Aliya in the face of adversity

A new exhibit helps remove Jabotinsky from simple categorization as an icon of the right.

jabotinsky 88 (photo credit: )
jabotinsky 88
(photo credit: )
Wear a sweater when you board for a voyage with Jews heading for the shores of Israel. A breeze and mist envelope you as you enter the ship and face the endless waves, before sailing through a film depicting the journey of Jews desperate to leave Nazi-controlled Europe. Water sprays as the ship rocks in the stormy sea, and floodlights search for you as you reach shore. 'The National Sport - the Af Al Pi Aliya' is a new display at the Jabotinsky Institute in Metzudat Ze'ev, the Likud party's national headquarters in downtown Tel Aviv. 'Af Al Pi Aliya' translates as 'despite everything immigration.' 'The National Sport' was the title of a 1939 article written by Ze'ev Jabotinsky urging youth to leave Nazi-controlled Europe to pre-state Israel, even though immigration was severely restricted by the British Mandate government. Conniving ship owners, dangerous seas, overcrowded and sometimes dilapidated ships and British patrols made the risks high, but those playing the game won their lives and paved the way for millions of Jews to their homeland to create a nation. The article's impact was tremendous. Jabotinsky, a soldier, author and orator, founded the British army's Jewish Legion during World War I. From 1921, he was a member of the Zionist Executive, but seceded after a disagreement over Zionist movement policy and in 1925 established the Union of Zionist Revisionists (Hatzohar), and Betar as the Revisionists' youth movement. In the years prior to the outbreak of World War II, Jabotinsky frequently visited Central and Eastern Europe. Foreseeing the catastrophe that was imminent in the wake of Hitler's rise to power, he pressed for the mass evacuation of Jews from Eastern Europe, especially the over three million Jews of Poland. "Either you eliminate the Diaspora or the Diaspora will eliminate you," he cried out. Very few took his dire words seriously. In an address to Polish Jewry in Warsaw in 1938, he alerted those who "do not see the volcano which will soon begin to spit its all-consuming lava." In May 1939, the British issued a White Paper (a statement of government policy) imposing strict immigration quotas. Af Al Pi Aliya was part of the 'Aliya Bet' effort, contrasting with the 'Aliya Aleph' that was allowed by the British authorities. The British termed all other immigration as 'illegal.' Aliya Bet occurred in two phases: between 1934 and 1942, and from 1945 to 1948 when survivors needed a home. The immigration in the period 1934-1948 is also known as Ha'apala - clandestine immigration. "Af Al Pi Aliya was important since it both rescued Jews who wanted to leave Europe and strengthened the Jews in the Land of Israel," says Yossi Ahimeir, director of the Jabotinsky Institute. The Revisionist movement undertook to bring all Jews choosing to leave, whether they were Revisionists or not. Plans were coordinated with Betar members, the new Zionist Histadrut and the underground Etzel, who helped the Jews once they arrived safely ashore. Among those involved were Yosef Katznelson, Moshe Galili and Eri Jabotinsky, Ze'ev Jabotinsky's son. The first ships arrived in 1933, carrying dozens of immigrants. In January 1934, the Kochav left Alexandria with 50 immigrants. In 1936, following the Revisionist movement's declaration of the Af Al Pi Aliya, the momentum picked up. Four ships carrying Austrian Jews were called Af Al Pi. From 1937, some 30 ships brought to the land of Israel some 20,000 Jews, who were thus saved from the Nazis. The majority of these passengers were young. Tragedy struck the last ship, the Struma, in February 1942. Coming from Romania, it was sunk by a Soviet submarine off Turkey with only one survivor from its 769 passengers. At the exhibition's two dedication ceremonies (for lack of space), Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim and Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski spoke of the conditions facing today's oleh, as compared to those in the 1930s. Aliya promotion, various programs and absorption rights form a more enticing package than in the 1930s. The Jabotinsky Institute was founded over 60 years ago to disseminate the heritage of Jabotinsky and the National Movement. A non-profit organization, its archives contain hundreds of thousands of original documents of Jabotinsky, the National Movement and the Jewish underground organizations. The institute publishes books on these topics and allocates grants to students. "The Jabotinsky Institute is already known to the public for its museum, which attracts thousands of visitors including many soldiers, students, tourists and pensioners," says Ahimeir. "This new display is part of a trend to make museums more interesting for today's youth." The museum includes two displays: 'Ze'ev Jabotinsky - Historical Life-Span' is three-dimensional, appearing on multi-screens in Hebrew, English, Russian or French with actors playing out an imaginary dialogue between Jabotinsky and Eri about his life within its historical context. The 'National Sport' exhibit replaces the long-running 'Detention and Deportation' display that depicted British prisons and detention camps. The film for the 'National Sport' exhibit will soon be dubbed in English, promises museum director Shlomo Katan. Some of the authentic items are borrowed from the National Maritime Museum in Haifa. The display was designed by architect Anat Herman-Wincygster together with Disk-In, a Tel Aviv company that specializes in desktop video and multimedia. A large screen utilizes a seamless technique, affording a view of the story unfolding over the deck. The film's script includes stories from events that actually occurred on different ships. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was due to visit the display this week, on January 2 - the 12th of the Hebrew month Tevet. A recent law enacted by the Knesset, the Jabotinsky Law, designates this date as devoted to remembering Jabotinsky and his legacy by teaching about him throughout the school system. "This law helps remove Jabotinsky from being categorized as a leader of the right. He is now regarded as a Zionist leader, like Herzl," states Ahimeir, a veteran journalist and former assistant to Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. "We are planning to move the institute to larger quarters," states Ahimeir, noting that the city of Ramat Gan has already allocated space near Bar-Ilan University. In addition to its current functions and a large auditorium for events, the new location will eventually include a research center about anti-Semitism, and a center for international media and hasbara. The Jabotinsky Institute: 38 Rehov King George, Tel Aviv Hours: Sunday-Thursday 8 am - 4 pm; Friday, holiday eve: 9 am-1 pm. Group visits must be coordinated in advance. Tel: 03-5285587 (also in English).