The morning after the war broke out, I rushed to my office in Tel Aviv. I realized the country was in big trouble: We had been attacked, and we were not prepared. I also knew that members of the immigrant community from the West who were not yet conscripted wanted to help. I had a gut feeling that the army needed this manpower, that these people could be part of the war effort.
Through my business I had sold many cars to the immigrant community; I had the records, and I knew where to find them. I decided I would go to the Kirya (Defense Ministry HQ) in Tel Aviv and offer to mobilize cars and drivers who had not yet registered for the armed forces.
At the Kirya I went from soldier to soldier, officer to officer, and eventually one told me: “If we need you, we will call you.” I was given two passes to enter the Kirya, a site normally off limits for civilians.
I left satisfied. I had at least offered to participate. I had served in 1956 in an artillery unit and of course done my reserve duty, but that was all.
As I returned to my office on Yarkon Street, one of my employees told me someone had called looking for Mary Greenfield (it often took Israelis a while to figure out how to pronounce Murray). The phone rang again - it was the army. "Do you have a station wagon? Bring it to the Kirya."
I had just two passes. I called the first station wagon driver, Ron, a Canadian. In those days photostat machines (photocopiers) were expensive and in short supply, but I had one. I took a pass, placed it between the two pieces of special paper, sent it through the little heat machine, and wow, there was an exact copy.
Ron showed up, but as he knew no Hebrew, I called in my teenage sons Dror and Ilan, telling them to be ready to accompany Ron or anyone else who needed help with Hebrew. Moments later, the car, driver and ad hoc translator all set off for the Kirya.
I waited at the office. The moment Ron’s group arrived at the Kirya, the army logistics division, which was being hounded for transportation to take soldiers and spares to the fighting, called again for more vehicles. We started to amass cars; if the driver did not know Hebrew, we found a youth who did.
The coming days were hectic. I asked some of my staff to work nights to help manage the endless calls for more and more transportation. We had cars traveling up and down the country. The young people who traveled with them had been unofficially drafted. Hundreds of people and their cars played a part in the war effort.
When the fighting was extremely heavy and there were many casualties, our
volunteer drivers were put to work driving the army personnel who took the bad news to families of fallen soldiers. Sometimes the drivers too found themselves comforting the bereaved.
As far as I was concerned, it was a family affair. Not only did my children ride with the volunteer drivers, but I also had the satisfaction of seeing my two New York-based brothers flying out to help, both within days of the outbreak of war.
The desire to help our mission was widespread. Some men even came in and asked if they could join if they rented a car. The staff worked day and night, and my little photostat machine played its part well. It was a trauma in which we all shared.
Murray Solomon Greenfield is an American-born Israeli writer and publisher. Greenfield was was one of 250 American volunteers who sailed the aliya bet vessels from the USA to Europe and then Palestine, before being sent to Cyprus. He wrote the book The Jews' Secret Fleet about his experiences. Greenfield married Holocaust survivor Hana Lustig. He was one of the founders of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI), where he served as executive director from 1957 until 1967. In 1981, Greenfield and his wife founded Gefen Publishing House, which was later taken over by their sons. The Greenfields have three children and ten grandchildren, all living in Israel.