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[Pages 50-58]

Excerpts from Avraham Slep's diary – 1925, 1927

First page of Avraham's Diary (written in Yiddish)

Wednesday, November 11, 1925

I reached Jaffa on the Canada, at 8:00 a.m. on November 11, 1925.

My first view of Eretz Yisrael was disappointing. My feet had barely touched the soil of Eretz Yisrael when Arab and English policemen and several of the employees of the quarantine in Jaffa approached me. They treated everyone, including me, as if under suspicion of being a major criminal, and not as a chalutz (pioneer) who had come to take part in the building of the country. They lined us up, and brought us to the quarantine under military discipline…

…I wasn't sure what had become of my personal effects. Later I discovered that they too had been subjected to quarantine. I kept my money and documents on me, but left my luggage outside next to the guard. I went into the quarantine naked as the day I was born. One of the workers placed me under the hot water and I showered. Up until then, I felt good. After being cleansed, they sprayed me with a disinfectant that was not pleasant for one minute. After a short walk, they took me under guard for a smallpox vaccination.

… A carriage driver came and asked who was going to the hotel. It was already dark. We didn't find any relatives. We sat in the carriage and tried to exchange a few words. We didn't know what the situation was. Our first impression was depressing. Our treatment by the Arab workers and the Zionist officials was also bad. Everyone's morale was low. We reached Tel Aviv. We came to the Haika Burak Hotel, where they gave us a place to sleep.

Tel Aviv, Thursday, November 12, 1925

I got up early. I went to the quarantine to collect my luggage. I met many other new immigrants there. There was a rumor that some items were damaged in the fumigation process, and in some instances, even scorched by the heat … The clerk made “dust and ashes” out of my possessions. I managed to remove the better things, and the rest he gathered up like rags in a bundle – and into the oven …

I will always remember that day, because it resembled a “deportation”, not in twenty-four hours but in two to three hours! The faces of the officials, both the Jewish and non-Jewish ones, were like the faces of Cossacks. They shouted, pushed and shoved. We were fenced in by barbed wire, like a prison yard. Policemen kept watch, and made certain that on no account would baggage requiring fumigation be removed. Everything was a mess. One person shouted: “What a tragedy! They didn't even let me take out the good things!”…

When I finally got away from that hellish place, they loaded everything on a wagon and we drove to the hotel. It was about 11 a.m. We looked at Tel Aviv with distress in our hearts. The young people of Tel Aviv are never in a hurry, and when they had the opportunity to make fun of the “greenies” – that was one thing! But one person known for being a buffoon, would take in a big sigh, and declare: “Pioneers, pioneers, you poor souls. Victims upon victims…”

Tel Aviv, November 13, 1925

…In the evening, people I knew from Ezerenai (Zarasai) and other places in Lithuania came to see me, among them my friend from Memel (Klaipeda), Shalom Wein. It was very nice. They invited me for dinner, and they didn't need to ask twice. We joined them and had our first real meal. It was quite jolly.

I went out to look for acquaintances. After several hours I succeeded in finding Alter Elbinger's[1] apartment... After tossing a “shalom aleichem” at me, he invited me to join him... He asked how his father and relatives were doing, and then began to tell me about the situation in Eretz Yisrael. I didn't say a word, just listened to what he was saying. It distressed me like a stone pressing on my heart...

I returned to my hotel late that night. My friends were still awake. In conversation, we asked one another what each had heard. We were well aware that the prospects were not bright. They had already mentioned that there were many jobless people. The atmosphere was very difficult. Everyone felt dejected. We forgot that we had come here as Zionists... We wanted to “have a good time” but we went to sleep dejected and disappointed.

…Tel Aviv, November 15, 1925

I had no idea whether the situation in Haifa was better or worse. For some reason, I was attracted to Haifa. At eight in the morning I went to look for a porter to take my luggage to the train. I had just come out of the house when I saw Dov Zeligson[1]. He didn't notice me. I caught up with him and stopped him: “Shalom Dov!” The reader can imagine how joyous the meeting was. Dov took me to an eating-place, and afterwards took my luggage on his mules. I gave him regards from home, and he told me the local news, what he had been doing up to then. We decided that today I would not go to Haifa, but to Magdiel. The things he told me openly, along with the rumors, were enough to ruin my mood. However, the looks we exchanged somewhat relieved our loneliness…

Magdiel, November 16, 1925

I strolled through Magdiel. It's a village with several huts, all told only a few years old... There was no sign of greenery in it. When I asked, I was told that they needed to wait. Their hope was that over time they would plant citrus groves, which would solve the problem of survival…

Magdiel is the first village that I saw in Eretz Yisrael. There I learned about the country's economy, its resources and chances for success. In the afternoon Dov hitched up the mules and we went to Petah Tikva. From there I was supposed to go to Haifa. I went for a tour of the settlement. I barely recognized Yudel der Garber[1] (Yudel the tanner), who had been there for three months. He was coming home from work with a big beautiful straw hat on his head, and wearing blue glasses. He walked past me without noticing me, and when I followed him, he recognized me, and was simply happy to see me. I gave him fresh regards from his wife, and it was as though I had renewed his soul. I looked closely at his gaunt face and sunken cheeks. He looked like a scarecrow to me. When I asked him whether he was satisfied, he answered that at home he had had a better life, but considering that he was alone, without his family, he lived not badly…

November 17, 1925

… Haifa. I went to look for my friend, from my shtetl. I had the address but had difficulty locating it. I kept running back and forth, and I found it, but by a miracle…

I was told that Chaim Levitt[1] would be right back. Our meeting was very warm. Half the day was spent on the question “What's new?” In the evening I met another friend, Yitzchak Toker[1]. Together we discussed what to do, whether it was a good idea to immediately rent a room. That night I stayed beside the station at Malamud's Jaffa Hotel.

Haifa, November 18, 1925

I urgently awaited the morning. I didn't sleep a wink all night. Hundreds of thoughts went through my mind. In the morning I went out to look for a porter, but it was too expensive. My friend Meir Levitt[1], who was with me, and I carried it all ourselves. [Meir returned to Lithuania after 7 months, and perished in the Holocaust.] It's hard for me to forget that half hour. In addition to the fierce heat, I felt the weight of the load. We had to go up the mountain, and then up one hundred and eighty steps. That was the first day that I felt the sweat of Eretz Yisrael. In the afternoon I began to look for furniture. I went into the city, to Chaim Levitt's place of work. I selected several crates, brought them to my room, and began working. Within an hour “it” was standing, and I called it a “table”.

In the evening I went out with my friends to get to know Haifa…

Haifa, November 19, 1925

This night was completely different. This time I fell like a stone…

During that period, an economic crisis had begun in Eretz Yisrael. As a new immigrant, I felt foreign, as someone who was not yet rooted here. I registered as a member of the Histadrut [the worker's union] and also of Kupat Holim [the Histadrut health insurance, with its own clinics]. I was also registered for work. When I asked whether I could get work I was told: “Not at present. When something is available we'll let you know.” With this hope, I walked out, and wandered through the city as a homeless person. It's superfluous to elaborate on this.

Haifa, Sunday, November 22, 1925

On Friday, near the time of the lighting of the Sabbath candles, my heart filled with memories of home, and I was overcome with homesickness. Thanks to a lot of “protektzia“, I was able to get a little work with a carpenter. That day I was already happier. I bought myself a suede shirt…

Haifa, Monday, November 23, 1925

I had not yet allowed myself to buy a primus stove for preparing tea. I went into a restaurant and ate something. At seven o'clock I began working – installing doors and windows. This was work that I had learned at home. I didn't know what wages to ask for…

In the afternoon I had to work outdoors. The sun burned like fire. I perspired profusely. I thought to myself: it's November now, what will I do in the summer? …

Haifa, Tuesday, November 24, 1925

… At the “worker's kitchen”, I was told that two guys had been looking for me. I had just opened the door of my room when I saw my brother Yosef (Yavnai-Slep[1]). My first impression was not good. He had changed greatly. Even his voice was different. I couldn't talk to him… I sat for five minutes, and left on the pretext that I would be late for work. I felt bad. When I returned from work, I had calmed down a bit. I started asking my brother questions... At night we walked through the streets of the city. We met acquaintances and had quite a good time…

Haifa, Saturday, November 28, 1925

This afternoon, the Dusiater living in Haifa got together and went to have our picture taken: Yitzchak Toker, Chaim Levitt, Meir Levitt, Yosef and I. We went to the photographer; Faigin is his name.

…We had a nice time on Shabbat. In the evening everyone came to my room and we reminisced about home. Those moments were very precious to me, especially when they recalled “a Dusiater Shabbes farnacht“, a Dusiat Sabbath eve, walking through the street, or to the spring…

Haifa, Wednesday, December 2, 1925

… Today I bought a bed. Until today I managed without one, because I didn't have the money…

Haifa, Sunday December 6, 1925

When I returned from work today I found a guest waiting for me, a fellow Dusiater, Faivish Milun[1]. I don't need to put in writing how he felt. In the evening I accompanied him to Bat-Galim, to the new immigrants house…

Haifa, Saturday, December 12, 1925

I was tired from my week of work, so I slept late. I lay in my bed and thought about what they were doing now at home … what was happening across the sea...

At 3 o'clock I went over to the sports field where two Haifa teams were engaged in a match: one Jewish, the other Arab … the game ended in a draw 0:0.

In the evening we went to visit some friends, Chasl (Chasya) Zimmerman[2] and her sister Yehudit, and we had a great time there.

Haifa, Monday, December 14, 1925

… I went to eat at the eating-place. It was approximately six o'clock. I noticed a familiar face. I went out and called his name, and I was right: it was Raphael Charit from Afula. “Shalom aleichem, shalom aleichem … I was just coming to see you,” he said. I spoke with him for half an hour, and then I went to work. We met again in the evening, and had a long conversation. There was no need to talk about his life in Afula; I could read it on his face…

Yosef Yavnai: I met Raphael Charit, son of Zalman, when I was a boy, while I was in Abel (Obeliai). He was a student at the time. I met him again in Afula in 1925. He was already married. I entered his hut with his cousin Yitzchak Charit, son of Haskel, and found him in dire straits. We tried to help him with various jobs, but he couldn't make a go of it and returned to Lithuania.

* * *

A year and a half went by. An economic crisis, no work.

Avraham Slep (right) and Chaim Finkelstein
Haifa, Hadar HaCarmel, Gan Benjamin Rothschild
(a park)
11 Adar 5687 (1927)

Haifa, Friday, June 24, 1927

Like every other Friday, I got up early and rushed to get to the queue as early as possible so as to be the first to receive d'mei t'micha (“support” money). I found scores of people waiting in line. As time passed, the queue grew longer. It is impossible to imagine the commotion and the disturbances caused by the half-starved people…

Haifa, Monday, June 27, 1927

… Today is registration day for the unemployed. As usual, today we are also standing in line and the clerk lists the names of the unemployed…

Haifa, Thursday, June 30, 1927

I devoted today to writing letters. Suddenly an Arab woman came into the house, stretched out her hand, and mumbled in Arabic: “Hawadja, atnini hubez” (Sir, please give me bread). “Ma fish,” (I don't have any) I answered. She said that she would look at my hand and read my palm, and approached me with a smile... When she received some watermelon from me, she took my hand and told me my fortune: “In a few months you will receive some money…”

Haifa, Saturday, July 2, 1927

After twenty months of living in the same apartment, I finally decided to leave and move to another place. My reason for leaving was lack of work, which made it impossible for me to continue paying the rent. The landlord and I didn't quarrel. The reckoning we made showed that I owed him three Egyptian pounds for six months, and I promised him that I would pay him when I had the money…

Haifa, Friday, July 22, 1927

The entire week passed by the way it does for a permanently unemployed person, spent utterly in vain…

* * *

Afterwards I went to irrigate and saturate the fields of the Jezreel Valley…

* * *

The Emek Period

Camp of the Chalutzim near Ein Harod, 13 May 1928
Avraham
(standing, middle)
Among the names of his friends from the period of the Emek were Liebke Friedman (from Obeliai), Baruch Weinstock (from Monasterziska, Galicia), Yehuda Kaveh and Srednie (later in Kiryat Chaim)

 

Footnotes

  1. Fellow Dusiater
  2. The Zimmerman sisters were from Ushpol (Uzpaliai). Chasya ran a store in Dusiat. Return

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