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To the Land of Our Dreams

They were Five Brothers and Three Sisters

 
Henia Slep and Micha “Henia and Micha give you their photo with love as a memento on the day of your aliya to Eretz Yisrael, 9 Heshvan 5686 – 27.10.1925”   Yehuda-Yudel Slep July 1927 His students remember him as being bald …

Kehat-Olke Slep in Lithuanian Army Uniform

 

Ella Slep in her Youth
Ella was married to her teacher, the principal Hillel Schwartz.
They had three children
: Chanochl (b. 10 Iyar 5690 [May 8, 1930]), Rivkale (b. 22 Kislev 5695 [Nov 29, 1934]) and Avivale (b. 21 Nisan 5699 [April 10, 1939].

 
Right to left:
Chalutzim Yosef and Avraham
  Miryam Slep
joined her brothers and made aliya

 

Both male and female friends accompanied me on foot for about five kilometers. The cart stopped. They took out shnapps (brandy) and we drank “L'chaim” (a toast). We had very mixed feelings because of some discouraging news we had received from Palestine. I kept my head turned back until I could no longer see anyone. The trip was slow. The horse would stop occasionally to rest. We passed fields, woods, lakes, and I recalled “my” estate, the friends I had left behind. I noticed the church, and as if in a dream, I hear the ringing of the bell just as the horseman started murmuring: “We're passing the church. In a few minutes we'll reach the train station...”

That evening I left for Kovno by train. The next morning I arrived at the Hechalutz center and stayed overnight.

On October 29, 1925, we left Kovno by train on the way to Berlin and Marseilles. Many other chalutzim joined me. The food was shared among all. Everything was for everybody. The motto was: “Those who don't have, have plenty.”

On the train we met “hozrim“, namely, people who had left Palestine but were on their way back there, and that encouraged us. After a tiring ride (in an old train, three levels of benches on each side, and woe to the ones occupying the bottom level…), on Friday morning we arrived at the big hall of the Berlin train station, Bahnhoffstrasse, a hostel for chalutzim arranged by the Zionist leadership.

We toured the city under the guidance of the chalutzim of Berlin. There we found beautifully kept gardens, museums and gorgeous homes, and everything aroused my excitement and astonishment.

The next day, Saturday, we visited the synagogue. I was honored with an “aliya l'torah“. I got a “mi sheberach,” a blessing usually made for the person who is called up to read the Torah. They served wine for Kiddush, and wherever we went, we were given VIP treatment, and people looked upon us with envy.

At eight o'clock at night the train departed for Marseilles, where we arrived the next morning, and stayed at the “Hotel Tel Aviv”.

The city had an eastern flavor. The people living there were of different nationalities; and here we met Arabs for the first time, mostly porters whose language sounded foreign to us.

There was mayhem at the Hotel Tel Aviv: chalutzim olim who were on their way to Palestine: chalutzim yordim who were returning. But a chalutz is always a chalutz (a pioneer is always a pioneer), like a Hassid traveling to his Rebbe: always happy, only happy!

We toured the city to its length and breadth. We did some shopping, looking especially for bargains. I bought my hand watch there, which just celebrated its forty-second birthday…

On the Ship “Canada” to Palestine …

On Tuesday, November 3, 1925, we boarded the “Canada” on our way to Eretz Yisrael, the land of our dreams for two thousand years. Many generations had recited the prayer: “May our eyes see the sights of Zion.” We dreamt about the Western Wall, and here I am. I have the privilege that even the outstanding Jewish personalities for many generations have not attained.

On the boat there were about 250 passengers – chalutzim, tourists and others. I found six beds in our cabin arranged in three levels. Immediately I chose the uppermost bed. I had learned my lesson from the ride on the train…

We stood on deck, leaning on the barriers and measuring the vast sea with our eyes. Marseilles disappeared further and further into the distance. The sea was calm; the birds were twittering above us, as if blessing us with “Tzetchem l'shalom, malachei hashalom!” (Blessed shall you be in your goings, you angels of peace!) The atmosphere was quiet and peaceful. The excitement was wearing off, as if we had matured a few years.

Around noontime the tables were prepared and the sight of cherries caught our eyes. Cherries now? Was the summer not already behind us? It was already November! I was one of those who grabbed a handful and shoved them straight into my mouth. But, alas, these were not cherries! These were black olives…

Later on the sun began to set. One by one, the stars appeared. Here is the “Big Bear” (Ursa Major) right over my head. Is the bear also accompanying me to Eretz Yisrael? Has he also had enough of the Diaspora?

I lay down in an easy chair and envisioned my shtetl, with its beauty, its lakes, its woods, its fields; all those who are dear to me; the chalutzim; and all those who accompanied me. All of a sudden the bell aroused me from my daydreaming.

I went down for dinner, again met everybody, and each time there were new faces.

After the meal, the mood started improving. The first dance on the deck attracted a big crowd. Even the older people joined in, and the circle got larger and larger. A distinguished bearded Jew wearing a kapota (coat) and leather boots entered the center of the circle, dancing the cossatchok (Cossack's dance). We were dancing the hora and he the cossatchok. His wife was standing on the side, clapping and saying, “Tzu gezunt, kinderlach.” (To your health, children) Rich tourists handed out candy, and I remember that one of them spoke Yiddish with an English accent, saying, “Kinderlach, est. Ir daft hobn keyech tzu boyn dos land.” (Children, eat. You need strength to build the land.)…

On the third night I got seasick. The waves shook the boat and my insides at the same time, and those who slept in the bunk below me did not enjoy it at all... I went up on deck and felt a bit better, but not for long. Every heave caused me to throw up. I was not the only one.

There were many others in the same condition. The sighs and screaming got louder. One old woman was calling, “A leimene, a leimene. Ich gay ois!” (A lemon, a lemon. I'm dying!) And her husband pressed her forehead and she groaned, “Ahhh!...” In the meantime, the deck was filled with sick people and the “choir” grew larger and larger. Only Jonah the prophet is to blame - the one who's sitting somewhere there in the back of the boat…

Early Thursday morning the sea calmed down and with it so did we, and the boat sailed on peacefully. We passed the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, and we were nearing Palestine.

On the November 10 we arrived at Alexandria in Egypt. The boat docked and some goods were unloaded. We stood on deck and saw hundreds of Arab porters carrying the loads on their shoulders, pushing, calling out, “Ya Allah! Ya Allah![5] (move on! move on!) They wore wide pants, old and torn, and long hair in braids. This was the first time in my life that I saw such faces, and I was thinking that if all the Arabs were like them, how were we going to live with them.

We continued on our way; we were just about to reach Eretz Yisrael. All the young people rose to their feet. The deck was shaking. Zionism ruled the boat. No song in any other language was heard, only Hebrew, only Hebrew!

“B e i r u t !” announced the captain. The boat docked. More goods were taken down. The young men who had no visas took advantage of this and embarked with the tourists in Beirut, planning to smuggle themselves into Palestine from there by land.

Arrived on 11.11.25

Jaffa Port

Ship: Canada

Name: Avraham Slep

Place of Birth: Dusiat

Nationality: Lithuanian

Year of Birth: 1905

Left behind in the diaspora: Parents

Profession: Carpenter

Hebrew Knowledge: read, write, speak

Yiddish / Lithuanian: “        “        “

Schooling: Self-taught

 

First Day in Eretz Yisrael

On the morning of Wednesday, November 11, 1925, we arrived in Jaffa. The sea was very wavy and the boat docked far away from the port. The Arabs arrived in little boats, and we climbed off the big ship by ladder into the little boats. The Arabs did not speak - they yelled. Later on, when our feet touched land and we saw a whole bunch of Arabs shouting and screaming, we understood that the Arab language is loud. I recited Shehechyanu (thank G-d who has kept us alive and sustained us to reach this day …)

Clerks from the Zionist organization and from the British Mandate were there to welcome us. We were taken by carriage and put into quarantine (enclosures), where all the new arrivals to Palestine were washed and disinfected.

A Day's Work in the Port

After spending all the money I had, I decided to look for “unorganized” work.

I went to the port in Haifa where only Arab laborers worked. Like many others, I would stand outside the port. Every morning I would go down there and come back empty-handed. After a week I found out that a cargo ship was about to arrive in port for unloading of goods. I dressed in torn work clothes so that I would look like an experienced laborer, and stood as usual outside the fence.

Before noon the ship appeared on the horizon and we saw it drawing near. Many laborers, Jews and non-Jews, crowded near the gate. Everyone wanted to be first before the paunchy Arab “contractor”. The gate opened and out he came, club in hand, waving it in the faces of the unruly crowd, especially in the faces of the Horans (Arabs hailing from Horan) with the braids and the shmattes. The “master” was walking to and fro, looking at everybody from head to toe, as if trying to measure his physical strength. I was one of those candidates. It was the first time that I had worked in the port unloading goods.

There were harder jobs and there were lighter jobs, depending on the type of goods. I worked about three hours loading coal into sacks. There were five Arabs and two Jews in our group. The Arabs were expert. They picked up the coal from the piles on the pier using their shovels, and we held the sacks. I was as black as coal. The dust entered our throats. The saliva dried out in our mouths, and the pile of coal stood in front of my eyes as high as Mount Tabor in the Valley of Jezreel. It seemed like it never got lower…

Noontime arrived. One hour for rest, rinsing one's throat with a glass of “tamarind” and I ate “kuksuchen”.

In the afternoon the manager switched the shift. This time I was sent to a group of six Arabs, carrying iron bars, literally - every pair sharing a bundle of iron on their shoulders. On my right shoulder I placed a folded sack, doubled over, went over to the pile of irons, and two Arabs placed the iron on each person's shoulder. We walked slowly, step by step, to the loud chanting of one the good-natured Arabs, “Ya Allah! Ya Allah! …”

I did not think about the weight of the load. I only prayed that the work would last as long as the Diaspora! Just not to be unemployed, even though the wage was low, only fifteen grushim (piastre) for eight hours! But a piastre, a coin with a “hole”, had great value.

I went back to my room and did not recognize myself in the mirror. My face was covered with ash and there were blisters on my shoulders, but this did not prevent me from going out in the evening to enjoy myself.

I worked at the port for about four weeks, earning enough to support myself and also managing to set some aside.

Once again, there was no work, but I didn't despair. The traditional hora is still danced and the timeless Hatikva still sung. The pioneering spirit and the love of the land did not subside, and hope was held for the coming of good times. And that day did arrive…

An “Act of Creation” in Emek Yizre'el (Valley of Jezreel)

The Zionist leadership had approved a budget for irrigating the fields in Emek Yizre'el by laying a water pipe from Maayan-Harod to Beit-Alfa.

I also went to water the fields of the valley. We pitched our tents near the spring of Ein-Jilud in the vicinity of Ein-Harod. There were about a hundred laborers camped at the foot of the Mount Gilboa…

For me, the work in the valley was the peak in the best of life. I felt the creation of a new world. I was changing the act of creation. In a place where there is no water - I deliver it. I dig the ditches deeper. I fill them with cement and dig again… The line is a hundred people long. The sound of the hoes hitting the arid soil and the song of the workers – here we have a combination of joy and an uplifting of spirits. One kilometer after the next, still the distance is great and in the meantime the fields are thirsty and dry… The heat is oppressive, one is overcome with exhaustion; mosquitoes are loyal to their breed...

In the meantime, bad news reaches the camp: malaria! Someone sharing our tent notified us that his friend was “shaking” in bed. Dr. Hirshkowitz from the hospital at Ein-Harod below was called. He diagnosed this as malaria, and the patient was immediately hospitalized.

Fear was rampant. The medication - quinine – was of no help. Each person infected the others and the concern was great. We were given mosquito nets, but they were of no avail. The mosquitoes penetrated especially at night. And during the day we were pestered by hordes of barhashim (midges). We washed our faces with kerosene but of no avail.

I tell it as it was: I had not yet been hit by malaria, and I was eaten up with jealousy. How would I be able to tell the next generation that I did not catch malaria even once? And as if I was tempting the devil, after a month of waiting, I too got the “shakes”. The doctor diagnosed it as the kind of malaria that comes every third day. I lay in the hospital hut, and the nurse who took care of me was Chava Kivshani. She was a beautiful young woman, sort of dark and very cute. She passed away in Tiberias only a few months ago. Alas…

I was one of those fortunate enough to have suffered malaria, but to my dismay it recurred every month, lasting for about four or five days, and again I would have to return to the hospital. Each attack would weaken me, but I would recover and my strength would come back.

That's how I spent the summer of 1927.

My life in the valley, the beautiful place I most loved, was always filled with light and gave me the strength to outlive all kinds of trouble and diseases.

At night I would stroll for many kilometers and I always had a sense of security that nothing would happen even if I were to meet a Bedouin riding his donkey.

We had no dining hall, but Shlomo Levkowitz (Lavi), a member of Kibbutz Ein-Harod, a most generous and splendid soul, made sure that we would eat in the dining hall of the kibbutz.

The irrigation work came to an end in the spring of 1928, and all the laborers dispersed. Ten friends, amongst them myself, remained, moving our tents to the hill of the new Tel-Yosef, Kumi Tel-Yosef, named for the Arab village Kumi. We commenced work in the building trade: houses, stables, chicken coops and others.

I did not want to leave the Valley of Jezreel, and prolonged my time until March of 1929. There was plenty of available work there, enough to make a livelihood, especially in the areas of the Jewish farmers: Kfar Taba'un (Kfar Yehezkel), Kvutzat Geva, Tel-Yosef, Ein-Harod, Heftziba, Beit-Alfa – all of them, all as if they are right now on the “palm of my hand”. That's where I met Shmuel Hafter, from Hashomer; Tuviyahu, who later became mayor of Beer Sheba; old Berski, who became a legend for sending his second son to Palestine, after his first son was murdered. All have a hand in the creation and revival of Eretz Yisrael.

I left the good land, which I helped to saturate with water and which is still now wet and will forever so remain.

I came back to Haifa full of impressions and bursting with energy, like someone who had given his strength and goodwill to his homeland. This is a true story, not fiction, without exaggeration and no words trying to beautify it. All that you read here is fact. I had beautiful and interesting periods. I was content with my lot. I was not envious of others. And the land gave me all the good that it could, and even more than that. I built my home. I raised a family. I was privileged to have good and lovely grandchildren.

I hope when the time comes and you will tour the country, you will remember that once, many years ago, Grandpa told you the story of the Galilee and of the Valley and all the other beautiful places with which our land is blessed.

“Turn it and turn it again for everything is in it …” [6]

With lots of love to you, my grandchildren, Grandpa Avraham

42 years in Eretz Yisrael, 1925-1967.

Footnotes

  1. Allah is God in Arabic, but in this context it is used to spur on the action. Return
  2. Pirkey Avoth [Ethics of the Fathers], 5, 27. Return

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