Land of My Birth – The Second World War had ended, and the Jewish survivors were set free from the death camps and from their hiding places. A movement sprung up, the “Bericha” – meaning to flee – gathering together tens of thousands Jewish refugees, who had managed to rise up from the inferno in complicated ways, and getting them ready for the journey to Eretz Yisrael. The members of the youth movements and the underground in the land were called upon to help rescue the small number of refugees abroad.
Yosef and Miriam Meir, a young recently married couple, decided not to stay home for the first year but rather to dedicate themselves to helping in the rescue efforts. They met with the head of the Aliya Department, Moshe Shapira (who was later appointed Interior Minister) and told him about their plans. He smiled in his fatherly way and said, “You have just begun a new family, why should you want to join the suffering of the exile?” But Yosef and Miriam were adamant and they replied with enthusiasm:
“We have decided to go and help the survivors, who are being kept in camps, waiting to begin their new lives in our homeland. We believe it is our duty to go there. Young people like us, healthy and with warm hearts, can fulfill any task which we are assigned. We are former members of Bnei Akiva and the Hagannah. Yosef was in the Palmach. We know how to do a job in a responsible way.”
The couple traveled in 5706 (1946) together with twelve other young people to survivor camps in Germany. They carried with them a large supply of holy books and Hebrew songbooks. They had formal appointments as soldiers for the United Nations (UNRWA), so they wore military uniforms. The military symbol on their sleeves was a yellow Star of David on a blue background. This symbol brought a trembling to the hearts of the Jews of Europe and helped replace their sadness with joy. This was the same yellow Star of David that so recently had been a symbol of the horrible Holocaust. And now the same symbol was a harbinger of salvation and renewal of the nation of Yisrael.
Yosef was sent to the center of Germany, while Miriam served in the southern part of the country, such that about 1000 km separated the young couple. Here is what Miriam wrote in her diary about their lack of contact:
“We ‘celebrated’ our first anniversary with a choppy conversation through the switchboard of the occupational forces. The operator interrupted again and again, asking what weird language we were speaking. And this was indeed a strange language under strange circumstances for a strange couple, members of a strange nation unlike all others.”
Miriam opened up branches of Bnei Akiva and taught songs of the homeland, causing great excitement among those waiting to go to the land. At the end of the summer of 5707 (1947), she ran a children’s camp, preparing them for their trip to Eretz Yisrael. The young immigrants, with their counselors and their nannies, were sent to the ship “Exodus.” Miriam mistakenly thought that her mission was over and took a short vacation. Here is what she wrote:
“But in the middle of my vacation, I saw a huge headline: ‘After a bitter battle near the coast of the land, the occupants of the Exodus were cruelly expelled and returned to the desolate land of Germany.’ I almost suffered a stroke. These were all my children, whom I had nurtured with such effort to prepare them for aliyah! I returned immediately to the camp where they were in order to check on my children. The meeting was very difficult… But surprisingly it did not take long for them to accept the situation and to begin to believe that it would not take them long to finally reach the peaceful shores of Eretz Yisrael…”
Source: The memoirs of the late Miriam Meir. Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (www.zomet.org.il). Translated from the Hebrew by Moshe Goldberg. To subscribe to receive the complete version of Shabbat BeShabbato please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.