An egg for Pessah

Memories of life in an under-siege pre-state Jerusalem.

Food and water supplies were critically low in Jerusalem in April 1948, with life dependent on the arrival and departure of each shayara (convoy). None had arrived for over a week. Then, miraculously, just before Pessah, an enormous convoy managed to get through the Arab blockade intact with more than 200 trucks of food and essential holiday supplies. A rationing program had already been instituted to assure scrupulously fair distribution of Jerusalem's almost nonexistent food (and later water) supplies. I was issued a student ration card valid for a specific grocery store in the city center. Fortunately, I and some other students had been receiving packages from home from time to time (before the difficulties began). Knowing that the worst was yet to come, we kept reserves. Almost no food could be found in the shops. A meal at a restaurant consisted of watery so-called potato soup and mock sausage, with no way of knowing what they were made of. After several stomach upsets, I gave up on eating out and, together with a few friends, decided to pool our reserves and concoct meals in our student quarters. It is amazing what powdered milk and powdered eggs can do to revive each other when you sprinkle them with love and hope and mix well. Our first meal was noodles in powdered milk soup and canned sardine salad, topped off with hot water and a pinch of instant coffee. Next day, someone pitched in with a can of pineapple, sliced into itty bitty snips for dessert. With the safe arrival of this large convoy of Pessah foods, a special ration was announced. Students (with no dependents to feed) were allocated one egg each. However, to get to town to the registered grocery store was no easy matter. Travel through the city was perilous. Explosions and sniping were routine. The food-pool friends agreed it was pointless for all of us to endanger our lives, even for one egg, so we drew lots. The winner would collect the rations for us all. Though I had never won a lottery, I won this one. With our ration cards safe in my purse, I took a deep breath and boarded the bus, which would have to pass through Romema and other Arab districts. The iron grates on the windows protected us from hand grenades, but I had to keep my head down most of the way to avoid snipers. The grocery man accepted the ration cards and payment and put our portions of margarine, cheese and other stuff in a parcel. He gently wrapped the eggs in newspaper and tenderly placed them on top. I protected them vigilantly during the entire hazardous bus ride. Then, bingo, right in front of the entrance to our building, I missed a step. My treasures went flying. The roommates awaiting my arrival were distraught but immediately rushed to gather up the gooey remains of the eggs. We added crumbled matza, powdered milk and powdered eggs and scrambled up an omelette, an unimaginable delicacy. That scrumptious concoction will forever mark my memory of what it was like to celebrate Pessah in pre-state Israel during the perilous siege of Jerusalem. The writer is a veteran olah, freelance writer and author of Letters from Jerusalem 1947-1948.