It was late evening on October 19, 1973, when the captain of the El Al flight
from London announced that the plane was crossing the coast of Israel. Our
original airline had refused to fly into the war zone so we transferred to El
Al, which only accepted us after much persuasion. The plane was full of
returning soldiers, diplomats and media personnel and one couple making
The atmosphere was tense as the plane entered the war zone. The
Yom Kippur war had been raging for 13 bitter days. Passengers stirred, some
stretched to peer through the windows expecting to see Tel Aviv and its environs
in total darkness to counter enemy air raids. The street lights were out, but
even though youths had been given the task of masking car headlights with blue
paint, the progress of vehicles could be seen from up high. It was as though
they were drawing illuminated lines on a map.
The tension was palpable
and all were silent as the plane landed. No-one knew what awaited us. After
disembarkation the passengers quickly dispersed, the soldiers to their units and
the diplomats and media men to their tasks. My wife Tova and I were met by my
cousin, an officer in the army reserves awaiting a call should the Jordanian
He was a Danziger, with an abrupt German manner: “I think
you are mad to come here at a time like this,” he said, “but my respect for you
has increased 100 percent!” “Your presence,” he continued, “will improve our
morale, which currently is pretty low.”
We later found that his
sentiments were echoed by other Israelis that we were soon to meet and make us
IT WAS on the previous night that we had attended a rally in a
London suburb in support of Israel. There, representatives of the Israel embassy
and local Jewish organizations spoke of the critical situation in Israel and
asked for generous donations, but no mention was made of aliya.
not?” I asked. “Doesn’t Israel need physical as well as financial support?”
“Yes,” the official acquiesced, but in his opinion such a call at this time
would only confuse the issue.
“Do you not know,” I asked, “that when the
war broke out thousands of Jewish tourists left the country for the safety of
their distant homes while the Israeli citizen army was left to fight alone
against much larger armies on two fronts with the possibility of a third front
opening on the Eastern border?” “Yes, yes,” he said “but what can we do from
here?” “People can do what we are doing,” I answered, “they can go to Israel and
“You are going to Israel?” the official said, his mouth
agape. “When?” “Tomorrow, Tova and I are going tomorrow!” When the meeting
resumed the official announced that there were two heroes present in the hall
who were leaving for Israel the next day.
Heroes? What nonsense, I
thought, the real heroes were out there fighting in the desert and on the Golan
Heights and for us; it was not that we were making aliya in the middle of the
war, but rather that the war had rudely blasted into our already-planned
Were we to choose our new country only in good times? IT WAS near
midnight when we arrived at the Kessem Hotel on Ben-Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv.
To her dismay, Tova found that her costume jewelry had been stolen somewhere on
the journey. So much for security, we thought. I telephoned my cousin who
advised that we should report the loss to the airport authority and the
“But there’s a war on!” I said.
“Never mind”, said my
cousin, “war or no war, it is important that we act normally. By the way,” he
continued, “when I got home, my wife was crying.”
He replied that she had just received a phone call from their son.
“Mama,” he said, “I’m in Africa, and if you receive a message to say I am dead,
it’s not true! I’m alive and OK.”
He was far from OK – he was suffering
from severe shock as his tank had been hit by an anti-tank missile after
crossing the Suez Canal into Egypt. Others in the crew had been killed or
wounded, but he had miraculously survived.
“And you want me to report a
theft?” I asked incredulously.
“Report it,” he insisted. “We must all act
I telephoned airport security, explaining that it was not a
question of value or money but rather that if someone could open a suitcase to
take things out, then surely they could also put explosives in.
worry,” came the reply. “We may have thieves, but we don’t have terrorists!” If
only that were the case today.
Next morning we dutifully went to the
police station on Dizengoff Street. Due to my halting Hebrew, we were directed
to a back office where an officer “speaks English.” She was bent forward on her
desk, crying, with her head in her hands. Somewhat startled I said, “Don’t
worry, we’ll come back another time” and began to exit.
“No, no!” she
shouted through her tears.
“It’s OK, it’s OK! Come in.”
transpired that for days now she had not heard from her two brothers who were
serving on the southern front, but as she explained while completing the
tear-sodden form, “We must all act normally.”
Later we went to see what
progress had taken place at the house we had purchased the previous April and
that was due for completion in November. When we arrived, one of the builders
rushed up to us to tell us that his partner had been wounded in a battle on the
Syrian front. He was a colonel in the IDF and was in hospital at Beit K in
We jumped into the builder’s car and raced up north. The
colonel, who had shrapnel in his hip and leg, was in a ward with many other
“Are they all officers?” “No,” he said, “this is Israel; all
wounded soldiers are equal.”
This was quite a change from Britain, where
officers and enlisted men could not walk on the street together even if they
We asked him how it was that when we wanted another bucket
of cement for some purpose at the house, he was reluctant to provide it, yet he
was prepared to give his blood in battle without question.
Israel” he replied. But then he added that we should check the condition of the
house thoroughly and let him know of any deficiencies. “War or no war,” he said,
“we have to act normally.”
Although the house was fully constructed,
there was no hope of getting water, electricity or gas connected because of the
war and so we could not take possession of the house and had to live in one room
in Beit Milman, which was the immigrant absorption center in Ramat Aviv.
Originally we had expected to stay there for about a month, instead we were
there for over eight.
Britain had imposed currency restrictions and
Israel was not in the “Sterling bloc.” Only a limited amount of cash could be
taken out of the country so household goods had to be purchased in the UK and
exported to Israel.
The builders agreed that when our lift arrived from
London, our furniture and other goods could be stored in the house even though
we had not yet taken possession.
We were supposed to have door-to-door
container delivery, but because of the panic caused by the outbreak of the war,
the British ran out of diesel fuel and the UK shippers could not send the
container to our UK home. Instead they sent petrol lorries and promised to pack
and mark everything in their warehouse before loading all our furniture and
household goods on the container waiting in their warehouse.
Israel, too, there were problems, because all the available tractors had been
expropriated for army use, and so the container could not be delivered to our
house in Ra’anana. Instead, all the goods had to be offloaded from the container
in Haifa port and transferred to two petrol lorries.
The port authority
showed no sympathy.
Rent had to be paid for the period the containers
stood idle in the port. The port workers seemed to be aged; all the younger ones
had been recruited to the IDF. We were fearful they would drop parcels
containing ceramics and glass.
Our shippers had been too enthusiastic
when clearing out our garage in England and they loaded a tree trunk that was
not intended to be transported. The Haifa porters placed the trunk against the
side of the container and carried on offloading our goods. A huge port tractor
unexpectedly appeared on the scene carrying another container (not ours) that it
wanted to place between our container and another standing on the dock. No-one
noticed the tree trunk until suddenly there was a loud crack that sounded more
like an explosion and two halves of the tree were sent flying across the
The tractor wheels had crushed the trunk against the steel
container and had split it into two. Imagine the scene. Everyone was startled.
Was this an attack? Fortunately noone was hurt.
But this was not all. The
two lorries were loaded and we merrily followed them out of the port gates in
our car. We had gone but a few hundred yards when a port customs vehicle sped
past us and then blocked the way.
“You cannot go,” said the customs
officer “until all the goods are checked.”
“But we have been signed out,”
we protested in vain.
“Turn round and go back into the port!” Panic set
in. We explained that if we did not get back to Ra’anana by 2 p.m. the builder’s
workers who had agreed to offload our stuff for storage in the house would leave
and the lorries or the goods would be left outside all night. We still had not
got the keys to the house.
“Don’t worry, it won’t take long,” we were
In those days when one came on aliya there were certain customs
concessions and all one’s belongings were recorded in a “tuedat oleh” (immigrant
document). Our shippers had packed our stuff well, but had failed to describe
what was in each parcel. Instead they had labeled almost everything as glassware
to avoid breakages.
When the customs officer opened the first package
marked glassware to find a stereo, the officer shouted, “Lo rashum!” (not
recorded), and said everything had to be offloaded from the lorries and checked
We pleaded for all our worth. When the senior officer saw our
predicament, he made us a proposition. He said he would accompany us to
Ra’anana. The officer got in our car and the convoy set off.
disaster turned into a godsend as the officers instructed the workers on how to
offload and place our belongings in the house. All turned out well when it was
found that the contents did indeed agree with the records. The officer also
explained later that some shipping agents were smuggling electrical items into
the country through innocent olim by placing, say, an extra refrigerator or oven
in the container and then calling round the next day to explain their “mistake.”
The oleh would be only too happy for the surplus item to be taken
“Don’t worry” said the officer, “all your goods are safely in the
house and now you can carry on normally!” The writer is author of From here to
Obscurity and Gold Ducats and Devilry Afoot.