On a sandy hill overlooking the traffic-choked Route 2 coastal highway, a memorial is being constructed, with a giant shofar horn pointed toward Jerusalem.
It is mounted on two supporting pillars that are painted sky blue, flanked on either side with 3-meter-high numbers “1947,” and mounted above a base with the flags of 33 nations.
The 1947 memorial is impossible to be missed by the 250,000-plus eyes per day that travel north and south along the coastal road. It will be impossible for tour guides, with their busloads of curious visitors, not to see it. The guides will have to answer questions about it even if they are more interested in telling the tourists about the sports stadium across the road.
It is a shofar – seemingly nothing special. Perhaps it is an oddity for the Guinness Book of World Records. But what does 1947 have to do with the shofar?
The “giant shofar,” as many have come to call it, though those of us involved call it “the 1947,” commemorates an event two millennia in coming – an incredible event that happened 75 years ago.
On November 29, 1947, 9,000 km. to the west, in Flushing Meadows, New York, 33 nations, 72% of the members of the UN, voted to rebirth the Jewish state. The last Jewish state had been destroyed by the Romans 2,000 years earlier. The Romans changed the name of the land to “Palestine.”
Jews throughout British Mandatory Palestine gathered about their radio sets, anxiously counting each vote as it came in. Jewish history was being made.
The final tally came in and an explosion of thrill, exuberance and happiness burst out into the streets. Cars stopped. People got out. There was dancing everywhere.
The aftermath of World War II
AFTER THE upheavals of World War II, the UN acquiesced to a new world of peace through ethnic population transfers. Twenty million Muslims and Hindus were separated forcefully across British India. Twelve million ethnic Germans were removed from Eastern Europe.
The Jews were not affected. Six million had been exterminated in the Holocaust. The Jewish survivors, a bedeviling UN problem, languished in displaced person camps. They were depressed and unwanted by anyone. Most wanted to go to Israel. The British and the Arabs would not let them. The 600,000 Jews living in Mandatory Palestine were more than enough for them.
The UN solved the Jewish problem, voting to further divide the small remaining part of the failed World War I British Mandate for Palestine that had not already been given to the Arabs. The UN partitioned the 20% left between the Arabs and the Jews.
Secretly, the Diaspora lobbied heavily for the vote. A curious partnership had formed to support the vote. Some countries voted for the Jewish state because it was the right thing to do; others because of guilt after the Holocaust.
The Jews in Palestine, the stateless Holocaust survivors languishing in European DP camps, jubilantly accepted the UN decision. The Arabs, tragically, did not. The resolution required Britain to leave Palestine in six months.
For the Jews, the vote was a dream come true. For the first time in 2,000 years, they could be masters of their own fate. For the 600,000 Jews in Palestine, amid their joy, they knew it meant a very bloody reality. Five Arabs armies invaded following the declaration of Israel’s independence on May 15, 1948. The world expected the Jews to be exterminated.
Partnership between the Diaspora and Israel
A new partnership arose between the Diaspora and Israel – a partnership that did not, and could not exist during the Holocaust. Money, supplies and weapons began to trickle in, evading the British embargo.
Israel lacked everything it needed to defend itself. It had no air force, navy, armored corps; nor a cohesive command structure. Five thousand Jews – and a small core of non-Jewish foreign volunteers, most with extensive military training – managed to enter the country. Together, the partners from the Diaspora and Israel turned the tide of the war in the nascent Jewish state’s favor.
THE JEWISH American Society for Historic Preservation (JASHP) conceived, funded and facilitated the 1947 Partition Resolution Memorial. We agreed to the project because we knew Israel had no plans for the 75th anniversary of the momentous birthing event that made Israel possible.
Far too few Israelis and Diaspora Jews know the meaning of November 29. For that matter, barely half of Israeli youth know much about Theodor Herzl, except that he is the metal cutout on the water tower in Herzliya. Without memory, they probably will not care.
JASHP has completed 18 historical projects in and for Israel. We fill in the gaps of memory for the present to shape the future when Israel has not done, or will not do, what it should for itself.
Some projects are small and very meaningful. We restored the disgracefully disintegrated grave site of the “Hatikvah” composer Shmuel Cohen. Some are big. None have happened without years of contention, disinterest, frustration, resistance, and even hostility. The 1947 project was no different.
Our proposed site requests were rejected more than once. We refused to accept suggested locations where the 1947 memorial would not be seen. We refused possibilities in which the 1947 memorial could be pushed aside and become scrap metal – like the armored cars near Sha’ar Haggai, which for years had stood on the spot where they had fallen.
In time, a match was made with the right partners who wanted the 1947 memorial: Miriam Feirberg, mayor of Netanya; and Yaakov Hagoel, chairman of the World Zionist Organization. Noted Jerusalem sculptor Sam Philipe, who has designed many of our projects, was re-engaged.
Philipe’s design was inspired by the biblical quote, “And in that day, a great ram’s horn shall be sounded; and the strayed who are in the land of Assyria and the expelled who are in the land of Egypt shall come and worship the Lord on the holy mount, in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 27:13).
As of this writing, 20 ambassadors have said they will be coming to the dedication of the memorial. They will be joined by a large cross-section of Israeli society.
We sincerely thank Mayor Feirberg, Chairman Hagoel and sculptor Philipe. Without their dedicated partnership, the 1947 memorial never would have come to fruition.
The dedication of the memorial will take place at 2 p.m., November 29, adjacent to Einstein Park (Baruch Spinoza Street) in North Netanya.
The writer is the president and founder of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation, www.JASHP.org. He is the son of survivors of Buchenwald and Bergen Belsen.