A visit to Yad Mordechai By Bernard Edinger, Paris.

The large statue of Anielewicz at Yad Mordechai (photo credit: SUZANNE EDINGER)
The large statue of Anielewicz at Yad Mordechai
(photo credit: SUZANNE EDINGER)
While in Israel in December, paying a long-delayed visit to the museum at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, my family got a sense of how past and present can suddenly and depressingly merge.
Yad Mordechai’s name commemorates the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising. In 1948 the kibbutz fought its own war against an invading Egyptian army.
Almost 70 years later, we were gazing at the museum’s scale model of the 1948 battle when suddenly: BA-BOOM! And again, like heavy doors being violently slammed: BA-BOOM, BA-BOOM, BA-BOOM! About a dozen explosions. Not over our heads, but near enough.
Linda, the Baltimore-born kibbutz member who has lived here since 1975 and shows tourists about, had only minutes before flicked on the lights of the model of the battle situated under a concrete, bunker-like roof.
Unsure of what was happening, I asked her if the noise was linked to the sound-and-light show. “No. That’s our life today,” she replied.
As it turned out, literally out of a blue sky and after at least a week of calm in the area, three heavy mortar shells had been fired from Gaza, whose border lies only three kilometers (less than two miles) away. Two were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome anti- missile system, but one landed in an inhabited area not far from Yad Mordechai, causing damage but no casualties. People took refuge in bomb shelters in several places, while Israel immediately responded with tank fire and an air strike.
So standing before a mock-up of a 1948 Egyptian-Israeli battle, in the shadow of the 1943 destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto by the Nazis, here we were being shelled by Islamic Jihad from Gaza in 2017.
My wife and I had come to Yad Mordechai with our eldest daughter, who is a high school teacher in a Negev town, and her Sabra (native-born Israeli) husband.
The memory of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising remains vivid among my in-laws. My late father-in-law escaped from the ghetto before the revolt with two friends, both of whom were killed before his eyes when they emerged on the “Aryan” side of the city. He was the only member of his family in Warsaw to survive the war, and settled in Paris.
“J’aime Mordechai,” (I love Mordechai), his daughter, my wife Suzanne, said as she resolutely headed up the pathway leading from the museum to the statue of Mordechai Anielewicz. He was the leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and his statue stands, defiantly clutching a hand grenade, alongside the collapsed remains of the kibbutz’s water tower, devastated by shelling in 1948.
Anielewicz was 24 years old when he was killed.
Much of the excellent kibbutz museum is devoted to the prewar lives – and wartime deaths – of the 400,000 Warsaw Jews who were crammed into the ghetto, where they were starved and abused before being systematically deported in waves to Nazi death camps.
Anielewicz and several hundred other young Jews, many of them like himself members of Hashomer Hatzair (the Young Guard), a left-wing Zionist movement, rose up against the Nazis with a motley collection of weapons on April 19, 1943 and fought on until May 16 by which time nearly all of them had been killed. The kibbutz was founded later that year by Hashomer Hatzair to which it is still affiliated.
Kibbutz Yad Mordechai became a part of Israeli history in May 1948. It was besieged for five days and finally overrun by Egyptian troops sent to crush the newborn Jewish state. Some 18 members of the kibbutz and eight soldiers of the elite Palmach fighting force were killed but their resistance helped the newly created Israeli Army regroup to finally stop the Egyptian thrust toward Tel Aviv.
I couldn’t help recalling the words we recite each year at the Passover dinner table: “That not just one nation has risen up to try to destroy us, but in every generation they rise up against us to try to destroy us.”
I know I would not be complete if I did not add the sentence which follows: “and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand.”
Well, maybe. But certainly not all of us.
As I write these lines now back in Paris, French Jewish radio is reporting a memorial ceremony at the site of the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket here, where four Jews were killed by an Islamist gunman three years ago on January 9, 2015.