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Israel 1948: Rebirth of a people

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Introduction

This letter by Zipporah Porath was written to her parents from Haifa in October of 1948, during the Israel War of Independence.

Zipporah's letters provide glimpses of the character of a people in the making, and describe what it was like to be an Israeli in those times. Zipporah,‎ though still a soldier in the nascent army‎, was able to look at the country and its people both as an insider explaining it to others, and as an outsider, looking in on the imperfect and constantly changing society and individuals. Israel and Israelis were being forged by a harsh reality, were forced constantly to make difficult choices, and were, by this time, beginning to get just a bit more confidence or over-confidence owing to  their success against impossible odds. 

This letter was written in response to a very negative and critical report brought home to Zipporah's parents by a visitor. She wrote:

...Israel's capability cannot be measured by any standard yardstick. It defies reason. It has to do with self-sacrifice, resourcefulness and steadfast determination. An outsider can't really assess it. You have to see these people in action to understand what makes this country tick. They're incredible. One learns a lot about tolerance in this country. It takes a lot of it to live with your fellow Jews. But I can't help getting damn angry, and protective, when something I value and hold dear is maligned, degraded and diminished. We here can't afford to dwell on our faults and shortcomings, and resent it when someone else points them out -- as if we didn't know about them.  

Palestine Airletter 1948

Zipporah ("Zippy") arrived in Mandatory Palestine in Oct. 1947, as an American student, for what was intended to be a year of study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  But, caught up in Israel's War of Independence, she served first as a medic in the underground Haganah defense forces, and then in the nascent IDF and the fledgling Israel Air Force. These volunteers from abroad were later recognized as part of the MACHAL volunteer corps.

The letters Zippy wrote to her parents and sister capture the historic events as they occurred. They are compiled in the book, Letters from Jerusalem, 1947-1948. You can order it from zip(at)netvision.net.il (Israel) or click here for review and order information

Jerusalem Palestine Air mail letter, 1947


Haifa Bay,

October 29, 1948

Mother Dear,

Believe me, the doomsday report you got is way off the mark. Probably from one of those people who hop over to Israel briefly, stick their heads through two doors, have a gossipy luncheon, and go home loaded with "inside information." They know as much about what makes the wheels go round here as the average American does about what cooks in Washington D.C. The nonsense these gossip- hungry people gobble up is often tasteless leftovers someone dished out mindlessly.

Take it for a fact that I am more familiar with the scene after a year here than your "here today gone tomorrow" observer, who saw only a negative picture in stark black and white. What he failed to fathom was what lies below the surface and motivates most of the people who live here -- fierce dedication and uncompromising faith, an unbeatable combination. Israel's capability cannot be measured by any standard yardstick. It defies reason. It has to do with self-sacrifice, resourcefulness and steadfast determination. An outsider can't really assess it. You have to see these people in action to understand what makes this country tick. They're incredible. One learns a lot about tolerance in this country. It takes a lot of it to live with your fellow Jews. But I can't help getting damn angry, and protective, when something I value and hold dear is maligned, degraded and diminished. We here can't afford to dwell on our faults and shortcomings, and resent it when someone else points them out -- as if we didn't know about them.

Looked at from the outside-in, one could easily label this country a disaster, a land of primitive people living in backward and isolated ignorance. And that is partially true. But at the same time, there are dynamic forces at work and an ever- increasing number of people fighting for change -- even if they are fogged by idealism,  blind nationalism and overconfidence fed on partisanship.

There aren't words general enough to begin to generalize about the heterogeneity of this country -- its people, cities, settlements and Kibbutzim [communal settlements]. Israel is a melting pot like America never was. A tiny sponge of a land, which in the short span of a year has had to absorb into its fighting forces soldiers, who aren't soldiers at all, from every continent in the world. Their only baggage: culture, customs and tongues from foreign lands. They and their baggage were dumped here, for lack of any other address, in the midst of a bloody war, and no one has had time to open this Pandora's box and sort it out.

Such a little, pathetic, struggling state to have such a multitude of internal problems, so many of them seemingly insurmountable. Not to mention the ever present horde of Arab States pressing menacingly at our borders in an unfinished war. It takes a lot of tolerance, compassion and understanding to accept all the things that are wrong and a lot of courage and physical stamina to stand your ground regarding things that could or should be changed.

In the army it's the insignificant things that make a difference, become all-consuming: wanting a winter uniform when you are cold, a leave pass when you need to get away, stomaching inexperienced officers and ridiculous military discipline, seeing people stepping over other people in a hurry to get ahead, watching all the vanities of life at work, the spoils system at its worst....

In about ten year's time this will be a great country. Now it is chaos; still in the throes of birth pains while the miracle emerges -- with plenty of bloodshed.

I didn't mean to get carried away, but your Mr. "Know-It-All" hit a raw nerve. Or maybe I needed to give myself a pep talk... to remind myself of things I know in my bones, but tend to forget when irritations get out of hand.

Anyhow, I'm sure we'll straighten out the mess somehow. We have to. It's just a matter of time.

All my Love,

Zippy

From  Zipporah Porath, Letters from Jerusalem, 1947-1948 Order it from zip(at)netvision.net.il (Israel) or click here for review and order information

Other letters from the book: Israel: This is my home - 1948; Palestine Partition - November 29, 1947 Palestine: Ben Yehuda Street Bombing


Notice

Letter copyright 1987 by Zipporah Porath. Introduction copyright 2008 by Zipporah Porath and Zionism-Israel.com. All rights reserved. This document may not be reproduced without express permission of the author and the publisher.


See also: Palestine Partition - November 29, 1947 Memoirs of a Palmach volunteer, 1948 , Was there Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine in 1948?
Israel - Birth of a Nation - The struggle for Israel's independence 
1948 Israel War of Independence (First Arab-Israeli war) Timeline (Chronology) MACHAL In Israel's Wars MACHAL in Israel's War of Independence MACHAL - in illegal immigration to Palestine and Israel War of Independence

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