Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Memories of Israel from my father

A few weeks ago Israel celebrated her 68th anniversary. I'd like to share with you some memories from my dad, Sam Alexander, z"l, who was an American volunteer for Machal, an acronym for Overseas Volunteers.

So here is an up close and personal memoir from Dad, who died 13 years ago.

As part of Machal history I would like to add a few (details) which will fill in the story.

I grew up in a religious Zionist home. My parents had been active in Mizrahi and I was active in Hashomer Hadati. Moshe Perlstein who was one of the Lamed He (the group of  Hebrew University Volunteers who were slaughtered by the Arabs when these 35 were bringing aid to Gush Etzion), was my dear friend in the Shomer as well as Carmie Charney (Tet Carmi) who became one of Israel's outstanding poets, and Miriam Hessel who just died were all part of our Shomer Hadati Chapter in Boro Park.

In order  to facilitate Aliyah it was arranged for me to go with L & L, the office in America that recruited for what became Machal. If I remember correctly, I was part of a group of 26 men which included __________. Toward the end of March, along with 2 Hagana shlechim we went to Camp Moshava in  NY for an orientation that went on the Marine Carp. When we landed in Haifa we were housed in the Carmeli Court H. on the Hadar Ha. While there we went through an orientation, a physical, and a swearing in. One of the highlights of this week was a social evening at the apartment of Abba Chushi, who at that time was one of the top men of the Histadrut and the Hagana commander of the whole northern region. We met a number of men at this gathering. I was one of the fortunate few who were pretty fluent in Hebrew. My intensive background in Hebrew (I was able to read at age 5) stood me in good stead as early as my being stationed in Iran and Egypt in the US Army at the end of 1945 until April 1946. While in Egypt in Jan, 1946 I took advantage of an opportunity to begin learning conversational Arabic. I met a number of Jews who were serving in the British and South African Armies including Abba Eban and Chaim Herzog. While in Egypt I met a few Hagana shlechim who were engaged in smuggling.

During the evening the telephone rang. Abba Chushi answered it. The voice at the other end gave him a report of the situation in Northern Galilee. It seemed that the British were supposed to turn over some installations to Hagana but instead reneged giving them to the Arabs. When Chushi hung up the phone he was quite upset. He picked up the phone and called someone asking to speak on an untapped phone to the “old man” (since I was pretty fluent in Hebrew I had no trouble understanding). When the other end answered Chushi said, “Gut Shabbas Zaken” and the conversation was continued in Yiddish. The city of Tiberias was called the “warm city” because it has warm springs and Safed was called the “city of the Zohar,” because it was the home of Jewish mysticism. I sat there enthralled listening to a part of current history. After the conversation with Ben Gurion nothing about it was said and I felt privileged to have been able to listen to such a classified conversation.
When the group left Haifa we headed down to Tel Aviv in an armored bus. We were shot at a few times but the bullets didn't penetrate. We arrived at a reception center. While there we received our uniforms which were British surplus and our I.D. Which was two printed booklets with our picture and our own I.D. number.

Since I was going to Kibbutz Ein Hanitziv in the Bet Shean Valley, I was taken to a hotel in Tel Aviv. That night I was taken to a going away party at the Habima where I was dancing with Golda Myerson (not Meir yet) and all the celebrities in entertainment and politics. A few weeks later I got a letter telling me that when Habima was in New York, my parents were invited to their opening play and reception and they told my parents that they were honored to meet the parents of a volunteer.

When I got to Ein Hanitziv I joined my garin. A few days later I was taken to the unit in which I would serve as a combat medic. In the US Army I was trained as a medic and graduated Surgical Technical  school. The unit was B  Company, 13 Battalion, Golani Brigade. We were known as the Gdad Ha'amakin, the Battalion of the Valleys, because the Battalion was founded by and included men from all the settlements in Emek Jezreel and Emek Bet Shean. At this early stage before the founding of the State, almost all of the men slept in their own settlements because there were incidents of intimidation and shooting by Arabs. When the State was created, soldiers from Haifa and other towns and villages joined us and camps were established. At this point the only American volunteer I knew was Phil Bock who was active in A.V.I. He died a few years ago. When my unit took over Nazareth, I met Dr. Harold Levine D.D.S. Brooklyn who was running a mobile unit following the troops. I don't know where he was stationed but months later I visited his apartment in Tel Aviv which he shared with his brother Phil who was also in the Army. At some point at Ein Hanitziv Si Spiegelman came and saw military service. If I remember correctly, we were guarding a hill south of Tirat Zvi which was the border for us and the Jordanians.

I was detached from Golani some time in October when my garin went down to Kibbutz Yavne which was south of Rehovoth. We joined survivors from Kibbutz Kfar Darom and a number of South Africans. I was assigned to the second volunteer battalion which was made up of men from kibbutzim in the South West. We were used primarily as reinforcements to units facing the Egyptians. I came across Machal when I met Lionel Drucker from Canada and Rabbi Sam Burstein from New York who flew reconnaissance out of Beer Sheva. He even gave me a quick ride.

In actuality I met very few Machal while performing in a unit or a combat zone. There were a couple more volunteers whose names I don't remember. One had a leg blown off when his jeep went over a land mine. Jerry Kaplan and Mendel Math (?) who were killed in the Battle for Latrun early in the war were part of the group I went over with on the Marine Corp.
I want to recall one historic occasion. In November 1948 on the anniversary of the UN resolution of Nov. 2, 1947, I attended a concert in Jerusalem conducted by Leonard Bernstein. I had no seat so I sat on the floor behind the podium. I yelled “Yea Lenny.” He turned around and told me to meet him after the concert for a cup of coffee. I'm sorry to this day that I didn't meet with him because I was joining friends. Look what I missed.

(Written by Samuel Alexander in 2003)