Monday, July 14, 2014

Early Zionism

It Does NOT Begin in World War II

Today, Monday, we travelled north of Tel Aviv along the Mediterranean coast. The landscape now is green and lush, and the land is populated with millions of Israelis here in the center of the country. Passing Netanya we started our day in Caesaria.

 Herod's Ampitheater is rebuilt for modern use:

One end of the chariot race track.

Many, many statues have been found in this once opulent city.

Here we recall Rabbi Akiva and the prayer for the Martyrs in our Yom Kippur service. This was the capitol of Roman power in the area, displayed and enjoyed by King Herod, who also expanded and built the structures around the second temple in Jerusalem.  Here the Rabbis of the mishnah ruled that one can pray the shema in Greek, if that is the language of your understanding - and Hebrew even if it is not. Here the Jewish revolt against Rome began, with the Romans' crushing Jewish independance as a result up in Jerusalem and beyond in Massada. We learned the lesson that the Jews of Caesaria were also willing to die for their freedom and religion, even though they may have been those who lived in the Roman style city and had to pray in Greek because they did not know Hebrew. Our people has always been made of different kinds of Jews and in our travels we have come to know many of them.

The first Aliyah to Israel: Zikhron Ya'akov:

Next we traveled to the lovely town of Zikhron Ya'akov. Here we went to the Museum of the First Aliyah.  Did you know that there were already more than 2 dozen Jewish towns in Israel before 1900? The first modern Zionists came from the Ukraine, Russia and Hungary in the 1880's.  They bought land and built towns, learning to farm the land with great difficulty. A plague of Malaria killed dozens of their children, still to be found in the cemetery here. The museum shows in detail, with a mix of movie and standing presentations, the personal stories of the first families of Zikhron Ya'akov.


This is a quieter town, slightly off the busy highways of the coastal plain, but it houses the REAL history of Zionism.  Israel received an enormous influx of Jewish population after WWII, but they came to an ALREADY EXISTING Jewish settlement. Towns, farms, kibbutzim and city neighborhoods up and down the country were already thriving Jewish settlements before WWII broke out. Emmense tracks of land had been purchased by the Keren Kayemet, Rothschild and others. Legal and peaceful immigration had continued for decades since the founding of Zikhron Ya'akov and the other first towns. 

But the British changed that as WWII progressed, and beginning in 1939 they began detaining Jews who tried to enter Israel, and limited immigration to 1,000 a month - virtually nothing when you think of the millions living in Europe who were about to be murdered by the Nazis.

Atlit - The British Detention Center for "illegal" immigrants.

Many of our group were stunned to learn that the British built detention camps in Israel, with guard towers, barbed wire, and barracks that separated families, men from the women and children. We learned of the difficulties that Jews who tried to come by ship faced: overcrowding and sickness... only to be captured by the British, towed to port in Haifa and bussed or moved in cattle cars by train to the camp awaiting processing or expulsion.

A ship like the ones they came in, restored as an educational living museum inside:

This barracks had 20 beds. By 1946 there would be over 70.  Tin roofs, no insulation, and locked in at night, summers were sweltering and winters frigid in the bunks.

The British were not cruel, and did not wish to harm the Jews, but as the population in the camp shifted from pre-war settlers to post-Holocaust refugees, they remained insensitive to the idea that putting Jews behind barbed wire in camps may not have been a humane act. Once more we see the sacrifice and commitment of those who would come to make Israel their home.

Modern Sacrifice: The Carmel Forest Fires Memorial.

We finished our trip up north with a quick run up the Carmel Mountains on hairpin turns and a single lane bridge.  Here we saw the destruction on the hillsides of the Carmel Forest fire, and recalled the 44 persons who were killed in it, most in a bus trapped by the raging wind-blown flames. At the top of the hill, a beautiful modern memorial is dedicated in their memory.


... And with one last view from the heights of the Carmel down to the Mediterranean in the distance, we returned to our hotel for a closing dinner.

At the dinner we reflected on our highlight moments. We asked, "What will come of this trip?" and we noted that many things had changed in us.  What do we know now that we did not know then? 

The group has grown close, and it is barely descriptive to say that we have made friends with members of the congregation that we may have never spoke with otherwise in the next 40 years. This is the magic of congregational trips: Rabbi as teacher, and members as friends. Each took care of the other as we navigated the often challenging steps and paths of our journey, and all came out enlivened and touched by our common experience.

Tomorrow we will finish our tour, by returning to the place where Israel was declared a state, by visiting Rabin square, and with a visit to Palmach museum.  More on that... later.

Rabbi Robert Tobin

As we were returning to Tel Aviv there was an air raid warning siren in the city.  We were still 40 minutes to the north, and not in the line of fire. Two missiles were successfully shot down by the Iron Dome defense system, and no one was harmed.  In the south there have been some injuries of late - one a serious injury of a man in a car, and yesterday two children lightly injured by shrapnel. All remained quiet in Tel Aviv for the remainder of the day and night.

No comments:

Post a Comment