Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Walter's Israel journal (Part 1): At Kibbutz Afeq

Here is Walter's report after his recent visit with family members at Kibbutz Afeq, which took place during the war with Hezbollah when bombs were falling in the north of Israel. I've broken his article into several pieces for readability. For more of Walter's observations from Israel and Ukraine, see his Ruby Jewsday blog.

I was having lunch with my 87 year old aunt Pnina, her daughter Raya and son-in-law Amiram in the communal dining room on Kibbutz Afeq, listening to Pnina reminisce about how her husband, 89-year-old family patriarch Ze’ev, a refugee from Hitler’s Germany journeyed to the Land of Israel as a teenager in the mid-1930’s and, together with other members of his Zionist youth group, helped to found the kibbutz and to plant orange groves on land located on the coastal plain between Haifa and Acre that was then mostly sand dunes and malarial swamps.

Penina talked movingly about how she herself escaped the Nazi invasion of Poland as a young woman by fleeing to Soviet Russia, where she was interred for several months in a prison camp in Siberia before being allowed to emigrate to Palestine. Finally she spoke about the desprate struggle for survival that was Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, and how Ze’ev and other members of a platoon from Afeq took part in house to house fighting in the battle to capture the ancient seaside city of Acre from Arab forces during the 1948 War of Independence.

Suddenly my absorption in Pnina’s narration of a piece of our family history I have heard many times before but which never fails to fascinate me, was pierced by the unmistakable wail of an air raid siren. Manifesting no discernable sign of alarm, Penina said, “OK, we’ll finish our meal in a little while, but right now we need to get up and walk quickly to the shelter”. So I followed my dynamo of an aunt and about 30 other kibbutzniks out of the dining room and down a flight of stairs to a smallish space underneath the stairwell of the building; an alcove which, it appeared to me, would offer only minimal protection to its occupants in the event of a direct hit by a katushya missile.

We stood against the walls of the shelter for about five minutes, with the kibbutzniks socializing and discussing the latest developments in the war, and then, without waiting for an ‘all clear’ signal, walked back up the stairs and concluded our meal.

As we tarried over coffee and ice cream, I asked Pnina how it felt to have survived the onslaught of the Nazis and the rigors of a Soviet prison camp; to have experienced seven Israeli-Arab wars, including the 1973 Yom Kippur War, during which one of her three children and her her only son, Avinoam was killed; to have participated in the building of a kibbutz from swampland into a thriving entity and to have watched her beloved Israel grow from a struggling entity of 600,000 Jews to one of six million, only to find herself having to run to an air raid shelter in the sunset of her life.

She paused for a moment to consider the question in all of its weight and then said, “Look, I don’t appreciate having to run for the air raid shelter five or more times a day as we have been doing here for the past three weeks, and sometimes I ask myself why I bother to take shelter at all, because I am going to die soon enough anyway. But then I say to myself, ‘I don’t want to give those Hezbollah bastards the satisfaction of killing me.’ So I get up from whatever I am doing when the alarm sounds and head for the shelter.’”

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