Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Letter from Jerusalem, November 1947

Rabbi Mishael Zion | Text and the City |Yom haAtzmaut 2014 

On Israel Independence Day – are we celebrating the past, the present, or the future?
This year, somewhat depressed about the present, and deeply concerned about the future (but fighting – in my own way – to improve both), I’ll be turning to the past to re-contextualize the celebration. This year I spent a lot of time reading the letters my grandparents wrote from Jerusalem between 1947 and 1949, as I prepared for an ELI Talk which I gave last month - "A Tale of Two Zions". I've attached below the letter which they – Frances and Moshe Sachs (or Bud and Fran to family…) wrote to their parents in Baltimore right after the UN approved the Partition Plan on November 29, 1947.
Hag Atzmaut Sameach,


Nov. 28, 1947, Friday Afternoon:
Fran and Moshe Sachs
outside their home in Jerusalem, 1947
Six of us piled into the Egged Bus to Kfar Etzion, an Orthodox Kibbutz 45 minutes ride south of Jerusalem. We were guests of the only American couple. This Kibbutz is proof of the 

amazing possibilities of the barren and rocky hills of Judea…
Shabbat at Kfar Etzion. Cholent for dinner. Exploration of the Kfar. Hike to kibbutz Ein Tzurim about a mile away. Ein Tzurim, only year old. All Palestinian, also Orthodox, all about 18-21 years old, and unmarried! Hopeful of successfully growing feed for cattle, then can have a dairy farm close to the profitable Jerusalem market. Spirit of enthusiasm far more evident than at older Kfar Etzion. Past ruins of old Roman home, over battle grounds of Maccabees back to Kfar Etzion.
Thrilling singing at "Shalosh Sheudos" (סעודה שלישית). Bridge after havdalah with our hosts. Early to bed.

Then suddenly, at 1:00 AM, [a knock on our door] "Americans - get up. We have a Jewish state" - in Hebrew! אמריקאים קומו, יש לנו מדינה!
Such excitement. The dining hall was cleared of tables. Barrels of wine in the center of a tremendous, wild Hora. Except for VJ [=Victory over Japan, my grandfather served as a chaplain in the Japanese Front during WWII] day never have I known such thrill. My feet trembled as I stumbled in breath-taking dances. Such an Hatikvah! Somebody shouted "Judgment for Bevin" ( משפט לבווין ) - a huge bonfire was casting its light for miles around. It was said that a hastily made effigy of Bevin was burned. The rest of the case of oil was cast on the fire.
One group leaped on a truck - and took off to Masuot Yitzchak - the colony in the neighborhood. One haver rode horse back to Ein Tzurim to awaken our neighboring kibbutz.The huge spotlight on the watch tower waved warning over the mountains and greetings to all the Yishuv.
With unrestrained joy the four isolated kibbutzim, in what was scheduled to be the heart of the Arab State area, greeted the pronouncement of the U.N.!
[Note: I remember vividly my observation of soldiers training in the fields outside the kibbutz on the Shabbat morning before the decision of the United Nations. At that time I had wondered why the members of an Orthodox Kibbutz would want totrain on Shabbat. How simple minded I was. MBS]

JERUSALEM, Sunday Nov. 30
Tel Aviv, November 30, 1947
Sunday morning we squeezed into early bus to Jerusalem. Streets were crowded with merrymakers, who had been up all night. Everyone in town who had strength to come downtown was there, milling about, extending mazal tov and חג שמח to friend and stranger alike. The night before the populace had decorated the British tanks with blue & white flags – British "Tommies" and police still friendly in morning. Trucks pushed thru the crowded streets - loaded with the children of the city - every stop more and more kids piled on to the overcrowded vehicles. Flags, songs just plain excitement poured from the happy kids. The railroad - style chant  "Medinah Ivrit - Aliyah Hofshit!" Hebrew State / Free Immigration!
was the refrain of the day. The national song was – “David Melekh Yisrael Hai v’Kayam…”
A Yemenite on his donkey was decorated as the messiah. Dances in the streets! We paraded to the Jewish Agency building and back - meeting everyone we knew & marveling at the number of our friendships for such a short period. JNF boxes were manned in all the streets.
Blue & white from houses, buildings, stores [and] trucks. Even a cake in the bakery window with the legend: In Honor of the Hebrew State.
Thus Jerusalem, [scheduled to be] in the International Zone, celebrated the great news.

Can you imagine not being in Tel Aviv with such excitement afoot? We took the Egged bus to Tel Aviv at about 1: 15 in the afternoon. Tel Aviv was relatively quiet when we arrived. The exhausted crowds were resting up for the second night of reveling. But the evening was different. Allenby St. was as crowded as Times Square on New Year's Eve. Flares were being tossed by the celebrating throngs. The same crowded trucks! The public "horas". The full cafes. But the spirit of intense overpowering enthusiasm had begun to wane. People in the Jewish State were beginning to accommodate to the news that all their struggle had not been in vain.
The "war" of posters on all the store windows and walls had begun. The Stern group proclaimed joyously their part in the success, pledged support to a Jewish state in all Palestine, but what that means only time would tell. Haganah called for discipline and willingness to sacrifice. Hashomer Hatzair... Hapoel Hamizrahi... all the organizations but the Irgun had posters everywhere. It is rumored that the Irgun will disband - but no one knows...

We can't help but think in our joy, of the happiness of Dov [Miller/Mills] and his chaverim in Germany, of Shim Kaufman & the refugees on Cyprus... [from the Exdous boat].
Love, Bud & Fran

Date: December 1, 1947
Re: Parents, in Baltimore, Getting a Bit Nervous

Dear Bud,
I can imagine your thrill on hearing the news of the UN passing on Partition.
We here are thrilled with the news, - and  hope and pray, there will not be any serious violence. This in today's news, seven have already perished and a number of innocent people injured. Bud and Frances, I hope you will both stay off the streets as much as possible and be as careful as is physically possible. May God be with you and [all] the innocent people. No! We are not alarmed because life wherever one is, has its dangerous moments. – But during these trying days we want you to be especially cautious.
Love, Mother and Dad [Sachs]
**The full letters were compiled and edited by my grandfather, Rabbi Moshe Sachs, in 2006, with the assistance of Elisha Mallard. If you’d like a copy of the full PDF, send me an email…