The British Are Coming

*The title has nothing to do with Brexit, as clearly, the British are leaving today… *

It’s 1947, the British Mandate is still in “Palestine”. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish survivors from the Holocaust are in displaced persons camps in Europe. Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel is illegal. Read about the “Aliya Bet” here.

On Wednesday night our son Elnadav had his “graduation” ceremony from elementary school, which goes until 6th grade. It was less of a formal graduation, and more of a celebration of the kids, and I have to say that I enjoyed it far more than any graduation I have attended in the past. There were few long winded speeches, and it was not about glorifying the school, but simply about the kids. They performed some amazing dances, and an incredible sports show. The only pomp and circumstance was the handing over of the school flag to the incoming 6th graders. You can watch that here. Elnadav is one of the boys holding the flag.

The following night (last night) was their end of year trip – an event that our school has been taking part in for about 30 years. When I first heard about it, I decided immediately to volunteer. The Zionist in me just had to be part of it.

Why? Well they take the kids to Nitzanim Field school, in between Ashdod and Ashkelon, in the dark of night. There they are separated into 3 groups: The British, The Haganah (Jewish underground at the time of the British Mandate) and The Ma’apilim (The name given to the illegal Jewish immigrants). Time rewinds to 1947, the ship Shabtai Luzinsky breaks through the British blockade and lands off the coast at Nitzanim. We (I was part of the Haganah) spent 2 and a half hours trekking through sand dunes evading the British patrols, listening carefully to the radio transmissions coming from the Haganah HQ in Tel Aviv, until we eventually got to the landing area. The 800+ passengers disembarked (okay not last night), and most evaded the British. We ran to greet our Ma’apilim group and distributed ID cards, and mingled with them, and told them to answer only “Ani Yehudi M’Eretz Yisrael” (I am a Jew from the Land of Israel) to any question they are asked. When the British group arrived a moment later and started to ask questions, this was the resounding answer heard.

From there we trekked another couple of kilometers back to where a large bonfire had been lit, and we learned more about the history of the Ma’apilim.

IMG_7039

“A Jew from the Land of Israel” written in fire

This is the only photo that I have from the entire experience, because we were not allowed to use anything during the activity that wasn’t available in 1947. We had only water and a flashlight each, and even the flashlights we were not allowed to use most of the time, for fear of being caught by the British patrols.

For all the kids this was a fun, educational experience. For my kid, and a couple of other kids who were not born in Israel, it was a lesson that making Aliya was not always about hopping on a plane with Nefesh b’Nefesh and being welcomed to Israel as a Jew under the Law of Return. My son’s teacher told me that her parents arrived in Israel on a boat from Italy after the Holocaust. For her this is a very personal excursion.

The whole experience was fun, educational and enlightening. We were out in the wild (spiders, sand creatures, and even Hyenas!), in the beautiful moonlit night, no cellphones, nothing but the radio of our commander to be in touch with anyone. The sirens we heard were so realistic that a couple of the kids asked at first if it was a rocket attack. (To be clear, the sirens were very obviously from “police cars”, and sounded nothing like red alert sirens, but some girls like to be overly dramatic… and darkness apparently lends to an exaggerated imagination).

I would love to see the US day schools who bring their 8th graders to Israel add this activity to their schedule. What better way to encourage Aliyah than by showing today’s children just how easy it is for us now?

Shabbat Shalom.

 

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