Every day there are at least thirty warnings for a terrorist attack in various areas of Israel. This is not 2002, the height of the intifada. This is today. Thank G-d, every one of these warnings are thwarted, but perhaps for a few each year. Israelis live in relative quiet because of the serious and capable work of Israel’s defense and intelligence forces. Not true in Iraq, where daily bombings and suicide attacks attempt to weaken and destroy any possible semblance of a functioning nation. We know what this can do to a country and to its citizens.
In April 2002 Liza Wiemer, a mother of two who was frustrated by the inaccurate portrayal of Israel in the media, traveled to Israel to find out how average Israelis cope with terror. Joined by her co-author, Benay Katz, a mother of five who made aliyah 31 years ago, they interviewed over 70 Israelis representing a wide spectrum of society. These interviews culminated in the book, Waiting for Peace – How Israelis Live with Terrorism (2005, Gefen Publishing House). The words contained therein, though reflective of the experience of 2002, hold incredible life lessons and insightful reflections on life today. This is the story of one couple’s wait for peace.
Hope. With little else to hold on to, Marion and Daniel (Danny) Nachshon rebuilt their shattered lives in Palestine. Both escaped Hitler’s hell in 1939, Marion to Scotland and Daniel to Palestine. Marion’s delayed journey to the Jewish homeland finally took place in 1948. A few years later Danny and Marion met, fell in love, and married. Both spirited young adults understood loss, courage, and what they called Lady Luck. Luck or a miracle. They are survivors of a past terror, an era of hate and anti-Semitism they never expected to see again. Today they believe that Hitler’s hate is reincarnated in Yasser Arafat and Muslim extremists who want nothing less than to destroy Israel and wipe Jews from the face of this earth. Negotiations, peace talks — to Marion and Danny they’re just politics as usual. They believe that what matters is not what Arafat says to the Western world, but to his own people. In those words they hear a message of hate and destruction.
A spectacular sweep of bright orange, yellow, purple, and pink filled the evening sky. The air bit with a spring chill. The Bedouin village of Bet Zarzir lay below, where narrow minarets reached above the housetops. Weaving along several descending streets in Timrat, I arrived at the Nachshons’. Their sloped landscape, dispersed with meticulous green bushes and trees, led to a beautiful stone entrance and an inviting dark wooden door.
“Come in, come in. Welcome, welcome.” Marion whisked me into their comfortable, warm, informal living room, where Danny was waiting. Accumulated knickknacks, books, and plants filled the immaculate room. “Are you hungry, thirsty?” “I’m fine,” I said. But like many grandmothers, Marion was prepared. “No? I’ll just get some cake and tea.” A huge smile warmed her sweet face. Marion returned with freshly baked chocolate cake and steaming dark tea.
Danny’s story unfolded like a precious chest of family mementos, revealing the joyous and the heartbreaking memories. Burned in his mind is Friday, September 1, 1939 — the day the Nazis invaded Poland. For fourteen-year-old Danny life would never be the same. Worry and despair filled his parents’ quiet conversations. “Many parents thought that Hitler was a figure who would fade away very quickly,” he said. “He was a painter, a nothing. They lived with hope that this was something that would pass. But the writing was on the wall. There had been speeches. In 1928, when Hitler was in prison, he said what he was going to do. It’s just like Arafat.”
Danny’s parents recognized that Hitler’s power and influence were deepening, his European dominance was growing, and anti-Semitism was booming with electric force. Should they leave Germany? Where should they go? Six of their twelve children had already emigrated, some to Palestine and some to Australia. In the end, Palestine became their only option. Australia had all but closed its doors to Jewish immigration. Having obtained all the necessary legal documents, German passports, and British immigration certificates for Palestine, Danny and his parents journeyed by train to Trieste, Italy, where they boarded a passenger boat headed for Palestine. Left behind were Danny’s three married brothers, a married sister, and their families. There were no last-minute tearful goodbyes. The curfew for Jews began at 8:00 P.M. and the older Nachshon children could not risk being caught at the train station. On November 22, 1939 Danny and his parents docked in Haifa’s port.
Kefar Hasidim, a religious community ten minutes from Haifa, became the Nachshon family’s new home. Danny’s strong build and eagerness to contribute to the household led to a blacksmith apprenticeship and eventually a position in the British army during World War II, serving with the Royal Engineers in Holland and Italy. His simple life was tough, but good. Not so, however, for his siblings who remained in Germany. Each one perished. “My sister and her two little sons fled to Riga, Latvia. In Riga there was a massacre and they were killed.”
Like Danny, Marion was fourteen years old when she escaped Nazi Germany in 1939. “I always tell my children they should be glad they are here. During the summers my non-Jewish neighbors would throw stones at me. During the winters they would pack the stone with snow and then it would hurt twice as much.” Marion’s mother “had seen the light” and decided that her two daughters needed to get out of Germany immediately. Marion’s two older siblings already lived in Palestine.
Marion continued, “My mother saw the urgency in the situation. She was a courageous woman. We didn’t have a car and she did all the running around to the authorities to get papers. They made it difficult for her. She was alone and she had problems with her legs.” Passage was secured for Marion and her sister on the Kindertransport to England, set up to save Jewish children. 1 With a tearful goodbye, it was the last time she saw her parents. Marion’s mother refused to leave her husband who was near death. He died of natural causes in Germany and soon after her mother was transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp. She was murdered there in 1941.
“I stayed in Britain from 1939 to 1947,” she recalled, “during which I lived in Glasgow, Scotland, for five years. In 1948 I came to Palestine.” In Britain Marion lived in a place that prepared her for life on a kibbutz. “Our kibbutz group left England illegally.2 First we traveled to Belgium and then to France. We did all this with forged papers. In Marseilles, France, we went to a camp where we received new identities again. It was all arranged. There were many refugees from all over and from the concentration camps. It was a huge camp. We had to wait there about a week for our new papers so that we could immigrate legally to Palestine. At that time there was a British mandate in Palestine and they didn’t want to let us in. Many ships with illegal immigrants were intercepted by the British and sent to Cyprus or searched in Haifa. We came with forged English papers to Palestine. The night before we arrived in Palestine I couldn’t sleep. I had a stomachache. I was nervous because I knew what was awaiting me. They could send us back. Many of my good friends who arrived in Israel a little bit before us were caught by the British and sent to an internment camp in Cyprus. My best friend was in Cyprus for a year. The British sent them back cruelly. Many people died. All through that night it was bothering me that I was being dishonest. There were British on the ship, non-Jews, who were bribed by the Jewish Agency. 3 They looked and looked — and even though the British knew exactly what was going on, they let us in and probably got a lot of money.”
What the Nachshons endured seems incomprehensible. Marion disagrees, “No, no. We were the lucky ones. Believe me, we were the lucky ones who got out. The others had a terrible, terrible destiny. I married, I have children and grandchildren and a lot of nachas, ‘joy.’ You see? The others — nothing.” The Nachshons have four sons: Shmuel, Yossi, Yaron, and Benny; and a daughter, Nava.
Our discussion turned to anti-Semitism and terror today, and Danny’s mood changed from pensive to angry. “Arab demonstrations against Israel and the US are all over Europe now. We see them in Germany, France, and Holland. A friend came back from Amsterdam and told me that there was a demonstration where Muslim children wore fake explosive belts. People watching it just stood there. It’s like saying ‘Amen’ to a prayer; as sure as that. Everything terrorists do here will eventually reach Europe — the belts and the bomb explosions. The first time an El Al airplane was hijacked, people — anti-Semites –said, ‘Big deal, El Al. It’s only the Jews.’ Later on it wasn’t only the Jews: hijackings took place all over. It’s the same as today. Terror was here in Israel and then it struck the World Trade Center. I watched it on TV. Dear God, what a thing! And now we are experiencing explosive belts. In World War II we had the Japanese kamikaze, but their attacks were not against civilians. Here, civilians driving a car are shot just traveling along a road in Jerusalem or to Haifa, they are blown to bits in a restaurant, or young girls are murdered in a discotheque. Terrorists with belts of explosives! And then we are the accused because we decide to defend ourselves!”
World opinion. The UN. Journalists. These words infuriate Danny. He believes that the world has a double standard: one for Israel and one for everyone else. Misinformation in the media, gullibility of uninformed individuals, and the Arab world’s demonization of Israel are what he believes are just a few of Israel’s PR problems. “Oil is a very powerful commodity and that is why the Arabs have such an influence over world opinion against Israel. Israel is the victim, but we are the accused!” he bemoaned. “Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the UN, set up a fact-finding mission to uncover ‘atrocities’ Israel supposedly committed during the fighting in Jenin.” 4 But the UN’s Terje Roed-Larson never found the ‘atrocities.’ He never found the bodies of hundreds of massacred Palestinians because it never happened. Israeli soldiers were killed in Jenin because they didn’t want to touch civilians! There was a massacre of our soldiers!” Frustrated and upset, Danny continued, “Do you remember when the Palestinian mob lynched those two poor soldiers who had made a wrong turn into their village? 5 The murderers put their hands in the soldiers’ blood, tossed their bodies out the window to the frenzied crowd, and shouted, ‘Allah is great!'”
Danny shook his head, and a mixture of anger and disbelief crossed his face. “Terrorism tears you up everyday. You may be occupied by work, but you are going nuts and you can’t do anything about it. I bought a copy of the Koran. It was important to me to go to the source to understand Islam. According to the Koran, there are believers and nonbelievers. But this belief goes further and it basically means either you’re with us or against us. The Koran tells believers they must respond to the danger posed by the infidel. Even if they are not sure there is a real threat to Muslims and Islam, they must respond. Jews and Christians are considered nonbelievers. They want the Jews out of here. Even if we achieve some kind of agreement with the Palestinians, we are still not a part of the Islamic world that totally surrounds us here in the Middle East. The Muslims want Islamic rule here too. I believe this reflects how most Palestinian Muslims feel. It is a very difficult situation.”
Terrorism outside of Israel against Jews worries Danny. He does not believe the Jewish people in the Diaspora are taking it seriously enough. “I do not feel there will be another Holocaust. But synagogues are being blown up, Jewish cemeteries are being desecrated, and Jews are being beaten up, especially in France and Turkey. It isn’t the Europeans making the pogroms, but Muslims living in these countries.”
Danny wishes Israel could fight terrorism in the all-out way the United States fights it. “But beggars can’t be choosers,” he said. “We rely on the US for financial support. We have to do what the US government wants us to do. We can’t fight the way the US does because we are weak in comparison to them. We are a small country.”
Despite all they have endured, Marion and Danny do not dwell on their sad stories of the past or the terror around them. They are grateful for their blessings. With a sparkling smile, Marion said, “I’ll tell you what. Live the day. Don’t think further.”
“We are learning all the time,” Danny added. “That’s it.”
Sadly, Marion Nachshon passed away on November 26, 2003. The photograph taken at their interview became a special memento for the entire family. It was the last picture taken of Danny and Marion together.
Liza Wiemer is Jewish educator, author, and public speaker residing in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and two sons. Benay Katz is an author, public speaker, and mother of five who resides with her husband and youngest daughter in Timrat, Israel.
fn1. “Following Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass, on November 9, 1938, groups of children were transported to Britain for sanctuary via a program called ‘Kindertransport.’ The children had to be between the ages of 3 and 17 and they had to leave Germany alone, without their parents. Ten thousand children were transported to the UK on trains via Holland. Only about 20% of these children were reunited with their families.” Source: A Teacher’s Guide to the Holocaust. “Children.” Florida Center for Instructional Technology, College of Education, University of South Florida. http://fcit.coedu.usf.edu/holocaust/people/children.htm
fn2. “In the 1920s and 1930s, the British capitulated to Arab demands to limit Jewish immigration to Palestine and they issued a series of ‘White Papers’ rendering Jewish immigration illegal. The White Paper of 1939 limited Jewish immigration to Palestine at 10,000 people per year for five years. The Haganah and other agencies established a secret, underground network to continue the flow of Jews to Palestine.” Source: Anti-Defamation League. “Immigration Since the 1930’s.” Anti-Defamation League. http://www.adl.org/Israel/Record/immigration_since_30.asp
fn3. “The Jewish Agency was established by the World Zionist Organization at the 16th Zionist Congress, on August 11, 1929, as a partnership between the WZO and non-Zionist Jewish leaders . . . As the de facto government of the state-on-the-way, it was recognized as the official representative of the Jewish community and world Jewry vis a vis the League of Nations, the British Mandate government, and foreign governments . . . The Jewish Agency was also responsible for the Yishuv’s internal affairs: immigration — allocating certificates supplied by the Mandate Authority — and resettlement of new immigrants, the building of new settlements, economic development, education and culture, hospitals and health services.” Source: The Jewish Agency for Israel. “History.” The Jewish Agency for Israel. http://www.jafi.org.il/about/history.htm
fn4. Jerusalem, August 1, 2002: “The UN Secretary General’s Report on Jenin, released today, came about as the result of false Palestinian propaganda regarding an alleged ‘massacre’ in the Jenin Refugee camp during the course of Israel’s Defensive Shield counter-terrorist operation of April, 2002.” Source: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Israel’s Reaction to the UN Secretary General’s Report on Jenin.” State of Israel. http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/go.asp?MFAH0m5r0
fn5. “On October 12, 2000 two reserve army drivers “were apprehended by Palestinian police after they mistakenly entered the Palestinian controlled town of Ramallah. They were brought to Palestinian police headquarters in the center of Ramallah, where a violent mob of Palestinians stormed the building and tortured the soldiers to death, mutilating and defiling their bodies beyond recognition.” Source: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “First Cpl. Yosef Avrahami.” State of Israel. http://mfa.gov.il/mfa/go.asp?MFAH0ik20
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.