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[Page 202]

The Third Aliyah


[Page 203]

Bendery in the Past
and Under the Soviet Regime

by Yoseph Raviv (Rehovot)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

“Numerous Clausus”

Bendery, the city of my birth, stays in my imagination from the day I began to study in the Heder of my noble teacher, Yaakov Lonievsky. I particularly remember the important task I was given. The water carrier used to bring a barrel of water twice a week and the Rabbi trusted me with the job of counting how many times he went back and forth from the wagon to the container which stood at the entrance. Why was I given this job? Probably because he thought I knew arithmetic. This fact also influenced my future career because I was accepted at the Schwartzman Hebrew High School.

From Lonievsky's Heder I went to Eli Gamburd's Heder and I studied there every afternoon. (In the mornings I attended – as did all boys my age – the public school “prihodskaya”).

When I completed my studies with good marks, I applied to the municipal high school (Gorodskaya). On the first day of school, I came with my father only to find out that although I was eligible for entrance, they were not accepting any Jews this year. There was a “flood” of Russian students. Of course, I could not fight this decision, but I started to cry. My father took pity on me and suddenly said: “Let's go to the Schwartzman High School”. At the Schwartzman High School – studies were just beginning – I was received by Gregory Yaakovitz himself. When my father related my story he said: “True, the deadline for accepting students has passed, but I will test you in arithmetic and we will see!” I passed the test successfully and I heard him tell my father: “I do not want to give up on such a student”. And so I became a High School student.

I spent eight years of my life in the Schwartzman High School. They were full of wonderful experiences and events together with other Jewish students. This came after spending three years of studying with Russian students. I was involved in Jewish life and I studied Hebrew and Bible with Israeli teachers, such as Naphtali Zigelboim, Moshe Epstein and others. They instilled in us a love of Eretz Israel.


Zionist activities and an argument with the “Bund”

After the 1917 revolution, as Zionist activity grew in Bendery, my love for Eretz Israel became even greater. I was still very young, but I remember the Zionist gathering in Bendery in the Dakdenas cinema hall, soon after the revolution. The “bund” wanted to us to fail, but the Zionists like H. Pustan, Hersh Kogan, Israel Blank and others stood their ground. To this day I remember Pustan's words to the “Bund” members: “You will not dare stop the redemption of Eretz Israel. The dream of Eretz Israel is stronger than all of you!” In essence, from that day on I saw myself as a partner in the realization of the dream of the redemption of the people of Israel in their own land.

I was involved with Hashomer Hatzair and Zeirei Zion. I participated in the selling of shekels, the emptying of Jewish National Fund boxes, the selling of fruits from Eretz Israel on Tu B'Shvat, in discussions about life in Eretz Israel and I read Hebrew books. When Hechalutz came to Bendery we saw our way to fulfilling the dream of the redemption of Eretz Israel.

The chapter of Zeirei Zion grew seriously and we moved from the home of Sonia and David Pisterov to the Goldfarb Hall. There we even had lecturers from the central office in Kishinev, such as Leib Glantz, David Wertheim and Haver Skvirsky. The latter knew how to excite the youth with the idea of settling Eretz Israel. From that time on we strove to bring to fruition the dream of working in the Land, to take part in the establishment of settlements and in defending them. These youth groups were also influenced by the Aliyah of several families from Bendery. Among them were friends and relatives such as the Goldmans, Sverdlik (Moshele Shoichet) and the family of Moshe Holodenko.


Some to the university and some to Hachshara and Eretz Israel

When I graduated from the Schwartzman high school in 1923, I saw that many of my classmates dispersed to universities in Prague, Ghent, Brussels, etc. I was prepared to go to Ghent, but it seems that my wish to make Aliyah postponed that trip and brought me to the Hechalutz on Benderskaya Street in Kishinev. I remember being asked by many good Jews in Bendery – who feared my going to Eretz would influence their children – “Do you really think that you will bring redemption? Would you really exchange the University for hewing of wood and hard labor?”

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Zeirei Zion in Bendery in the 1920s


I decided to fulfill my dream. Hundreds and thousands of youth in Bessarabia would forgo – like me – higher education and employment. They burned bridges behind them and went to Hechalutz. They went for preparation in Hahshara so they could fit in to their new lives in Eretz Israel. I was in the first group in the Hechalutz branch in Iasi in Romania. I remember well the wonderful reception by the Romanian Jews. They opened the doors of their factories to us and helped in every way possible. The location of the Hechalutz center in Iasi was in Pakurer and it became the social center for Jewish youth in town.

I left home with great sadness, but I believed that eventually I would bring my family to Eretz. Indeed, after the 1929 events my sister and her husband came. They were followed by our parents.

The pioneers had great strength and courage during these hard times and they were ready to do anything for their country. They formed the basis for the founding of the State of Israel.


Work and Defence

We lived in the valley for many years and we then moved to the centre of the country. My wife was Shulamit, daughter of the famous educator, Baruch Holodenko. Our three children were born in Moshav Ga'aton near Rehovot. We were under fire in those days and we learned to defend ourselves with guns. We knew no one else would help us. “If I am not for myself, who is for me?”

Our life on the border taught my wife to protect the children during shootings and to help me, in free times, to defend our home.

And so we worked hard in our fields in daytime and stood guard with a gun at night. Together with our three children we lived to see the founding of our state. Two of our children live in border settlements.

Still, with all this, we did not forget our hometown of Bendery and we dreamed of seeing it again. Indeed, when the Soviet Union permitted Israelis to visit their relatives in the old country we decided to fulfill our dream and to visit the remnants of the Holodenko family in Kishinev and to go to Bendery.

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Visit to Bendery after 40 years

In 1964 i went to Kishinev with my wife Shulamit and we also obtained a permit to visit Bendery. We happily drove to Kishinev (accompanied, of course by a “guide”). This was after an absence of over 40 years. As we passed through the streets I did not know which way to look – at the many changes in town, at the Jewish guide who was pretending not to notice and was speaking quickly about Bendery – as if we had never been there before. I wanted to ask him: “Dear comrade! When will we go to the Sadigura Synagogue where I prayed with my parents all those years? What about Schwartzman's Hebrew High School where I spent my wonderful youth? Where are all the Jewish institutions and the various youth movements?” However, I could only think about these questions–and to mourn in secret. We came to the house of relatives. The woman did not look at us first, but at the person behind us. It was only when the door was closed that she opened her heart. We felt the longing for the times when the family was together: father making Kiddush over wine, mother blessing the candles and the house full of Shabbat warmth. All this had disappeared from Bendery and had been replaced by a cold and foreign atmosphere all around us. The desire not to show feelings and not to cause suspicion, the connection between relatives and visitors only existed in looks exchanged secretly.

The Jewish atmosphere no longer exists in Bendery. We found there Jews estranged from their Judaism, afraid to be seen with a relative from Israel. They were almost hanging in the air as if any light breeze could topple them. The question that was felt was: what will be our future?

This is a quick summary of the Soviet Union 50 years after the revolution. Everything seen through a Jewish prism was painful and desperate. The energy and knowledge of the Jews has been lost and we really need them to help build our homeland.

I have reached the conclusion that there is no hope for the continuity of the Jews there and that they will be lost if they do not find a way out.


Ruins from the past

Our big dream to see our home city turned into a sad and strange reality. We left Bendery without finding even a thin thread that would connect the rich Jewish past of Bendery with the dour present. One no longer hears the Yiddish language – neither in the street nor in the home. Anyone who does not speak Russian had difficulty in communicating even with those closest to him. Only the elderly still remember the language, but it is strange to speak to them in Yiddish because they switch to Russian. Not one Bendery Jew is willing to speak about the past either due to fear or because they wish to forget what cannot be helped. Most of the residents of Bendery, whether Jewish or not, seemed like strangers in my eyes. No one remembered the previous names of the streets. It was difficult to be objective and to look at the progress of the city in some areas. We knew the Jews were not part of all this and are only tolerated there. It hurt to see the constant fear in the eyes of our relatives and the question: “What are doing for us?”

It is difficult to explain to them that there is not much we can do in spite of our strong desires to do so. They long for our homeland, but they only hear about it in closed rooms, in whispers and with lowered heads. Their eyes are filled with worry about young and old. What will happen to us? In spite of the freedom and absence of Jewish life, they still want their children to be among Jews. They do not want them to forget their heritage. There is comparison between the vibrant Jewish life in Bendery of 50 years ago and the weak and strange existence at present. The only hope is that a day will come when these good Jews will join us in our free homeland.

We left Bendery with a breaking heart saying: Let us meet again in our land!


Water Carrier


[Page 206]

Signposts to Eretz Israel

by David Weiser, z”l (Petach Tikva)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

Painful childhood among the non–Jewish children

I was brought to Bendery from Ukraine at the age of five. We lived there in an unfriendly atmosphere among Christians, the people of the “Black century” who considered all Jews as thorns in their sides. Obviously, as a young Jewish boy, my life was not easy among these people. I was beaten often for no reason. I did not accept this treatment silently and I repaid them.

One day, when I was nine years old, I had to leave home and hide for about one month. The reason for this was as follows: I returned the beatings on one of my torturers to the point that he was crippled for the rest of his life. I returned home and I was fortunate that my parents reached an agreement with the injured party. I lost all contact with the non–Jewish children, but I did not have any Jewish ones either. I was quite lonely.

For two years I moved from one Heder to another and from one Rabbi to another. The last one I studied with was R. Avremele, “the Redhead”. He was proficient in slapping and other children suffered along with me.

My father–Velvel (Zeev) Weiser, z”l–was a community leader, well versed in Jewish topics. He was also proficient in Russian and knew the ways of the land. He was known as a well–educated man and he was quite active in Zionist affairs in those days.

My mother, Sheindl Veinshteyn, came from a family of judges. She was intelligent, smart and beautiful. She made sure there was an income in the household. We had many guests from the elite of the Christian community. They respected her and called her “Beautiful, smart Sheindl”.


David Weiser, Z”L, Speaking at an Evening in Memory of Dr. Tzvi Schwartzman
(Evening took place in Tel Aviv to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the death of Dr. Schwartzman)


My father takes care of my education

My father did his utmost to make me independent and to have me acquire an education in Hebrew and in Russian. My first steps in Hebrew were taken in the school of the teacher, Ben–Tzion Gratzenberg.

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He taught Hebrew in Hebrew, in contrast with the Heders of those days. I am grateful to this teacher for awakening in me my love for our holy language. In this school, for the first time, a Hebrew play was staged. I had a part in “On the banks of the Jordan River”. Afterwards, my father sent me to the Tarbut School which was run by the talented teacher and proud Jew–Mr. Shlomo Ben Tzvi Leandres.

A year later, I passed the entrance exams and was accepted in the municipal high school. I found there a highly anti–Semitic atmosphere. My father was worried and said: “What will become of my son?” My father did not only worry about me, he also cared about the social and cultural conditions encountered by other Jewish children. These children were unable to enter public schools. He then came up with an idea–to open a Hebrew high school in our town. Together with his friends, Moshe Haham, z”l and Israel Batzman, z”l, he obtained a permit to open such a school. They invited Dr. Tzvi Ben Yaakov Schwartzman, from Balta, Ukraine, to be the principal of the school. He was a brilliant man, well educated in the sciences and also a very gentle and warm hearted man. He was an outstanding educator.[1] (I spoke about him at the memorial evening on 22.11.1967–25 years after his death)


What did the Schwartzman Hebrew High School mean to us?

When the school first opened with 4 classes it was a pre–high school. There was great happiness in the Jewish community. Jewish children no longer needed the charity of the non–Jews. Four years later there were 8 classes and the title High School was proudly posted on the gates.

Young Jews came in hordes from surrounding towns and villages to be nurtured in the school. I, too, transferred to the school and I entered the fifth level. I encountered a pure Jewish atmosphere and I could now breathe it in. Soon I made new friends. Our school was well known throughout Russia and even outside it. This was due to the high academic level. Dr. Schwartzman managed to hire a staff of outstanding teachers. Among them were Itzhak Borisovitz Reznikov, David Wertheim (the rabbi's son), Nafatli Zigelboim as well as other cultured Jewish educators. We acquired our knowledge through love for the language and our homeland. It is also important to mention the non–Jewish teachers who always took part in our celebrations at Purim and Chanukah: Dimitri Yeforovich Nikolai, drama teacher and critic, who directed our plays and Dimitri Soveiletch Pirlik who conducted our string orchestra. They both loved us in spite of their being observant Christians. May their memory be a blessing eternally.

We must remember that the school also educated some famous people. These were Professor Yitzhak Fein, now in America, and my childhood pal Simcha (Senya) Tzahoval, z”l, an excellent actor in Israel. His name became well known in the Diaspora when the “Ohel” troupe made a tour. I must also mention here Yitzhak Natani (Natanzon), a lawyer and an important figure in the Mapam in England, Yosef Kushnir, a lawyer in Haifa and a former member of the Knesset and Eliahu Shaposhnik, a doctor in the Dizengoff clinic in Tel Aviv. There were others who were active in cultural and artistic circles in our country.


Schwartzman Hebrew High School Teachers and Students (1915–1916)


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A tale about a deserter from the Passover Fund

Our town was blessed with the publication of two newspapers that honestly reflected life in our community and in the Jewish Diaspora. These were: Bessarabski Telegraph (Bessarabia Telegraph) and Yuzni Krai (Southern Corner). There was a reporter who wrote under the name of “Yurick”. He was a sharp guy, a good listener with penetrating eyes. He was aware of all that was near and far and knew about different peoples and various languages. Nothing escaped his attention and we tell a story about him:

On the eve of Passover the community leaders levied a tax on the wealthier members to help needier members. It was Maot Hitin (kamkha depaskha).

One of the influential members of our town, Anonymous (I deliberately do not mention his name since he passed away many years ago), refused to donate saying: “The amount I was ordered to pay is slightly exaggerated”. These words reached Yurick and he wrote a scathing article denouncing Anonymous. At the end he added “It is easier to put Mr. Kradonsky, owner of the cinema “Decadence” through the eye of a needle than to receive a donation from him”.

The matter was settled in a positive way. Kradonsky complained that he was not as heavy and large as described by Yurick. He said he only weighed about 150 kgs.


Bendery helps its brethren

In 1918 the town changed its appearance when hundreds of Jews, refugees from wars and pogroms, came to us from Ukraine. The community grew and the Jews of Bendery opened their warm hearts to help their brethren. Many of the refugees were housed by relatives, but the rest were looked after by the community leaders. Everyone was promised honest earnings.

In 1919, the students of the graduating class were organized to teach courses to the Jewish population in general and the working class in particular. We prepared them for imminent Aliyah to Eretz Israel. We received special funds from the community and from individuals to cover expenses.


Pioneers of the Third Aliyah
Hava and Pinhas Bendersky, Roza Tiomkina and Penina Wertheim


We, the pioneers of the Third Aliyah

In 1920, I graduated from the Schwartzman Hebrew High School and that August we sailed as a group of four from the port in Galatz, Romania to Turkey. We were on the way to our homeland–Eretz Israel. In Turkey we were joined by Pinhas Bendersky and his wife Yeva (Hava), her sister Roza Tiomkin and Penina Wertheim. Penina later became one of the first registered nurses graduating from Hadassah. Together we reached the port of Jaffa in the “Mahmudia” on 14.11.1920. We then lost contact with Bendery.

In 1936 an evening was organized in Tel Aviv by Zelig Sofer and other students of the Hebrew High School. It was held in honor of Gregory Yakovlevich Schwartzman and his wife Esfira Borisovna. They had just made Aliyah and there were many friends attending. Everyone reminisced with sketches from previously staged plays in the school.

The grand past of our young years in Bendery will never be forgotten.


  1. The late author was chairman of the event and conducted it with humor and talent. Hundreds of participants–students and friends of the Schwartzman Hebrew High School appreciated his work. Return

[Page 209]

On a New Road

by Leah Shteiner (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

When Bessarabia was conquered by the Romanians in 1918 the Jews did not lose their national freedom and their lot was not like that of their poor brothers in Russia. How should one celebrate this freedom? Our town–Bendery–had always moved slowly. After WWI, when it was separated from Russia, it was left poorer and emptier. There were no factories to provide employment and no post high school institutions. There was no challenge for the youth. This situation sent many of them towards Communism and thus the Romanian authorities became suspicious of all residents. This led to denouncements and arrests.

In those days I was a student in the Sixth Form at the Schwartzman Hebrew High School. All the students in my class had to carry their Identity cards at all times and they were to present themselves monthly at the offices of the Secret Police. We suffered many indignities and our principal, Dr. Schwartzman, would scurry from clerk to clerk trying to free his students from prison. We did not learn much of the Romanian language because we saw no purpose in staying home reading books and owning a graduation certificate. Did we really need another language? In the universities the anti–Semitic leaders beat and exiled Jewish students. There was no prospect for a place to study or for a job.

No wonder, then, that being a pioneer and being prepared for Aliyah were our lifeline –a fresh breeze and a beacon. The authorities did not stop us. The preparatory kibbutzim were not easy and the work was back–breaking, living conditions were terrible. We ate mamaliga (corn pudding) waiting for our certificates for Aliyah.

In 1925, I made Aliyah with a group of pioneers from our town. For safety reasons we left home secretly. We travelled in dirty train cars to the port of Constanza. The train would stop at times either due to lack of coal or an obstacle on the tracks and we then were forced to disembark and to wait for the next train. We were afraid that we had been denounced and we would be brought back and imprisoned. It was only when we reached Constanza that we heaved a sigh of relief. We boarded the ship where we were surprised to find a group of prisoners of Zion from Russia. They had served in Siberia and somehow made it to a safe haven. We heard from them about the terrible conditions they had experienced and about friends they had left behind. When we heard their story we realized there was no comparison with our suffering.

We slept on a moldy floor in the depths of the ship. Our meals were inadequate, but the exiles from Russia inspired us with their enthusiasm–greater even than ours. There were conversations, songs and endless dancing all through the voyage.

On our sixth day, at dawn, we saw Haifa in all its glory and beauty. Mount Carmel was enveloped in a blue mist and the rays of the sun cut through. Our hearts were pounding and we burst out singing Hatikva with trepidation and strength.

As we were disembarking from the ship we were surrounded by a horde of large Arab sailors wearing wide pants. Their kefyehs (scarves) covered their menacing eyes. We did not understand one word in their language, but they screamed at us and pushed us into rickety boats. They seemed like pirates. In those days, ships could not come closer to the shore or to drop anchor at the pier. These sailors brought us to our desired shore–of course, not without being paid–and they also did not miss any opportunity to steal from us whatever they could.

In the absorption center we received useless inoculations and some local currency to cover our immediate needs. This was a loan from the Jewish Agency.

From here we were dispersed. Some went to southern settlements to work as farm laborers and others came to the Galilee and Samaria to join kibbutzim. Some of us arrived in Afula and joined a group of kibbutz 3 of the Hashomer Hatzair.

In those days Afula was a field full of thorns stretching from horizon to horizon and reaching the mountains of Nazareth. Here and there one could find a skeleton of a small house being built by pioneers dressed in torn clothes and shoes, wracked by malaria. On their backs they carried bricks and bags of cement. They built and sang songs, in particular the newly written anthem of Afula.

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Our friends joined the builders. They were drunk with happiness and returned from work covered in whitewash and their hands bleeding. Still, they sang. Hordes of local tiny flies, stinging and irritating, greeted them. There was no relief from them and they infiltrated eyes, ears and noses. Locals advised the workers to smear gasoline on their bodies as protection and one could smell them coming. Malaria and other diseases attacked us, but the enthusiasm was great and the purpose for being there helped to overcome all obstacles. Eventually, the children of storekeepers, merchants and religious personnel became laborers. They learned to work hard and cooperate with others. These were days of youthful and bubbling existence.

After a week of work we rested. We lit campfires that lit the entire area and we danced a hora around it–until dawn. There were many circles of dancers–Hashomer Hatzair, members of work teams and single laborers who danced until their breath gave out. People were happy for having achieved their dreams and because they were missing their families and, in spite of difficulty, were adjusting to new conditions.

Afula was built and became a city in Israel. Many kibbutzim were built throughout the land. The original small group of dreamers–3–established three magnificent settlements: Givat Haim Ichud, Givat Haim Hame'uchad and kibbutz Ma'abarot of the Hashomer Hatzair.

The youth from our town who came with us in 1925 and those who came later were the builders of our country and its defenders. They settled in Moshavim, moshavot and in the city and they brought up a generation of children who worked, fought and defended.

Many of our friends are no longer alive. This article is a memorial to them. May their memory always be with us.

The Saga of the Shrybmans–Sweetness out of Bitterness

by Leah Shteiner (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

As is well known, the Romanians entered Bessarabia and there were many battles in Bendery between them and the Russian Army. Our town went from hand to hand. One early morning the sound of buzzing bullets and exploding ammunition stopped and there was quiet. Some people were daring and peeked outside. They informed us that the Romanian army was passing through our street–Krapostnaya. They also told us that Motel (Mordechai) Shrybman, one of our neighbors, went out to greet them with bread and salt. We did not know whether to rejoice or cry. Jewish hearts, used to disturbances, were full of fear. The same day, Shrybman was warned by a higher authority that he was seen and that “the Soviets would return shortly”. He would then be punished accordingly. The Soviets did return, but it was only 25 years later. In theory, Motel could have waited for them, but he did not. He abandoned his home and left town with his family. A long time later a letter from him was received by his relatives. In the letter Shrybman described their dangerous flight and travels across the seas in freighters. It took several months. Thanks G–d they reached Eretz Israel–their dream fulfilled. They were now in Petach Tikva and he and his wife were working in local groves.

The story of the bread and salt, the mysterious disappearance of the Shrybmans and their reappearance in the Holy Land made headlines among us. The Jews were touched by the story, especially the fact that they were day laborers. How could it be that Motel Shrybman, a wealthy Jew, Gabbai in the Talner synagogue with a seat at the eastern wall, owning a beautiful house and living a comfortable life was now a day laborer in Eretz Israel? Even his wife and daughter are suffering with him because of his terrible lot. This was a topic of conversation on the street, in the marketplace, in the steam room and the house of learning. Eventually all was forgotten.

Another letter arrived from Motel where he announced that after many trials he managed to get some land. He now had a farm in Balfuria, named after Lord Balfur. He now had fields and a vineyard. Some Jews rejoiced in the news and compared him to the biblical Boaz while others remarked that it is not so easy to work the land. More letters came and they were distributed among the population. Every reader added details from his own imagination and so the Saga of the Shrybmans was invented in the Jewish areas of Bendery.

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I made Aliyah in 1925 and I joined kibbutz 3 in Afula. One hot summer day I went to nearby Balfuria to visit the Shrybmans. I was interested in seeing a Hebrew village in our homeland. I had dreamed about it for many years in the Diaspora. Here it was in front of me–farm houses among the trees. Green lawns greeted me. The cows mooed and a donkey brayed, chickens peeped and doves cooed. There was a taboon–a rural Arab oven–and a woman was baking bread in it. She wore a kerchief on her head and her tanned face was shining from the heat of the oven. I thought to myself: “This is Yocheved Shrybman!” I remembered that on a cold winter day she passed our house wearing a fancy fur coat with her facing reflecting the snow covering everything. I was still a young child and I was awed by her appearance. She sensed me and recognized me immediately. She greeted me warmly and said: “Leah'le, Leah'le, Haya's daughter” with tears in her eyes. It was as if she was hugging her old friend by holding me. She was remembering her former life of calm and good fortune. She invited me in and we spoke of our town, about home. I looked at Yocheved the farmer, my elderly travel companion.

Towards evening Motel and his boys came home. They were covered in dust and sweat, but the scent of the fields accompanied them. I remembered them as pale spoiled children, but now they looked fit, tall and as if they had been farmers all their lives.

Motel was a farmer in the homeland and loved working the land. He was attached to his farm and invested hard work in it. He was proud of his sons who became farmers like him. Some years later, after Yocheved, his wife, died and he could no longer work on the farm, he moved to Kfar Saba. The sons continued to work hard and became leaders in Kfar Saba. The family grew and spread. Motel was fortunate to have grandchildren and great–grandchildren and he lived to a ripe old age. When he died he left a good name and reputation. Motel and Yocheved will always remain in our hearts.


Pioneers of the Third Aliyah in Bendery in the 1920s


[Page 212]

Miracles at Sea

by David Carmel (New York)

Translated by Ala Gamulka

The State of Israel announced that 1964 was the year of honoring illegal immigration. This was in commemoration of the first ship of immigrants that reached shore thirty years earlier. From that time on a story of courage and dedication began and there is no equal to it in history. At first there were refugees from Nazi Germany, Poland and Hungary. These were countries where Jews were persecuted by cruel governments. These pioneers wanted to come to Eretz Israel, but they were unable to do so since the British mandate did not allow them in.

Israeli citizens who came after the founding of the state and the youth that were born since then know about the heroism of Aliyah Bet only from stories they learned in school. This year they will learn in school and view exhibits of the ships and boats. They will hear about the frightening story of the “Patria”, the ship that exploded in the port of Haifa. Many people were killed in that explosion. They will also hear about “Exodus,” a large ship that was forcibly returned to Germany.

The illegal immigrants used many ruses to break down the British closure. Some came in the middle of the night while others used false certificates or came without any papers. My story is dedicated to the Year of Illegal Immigration.


It happened in the 1930s during the reign of the Nazis in Germany. Thousands of Jewish refugees wandered across Europe in those days. They went from country to country and struggled to reach Eretz Israel. The Zionist institutions began to organize illegal immigration (Aliyah Bet) with the intention to bring to Eretz Israel those Jews who did not obtain certificates from the Mandate government. The newspapers in America published reports that the British arrested Jews found on a Greek ship without any identification papers. These Jews were held for 84 days in dire circumstances and without proper nourishment. They were then exiled to an unknown location. Another time the British caught a small boat of illegal immigrants with 60 men and 5 women near the port of Jaffa. They were sentenced to a few years in prison.


During Hanukah of 1934 I left New York for a visit to Eretz Israel. I embarked on a ship going from Trieste to Jaffa. It was an Italian ship full of immigrants, pioneers and some elderly people. I wanted to get to know the pioneers and I went down to Third Class. A young man and a young woman approached me and asked if I came from America. We discussed the difficult situation in Europe and problems besetting the Jews. They told me a secret––there were 23 young men from Poland and Hungary on the ship without any documents. I promised them I would do what I could. I was introduced to these young men who were quite nervous and afraid of being discovered.

I decided to do something for these young men. I knew some members of the crew–Italian sailors. I only knew a few words in Italian, but we found a common language. We reached an understanding. A few sailors would help these illegal immigrants to disembark for the payment of five pounds sterling per person. The total came to $575 which was a considerable amount in those days.

The captain allowed us to hold a Hanukah party on deck. It was a concert for Jewish National Fund. Before the concert we went from cabin to cabin in First and Second classes and we collected money. One of the passengers was Dr. Nahum Goldman who donated 10 pounds sterling. The rest of the passengers were quite generous, as well.

The concert was very successful and we collected almost the entire amount of money needed. We gave it to the sailors and they fulfilled their promise. When the ship docked in the port of Jaffa, the illegal group was brought to shore with the use of many ruses. From the deck we saw Yitzhak Ben Tzvi. He was then chairman of the National Council and represented the Jewish community in front of the British. He, together with the British representatives, checked the passports and certificates of the newcomers.

In Jaffa I later met the young men. It is difficult to describe how thrilled they were that they had rrived in peace. It was, for me, the happiest day in my life– that I was able to help my brethren who were in trouble.

I recalled the words of Isaiah: “Those redeemed will return to Zion with happiness and song” (Isaiah, 35:10, 51, 11)

(Printed in “The Family”, 13 Nissan 1964, New York)


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