The Holocaust figured prominently in the migrations from Europe to Palestine and then Israel that began in the 1930s and continued after the war. Along with migrations under pressure from Arab countries, the Holocaust molded a population built on distrust of others. The movement of another million people from the former Soviet Union brought others who sought freedom or fulfillment in the Jewish country, including some older residents who had experienced the Holocaust but had been denied benefits due to Cold War politics.Israelis born of the Holocaust survivors have their own problems. Some are unable to carry on a conversation without touching on the experiences of their parents, or their own problems growing up in their parents'' shadows. Attending a wedding a month ago involving a distant cousin of Varda, I perceived a related feature of Israel''s history. There was nothing unusual about the ceremony or the party. The Orthodox rabbi sought to educate the mostly secular audience with explanations of the rituals, and expressed his most positive evaluations of the young couple and their capacity to have a good life together. There were two to three hundred guests, assigned by name cards to tables that sat eight to ten individuals.
My insight came when I perceived that Varda, myself, her sister and far distant cousins were all there was of the family connected with the groom''s father. We were assigned to one table, where we filled one half of the places.Varda''s connection with the wedding derives from a picture of the Kleischmidt family. It included her grandmother Lena and Lena''s five brothers. A cousin of Lena was the great grandfather of the groom at last month''s wedding.
The picture shows a well established bourgeois family, with good clothes, trimmed beards and mustaches, and the kind of heavy furniture that Lena brought to Palestine from Berlin. Lena''s husband had died a decade earlier, which caused Lena and her children to move from a substantial home with servants. Her life in Tel Aviv was even more strained. She shared a small apartment at various times with two teenage girls, the family of her older daughter, then Varda''s mother and father as newlyweds, and occasional boarders.Lena''s family, like those of numerous other migrants, moved in different directions, depending on opportunities. Some spent only a few years in Israel before going elsewhere. Others went directly to Britain, Australia, South Africa, North or South America. It was not a situation that encouraged procreation. The economic problems of the 1930s also affected Palestine. The doubling of the Jewish population with post-war migrations from Europe and the Middle East eventually contributed to economic growth, but the initial impact was harsh. Authorities settled many of the newcomers in tents or temporary shacks, in urban housing abandoned by Arabs or scruffy new towns some distance from the opportunities of Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem. Israel was dependent on economic aid and food donations from Independence in 1948 and into the 1950s.I thought of my American family as I sat with Varda''s few cousins at our half-table. My maternal great grandparents migrated from Bialystok at the turn of the century as a young couple with small children, and produced more in their new home. Last time I took notice there were more than 200 people who qualified for the label "cousin," and now there is another generation of who knows how many. My paternal family is smaller, but could fill several tables at a wedding.My family does not have the equivalent of Chaim Arlozorov, a cousin of Lena, who I occasionally mention as my tenuous connection with Israeli aristocracy. There is an Arlozorov street in virtually every city. He was a leading figure in what later became the Labor Party, represented the Jewish Community of Palestine at the League of Nations, and went to Germany to arrange the orderly exit of Jews to Palestine. It was during that trip that he met with Lena and her daughter Ina (now Varda''s 94 year old mother), and persuaded them to leave Germany. So thanks to Arlozorov, there is Varda, Tamar and Mattan.Two days after his return from Germany, Arlozorov was murdered on the Tel Aviv beach. The event still bothers Israeli researchers. Competing hypotheses assign responsibility to a chance killing, an Arab terrorist, a plot engineered by political opponents identified with predecessors of today''s Likud, and Germans sent by Joseph Goebbels. When Menachem Begin became Prime Minister after the election of 1977, he appointed a commission of inquiry to settle the accusation against his political colleagues. Forty-three years after the killing, it was no surprise that commission members were not able to lay that story to rest. The German hypothesis derives from a youthful relationship between Arlozorov and Magda Goebbels. Some claim it was romantic, others that they were no more than classmates. According to one account, Arlozorov sought to employ his friendship with Magda in order to reach the highest circles of the Nazi government, but she warned that any contact with her would endanger his life.Varda''s family is not the only one that reproduced little in its first Israeli generation. The ultra-Orthodox suffered more than others in Central and Eastern Europe, partly because their rabbis urged them to remain where they were and rely on God to protect them from the Germans. Their losses led early Israeli governments to concede them an exemption from military service, independent control of their education, and other benefits that continue. Now there are too many ultra-Orthodox voters to undo those preferences.Our own family has replenished itself. There will be 13 descendants of Lena''s daughter Ina at our Passover Seder, plus spouses, and Gentile friends who come most years from Germany. Altogether there are now 5,700,000 Jews in the country, up from about 600,000 at Independence.