Vignettes from Rosh Hashana in Israel, 1948

Zipporah Porath, better known as Zippy, just celebrated her 90th birthday in in her adopted country, Israel.

Jewish soldiers in Jerusalem 1948 521 (photo credit: Fred Csasznik)
Jewish soldiers in Jerusalem 1948 521
(photo credit: Fred Csasznik)
Zipporah Porath, better known as Zippy, just celebrated her 90th birthday in in her adopted country, Israel. Rosh Hashana 1948 marked her first full year in the country, and what a year it was.
In October 1947, Zippy Borowsky arrived in Israel from New York and enrolled at the Hebrew University. Caught up in Israel’s struggle for survival and independence, she abandoned her studies and joined the underground Hagana, illegally, of course. A medic during the siege of Jerusalem in the spring months of 1948, she entered the fledgling Israel Air Force after Israel was born. Only a few American girls were brave enough to come to Israel in the 1947-’49 period, but Zippy was a determined Zionist – nothing could stop her.
The great inheritance which Zippy has transmitted to the reading public in Hebrew and in English are her collected letters to her parents, written from her arrival until the latter part of 1948. Her letters provide a vivid description of what it meant for her to be here and participate in the founding of Israel.
So popular is her volume Letters from Jerusalem 1947-1948, that it is now a Kindle book and can be found on the Amazon website.
In a letter dated October 2, 1948, Zippy was then stationed at IAF HQ in Tel Aviv, and wrote to her sister about listening to a Rosh Hashana radio interview with the legendary Leonard Bernstein, who had come to conduct the then Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra because of his love for Israel.
“He was wonderfully moving,” she wrote, and “spoke straight from the heart, including a few words in Hebrew.”
Then Zippy, who had attended wonderful and inspiring High Holy Day services as a youngster with her family in New York, wrote briefly about the holiday in Jerusalem.
Her description reminds us of what religious leaders in Israel misunderstood for a long time: to feel a part of the prayers and the holidays, single individuals need to be given an ambience which speaks to them.
“Rosh Hashana,” Zippy wrote, “and holidays in general were meant for families to celebrate, not individuals.”
She came to Israel from of a warm family atmosphere, and so that is what she felt was needed. “I’ve been invited to several families for meals, but it’s not the same thing. Went to services at the local synagogue.” She was a very committed military person, so “right afterwards I had to rush back to work.”
The image she offers is a very special one for audiences in US who really knew little of what was transpiring here in October 1948.
Boldly, she wrote: “It’s incongruous: from synagogue to war room,” and a Jewish war room at that. “But that’s the way it is.... I hope this will truly be one of the happiest years ever. As far as I am concerned, one way of fulfilling that wish would be to have one or all of you here. I’m counting on that, and soon. Shana Tova! Love, Zippy.”
Her book was so well distributed that the editorial board of the volume Letters of the Century highlighting a most important hundred years (1900-1999) in world history, selected the final letter in Zippy’s book for inclusion in the volume. Dial Press issued that anthology, which includes letters written by Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, presidents Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy – and Zippy. A private Israeli publisher had the letters translated into Hebrew and issued them as a book which is still in print.
In goodness and sweetness The noted sculptress of the bust of president Yitzhak Navon at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, Bilha Deutsch-Levin of Jerusalem, grew up in Petah Tikva after making aliya with her parents in the mid 1930s.
Her parents, Esther and Eliyahu Deutsch were from Transylvania where she was born.
Her father was an ardent Zionist and so his dream was to bring his family to Eretz Yisrael.
On arrival, the family went straight to Petah Tikva, where her father bought land and cows, and planted orchards. The Deutsch family lived through World War II in Eretz Yisrael. As with all families, they lost many relatives during the Holocaust.
Bilha showed artistic ability early, so she hoped that when she finished high school she would go to Jerusalem to study. Right after Israel became a state in 1948, she enrolled in the seminary for religious teachers and later graduated. She subsequently studied art, and most importantly, she worked with private instructors as she developed her skill as a sculptress.
In Jerusalem she met Dov Levin, a survivor from Kovno, Lithuania, married him in 1951 and has been living in Jerusalem ever since.
In Petah Tikva, Bilha served in the the civil guard. Throughout World War II and the War of Independence she helped people of all ages enter the shelters whenever the sirens were sounded.
Rosh Hashana for the Deutsch family in Petah Tikva had a special meaning in 1948 because the entire family, sons who had been in the Palmah, Irgun and IDF were all home for the “Yamim Noraim,” the Days of Awe.
“I remember the special foods which my mother and her helpers cooked for Rosh Hashana. In 1948 it was a special New Year because we now had our own Jewish state.
We had prayed for such a state, but it was only when we fought and won [that] the state actually become ours.”
One of Bilha’s brothers was a paratrooper in 1948. He was wounded but survived after being in a number of major battles. Many of Bilha’s other siblings were younger than she was so they were still in various elementary and high school programs.
“After we got home from shul the first night of Rosh Hashana, the family had all assembled at my parents’ home, about 25 of us. My father, Eliyahu, sat at the head of the table as the patriarch he was. Before the kiddush, he gave a little speech, because he never believed that we would have our own land, under our control. He was happy to announce that he was glad that he had been mistaken.
“My father raised the wine glass high, we all answered ‘amen’ to the kiddush. Then the gigantic round challot were unveiled and our own home-made honey was poured over the bread to generate the sweetest year possible.
Finally pieces of apple were circulated – dipped in honey. And we recited: may this new year be renewed for us in goodness and sweetness.”