Having found a centraly located very convenient, high ceiling ground floor flat near to where my son lives, it was in need of a very extensive renovation. As the architect did not seem to understand my special needs, as an alone living old woman, I sacked him, designed what I wanted and supervised the workmen, which obviously was not seen in a positive light. How can a woman know, how things should be done. The end result is a pleasant sunny place, people walking in, saying “Whaww” how nice, inviting, and comfortable. My own paintings adorn the walls in my home.
Living and functioning in Jerusalem I would not want to have missed.
Jerusalem has become the focal point for all my family get together, including my son Miki and his family who live in Karkur near Chedera.
My son Danny drops in frequently and is a great support for me. The grandchildren come as often as their time allows them and my great-grandchildren when their parents bring them along.
As a family clan we meet several times a year on sad and happy occasions, either in Ramat Rachel at my daughter Manja’s place, or at my sons or my place, or up in the mountains as a surprise party for Shirel, my eldest great-granddaughter, at her coming of age, all of 12 years old.
My activities in Jerusalem center around several aspects. I participate and am active in several different Interfaith Encounter groups as well as in Inter-Cultural meetings, give lectures, interviews, write articles, poems and given workshops at national and international conferences.
Meeting the “Other”, what ever group, religion or nationality he may be, is of utter importance to me.
Five years ago I started and have since accompanied an old age cultural club of the Irgun Mercas Europa.
The present project that I have initiated and am involved in, is inter-generational encounters between an ever growing group of old people living on their own and seeing to it that they get invited and involved with pupils in the local schools.
That is a story in itself and I will try to tell it some other time.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The young people want to know.

From Yom Hashoa to Yom Haazmut 2008

Spring time for the last 20 years, always brings a great number of speaking engagements for me with it, but this year topped it all.
Within the short span of two weeks I spoke to 12 different groups and in addition to participating at four memorial services.
It started on Sunday April 27. 2008, a week before Yom Hashoa. An educational officer had heard me speak in Yad Vashem to a group of "Birthright", was very impressed and invited me to her unit, to speak to officers and soldiers in Tel Aviv in the “Kirya”, our military headquarters. To flesh out the story I use my power point projection, which helps my listeners to follow in my footsteps as I talk about “A Jewish Family” my family.
Monday I was invited to the grant opening of the new exhibition “This is my Home” in Yad Vashem. It shows the contribution of Shoa Survivors to the building up of the State of Israel.
It certainly is an exhibition well worse while to visit.
Tuesday lunchtime I spoke to students of the Jeshiva in the Fuchsberg center for Conservative Judaism and in the evening to some 30 youngsters of their youth movement “Noam” in East Talpiot.
Wednesday morning the Evelyn de Rothshild school for religious girls in Rechavia near my home, invited me, as they had done a couple of years ago, to speak to some 200 pupils aged 14-15.
In the afternoon the “Lindenbaum Michlala”, a study center for religious girls from America invited me to talk the present group. They have been in contact with me ever since the group in 2002 joined the crowd at the funeral of my grandson who fell in the fighting in Je’nin on Yom Hashoa.
On the eve of Yom Hashoa I joined the annual ceremony in Yad Vashem. Thousands of people braved the bitter cold, but would not miss to listen to the torch lighters telling their tale.
Early next morning on Yom Hashoa I was taken together with half a dozen other speakers to the Jerusalem Forest, where Bne-Brith and the Jewish National Fund (KKL) had invited several hundred pupils and soldiers for their annual Yom Hashoa ceremony. This year the theme was JRJ Jews Rescue Jews during the Shoa, something which is always part of my story.
As soon as I got there even before the ceremony started I spoke to a group of recruits from the border police. I asked for the loan of one of the soldiers to accompany me up and down on the hilly territory.
There was a class of deaf pupils, with a sign language interpreter, who lost patience during the long speeches. I took them aside and with the help of print outs of my regular projection and the sign language, they were delighted to understand the story and thereby feel part of it all.
After the speeches were over I talked to a group of girls aged 14-15 from a religious school in Ashdod who did not want to miss the opportunity.
After a short break at home I was of to Yad Vashem, where a group of over a hundred Military Police soldiers were waiting to listen to me.
In the evening I participated at a short creative writing workshop in “Amcha”, the result of which you have just read.
Sunday of the following week it was a large group of “Birthright “ I spoke to in Yad Vashem.
Monday a school for religious girls aged 11-13 invited me to kick of the week of celebration "60 Years the State of Israel".
I prepared a special power point presentation “60 Years ago”, that tells the tale from the Balfour declaration, Zionist Youth Movement, Hachshara, Aliya, Athlit Detention Camp, Kibbutz, setting up a new Kibbutz “Choma Umigdal” (Watchtower and Fence), UN Partition Plan, War of Independence, Declaration of the State of Israel, mass immigration,
Maaberot (Tent Cities), “Zena”(Austerity) and building up of the country.
Although the girls were very young they listened carefully and asked relevant questions.
In the evening a group of German pilgrims waited for me in a Hotel in the old city. They had previously visited Palestinian cities in the West Bank and were pretty amazed to hear my story. It all was new to them.

Tuesday evening my son took me to Ramat Rachel to participate at the memorial service on the eve of Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers from the War of Independence, as well as my grandson who fell in 2002 fighting in Je’nin.

Wednesday was the highlight of my recent activities.

For a couple of month Or and Shachar, two pupils from the school of “Science and Art” had visited me once a week collecting information of what it was like 60 years ago. They listened to my stories, searched in the inter-net and scanned photos. With that and the addition of a petrol stove, petrol lamp and Wonder Pot that I lend them, they put up a very impressive exhibition.
Wednesday early in the morning I arrived at the school, was received and made welcome by Or and Shachar. For the celebration of the Day of Independence their school had invited me to talk to some 200 of their pupils from the upper classes with my special prepared power point presentation. I had a very captive audience.
Thurday was Independence Day.
Two weeks packed full with advantures.
I have now returned to my normal schedule.