Veteran: Chana Aranne

"During the siege of Jerusalem everyone got two gallons of water a day. You used it and reused it."

Gloria Deutsch 88 248 (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Gloria Deutsch 88 248
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
With her steady blue-eyed gaze and her straight back, it's not hard to imagine 80-year-old Chana Aranne as a 17-year-old girl, wielding a Sten gun in the War of Independence. Arriving in 1947 to study at the Hebrew University, the teenager quickly found herself deep in the battle for the state. With a good memory and an ability to articulate what the events of those days really felt like, it's fascinating to listen to her talk about the birth of Israel from the perspective of an American teen. PREPARATION Born on New York's Lower East Side to a father born in Europe who made a living selling from a pushcart, and a mother born in the United States, Aranne grew up in a deeply religious family and even as a small child was enchanted by the biblical stories and prayers to return to Eretz Yisrael. She joined the forerunner of Bnei Akiva - Hashomer Hadati - and dreamed of going to what was then Palestine. "It was a hopeless dream until I heard of a friend going there to study under the GI Bill of Rights. You needed two years college and money to pay passage and this entitled you to a year at Hebrew University. You also had to show you had money to pay your return passage." It was a tall order - she had one year of college and no money. She completed her studies and worked as a waitress until she had enough money. In 1947 she boarded the boat from New York for the two-week journey. THE JOURNEY "It was great fun. All the religious people boarded on Friday and we all sat together and ate together. We were mostly students and some of us went on to become well-known personalities, like the poet Ted Carmi and Judd Stampfer, the grandson of the Petah Tikva pioneer. "But when I looked down at my family waving to me, I suddenly became hysterical. I cried to the man standing next to me that all the people I loved in the world were down there. He was a fine young man, an emissary going home, and he said, prophetically as it turned out, that they would all follow me." ARRIVAL When the ship docked in Haifa, she was met by a distant relative and stayed with his family for a while. He was very poor - a survivor of the sunken immigrant ship Patria - and she quickly moved to Jerusalem to a room rented by the American Friends of the Hebrew University, which she had joined. SETTLING IN Within a month war broke out. The university closed as all the men were called up. It was November 29, 1947, the day of the UN partition vote, and friends of Aranne's were being killed. "I could have left then - there were arrangements made by the US consul and my family sent frantic cables, but I wanted to stay. This was going to be my home and if your house is on fire, you help put the fire out, right?" A mortar shell landed in her wardrobe and most of her clothes were ruined. One day she saw a sign in a storefront in Jerusalem. It said "Recruiting Office." "I went in and said I wanted to join up. I said my dorm had closed down and I was ready to live in the army now. The man took my name and address and said, 'We don't have that kind of an army. Everyone goes home after fighting.'" Seeing that she was religious he sent her to a seminary where she was required to do guard duty and quickly taught to use a rifle. "We were also given a Sten gun which was famous for only shooting when you didn't want it to," she recalls with a smile. The girls cooked for the boys - they had fought and helped to capture Malha and Ein Kerem - and were required to help dig trenches. After David Ben-Gurion declared independence conditions became even more dangerous. "We were situated on a peak and could see the Jordan Legion tanks go back and forth. They could easily have overrun us." Aranne believes divine intervention saved them. "There was no logical reason they didn't attack." "During the siege of Jerusalem everyone got two gallons of water a day. You used it and reused it. If you cooked or washed something, you used it to flush the toilet. On Friday you took a shower by standing in a bowl and pouring a cup of water on your head." Food was sparse - no meat or vegetables but plenty of bread. Once her brother arrived from Europe with a salami and everyone got a thin slice - it tasted like ambrosia. "You kept the bread a few days and ate it hard. With fresh bread you wanted more. We'd go out and scavenge for any green herb and make a kind of soup from it." LIFE SINCE ALIYA After the war ended, she went back to the US and married Meir Aranne, who had won a scholarship to study here. He became a lawyer and later legal adviser to the prime minister. She took a break to have her children, then became a teacher of music and English. While all the members of her extended family are musicians - her nephew is Bernie (Dov) Marienbach, the band leader - she is an expert viola player and has played for years in the Hebrew University Hillel Orchestra. BEST THING ABOUT ISRAEL AND ADVICE TO NEW IMMIGRANTS "I'm very happy here; I've had a wonderful life and have great friends and family. Whenever I meet new immigrants having a hard time, I tell them: 'Hang in there kiddo. Some day your kids won't have to go through what you do.' I always say it's great to have the courage of your convictions - and if you have convictions, the courage comes easier." To propose an immigrant for a "Veterans" profile, please send a one paragraph e-mail to: