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Pesah, Yom Ha-Atzma'ut, Shavu'ot 1949.

In Memoriam, Helen Vogel Yanow, Z"L, 1921-1998

My mother died on February 15. In going through her papers, I found a collection of letters that she (and in part, my father) had written from Jerusalem in 1949 to their parents back in the US. One of these letters describes their Pesah seder at kibbutz Kfar Menahem - the first seder celebrated after the end of the War of Independence.

My parents - Helen Vogel and Albert Yanow - met on February 29, 1948 in New York. My father had left Boston for Palestine in 1946 with his brother Bill (Yehiel) after they were both demobilized from the Navy. Bill resumed his university studies, begun at Harvard, enrolling at the Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus. My father, who had his bachelor's and had been ordained at JIR, continued work on his master's thesis and was hired as advisor to overseas students at the Hebrew University. They were both involved in erecting some of the tower and stockade "facts." Bill married a kibbutznikit, a fellow student, and stayed. The University sent my father to the US in early January on a fund-raising mission (although his mother, to her dying day, thought he was raising money to buy guns for the Hagana!). On February 28, he had a phone call from a colleague who was supposed to speak at a Hadassah affair the next day but was ill, and he asked my father to fill in for him. My mother, as an officer of Junior Hadassah, was acting as host, saw my father sign in the guest book giving Jerusalem as his address, and struck up a conversation. They were married in the Spanish-Portuguese synagogue by Rabbi de Sola Pool on March 27 (but that's another story). She was 27; he, 28. After waiting several months, they finally sailed for Israel a year later, in February 1949, and set up housekeeping, very much still the newlyweds, in Jerusalem. They initially shared quarters with three other couples, until April 20, when they moved to an apartment on Rehov Aza that they had been asked to hold down while its owner was on shlichut in South America for six months.

The letters commence March 17, 1949 and continue until July 14. My mother wrote most of them, typing on that very thin, crinkly typing paper on her Royal portable brought from the US on which she had typed her college and graduate school papers (she earned an MS in social work from Columbia in 1945). Most of them are addressed to her parents, Moshe (Morris) and Rose (Rosedeitcher) Vogel, in the Bronx, who had been asked to communicate their contents to my father's parents, Jack and Etta Yanow, in Dorchester, Massachusetts. My mother and I found the letters in my grandmother Rose's drawer after she died, in 1975. At some point in the 1980s, my mother was asked by the sisterhood at my father's congregation in Gary, Indiana, where they were then living, to speak about her years in Israel. She took the letters, stapled them to regular bond paper, and marked sections for her presentation. In her outline for that speech, she notes: "May 16, 1949 - 5000 people came into Haifa yesterday - the largest number that ever came in at once."

The first section here is from the letter dated Friday, April 15, 1949. It was written by my mother and addressed to her parents.

Friday, April 15, 1949

Dear Folks:

We have just returned from Kfar Menachem where we spent Wed and Thurs, and such an experience alone is worth more than I shall be able to convey to you here. In the first place, this is the kibbutz that A1 spoke about in his talks, from which groups went out in 1946 to settle the Negev. The kibbutz was founded some 13 yrs ago by a group of American and Canadian Zionists, but at any given moment now one can hear spoken Hebrew, English, Yiddish, German, Polish, and Bulgarian, and who knows what else. 600 people were expected for the Seder, and there were about 550. The plan had been to have it out of doors, on the lawn, but the weather prevented that. You can imagine what it would have been like to have a Seder outside, with the moon and the stars as they can shine at this time of the year, but the weather has been very difficult', people don't remember weather like this for the past 30 yrs. So at the last minute tables had to be taken down and others setup in the dining room. It was quite crowded: even without the 100 or 150 guests that were there, the normal population has to eat in shifts. But they put up narrow tables, which were knocked together, and with a table on the porch and one extending into the kitchen (where we heard the people conducting their own Seder because they couldn't hear us) everyone got in. We had "protectzia" and were well taken care of.

Aside from the regular Chaverim of the kibbutz, of whom there are about 160, there was a group of Noar [young people] from Cyprus, who had cone to Israel on one of the last boats to leave there, and another group of Olim from Bulgaria. When the Haggadah was read, with a different person reading each paragraph, you could feel that this was the history of an exodus being read by those who had made the journey, and you knew when we stood up in memory of those who had died to make this liberation possible and real, that there were not many people in the hall who had not lost somebody in the struggle. For a moment, this was a culmination of history. One could stop at this point and recall all that had happened not only in the last 2000 years, but what was more real to us because it had happened during our lifetime, - that which had taken place in the last 15 or 16 years. And then, because this was a kibbutz, so close to the earth and to nature, and to life and to growth, - and because we had seen all around us what could be accomplished in a positive way, and because this was the thing that gives substance to the idea of a Jewish state, - these were Jewish people who could finally live as human beings again and could build the kind of country and society that they wanted, - this gave reality to the banner tacked up on the wall in Hebrew - "And today you have become a people"; this gave substance to the B'racha that was said at the end of the Seder, "Al ha-Gefen v'al P'ri ha-Gefen" - this gave substance to the toll that has been paid and to the straggle still to come to build a Jewish state.

There was a mingling of joy and sorrow, as there no doubt was at every Seder in the country, but there was a deep sense of satisfaction that even we, who had not participated in the fight, except in a very indirect way, could share, especially after hearing that at this very kibbutz, the Seder was held last year with every man sitting at the table with his gun at his side, ready for anything that might come. We could even sense some of this, because there are still the same trenches surrounding the entire kibbutz that were dug last year, so that there would be means of communication all over the area, if that were necessary. All of the children had been evacuated and sent to Tel Aviv, but now they are back, and to those of school age and older this was a big occasion, because they sat at the Seder with their parents. This is the only time of the year this happens in a kibbutz; usually the children are with their own age groups in their own houses, where they sleep, eat, and attend classes. They are with their parents in the afternoon, when work for the day is over, and parents can give their entire attention to their children. The Haggadah was not the traditional Hagaddah as we know it, but a. combination of passages from the tradition, together with relevant passages from Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ibn Ezra, Shir Hashirim, Tehilim, Amos, with poems by Bialik, Shlonsky, and Alterman. The meal was very festive, and a high spot of the year for the regular kibbutznicks: gefilte fish, meat and chicken, carrots, salad, soup & kneidlach, fruit and delicious wine. The next day for lunch they served a. borscht that tasted just like the kind Babi makes; it was delicious.

Yesterday afternoon we took a tiyul to a deserted Arab village not too far away, and also saw the ruins of a house in which the Mufti used to live, or to visit, arid on which we threw flowers that I had picked along the way and that had become too wilted to take back. One of the good effects of the rain has been to cause the wildflowers to spread in the greatest profusion, and there was literally field after field covered with bright red poppies that gave the most beautiful effect imaginable. Then there axe yellow flowers that look like bright spots of sunshine and gladness, and blue flowers and purple flowers, and pink and white. Luckily, the rain had stopped and it was a nice day, but the "Botz" - the mud - made it necessary for us to wear boots, and we were right in the spirit of everything with hip boots that had been made available for us. In the evening, there was a concert outside, this time under the full moon and the stars, by 3 artists who had been brought out for this purpose.

This was our first Pesah together in Israel: I think that no matter what other experiences we may have, this will always be a high spot.

The first three paragraphs of the next letter in the sequence were written by my father; my mother takes over after that while he goes to dress for a concert by what was apparently still called, even at this date, the "Palestine Philharmonic."

4, May, 1949 5th Day of Iyar INDEPENDENCE DAY

Dear Families Vogel and Yanow:

We should like to send the same letter to both families today, to share with you this very remarkable day, the Day of our Independence, the independence of all Jews everywhere, and to send each of you a memento of the day, a special envelope printed and sold only on this day. Besides being a symbol, this envelope will someday be a collector's item and will no doubt be very valuable. (And so the family fortunes were founded.)

The celebrating in Jerusalem began in the late afternoon yesterday and is not over yet, it being 7:30 now. The streets were covered with the Blue and White flags of Israel early yesterday. In the afternoon after the laying of the cornerstone of a building to be built in honor of those who gave their lives in the War of Independence, there was a parade of Mishmar Am, the Home Guard of men over military age in all countries, but who participated to the fullest extent during the fighting, but in various capacities as policemen, air-raid wardens, etc. Soon came another group of men, some of whom were chaplains, bearing Sifre Torah to the Jeshurun Synagogue. One Sefer Torah was the one that had been used at kibbutz Kfar Etzion which suffered so tragically and which was captured by the Arabs. I remember the Shabbat Bill [his brother] and I spent at Kfar Etzion, when we were called up to read from this very Sefer Torah, now carried under a Chupah [canopy], representing the 37 widows and the other members of this kibbutz. The carrying of the Sifrei Torah to the synagogue represented the modern counterpart of the bringing of the Ark of Covenant by King David to Jerusalem almost 3000 years ago. . . . (The four corners of the canopy were held up, appropriately enough, by the muzzles of 4 rifles.)

This morning there was a real parade, with the infantry, artillery battalions, the young women of Chen, Chail Nashim [the Women's Division], nurses, jeeps, the mule corps, etc. The commander, Yaakov Dori, of all Israel forces, Dov Joseph, Minister of Supply and Rationing, and other dignitaries were present, as were all of Jerusalem's inhabitants, judging from the mass of people who were on hand.

Even for us, as outsiders, it was thrilling, watching the marchers, watching the men and women who lined the streets, many of them still in the native dress of the country from which they had but recently come, - it was really thrilling to see and to feel that Jews had accomplished all of this. Even now, words cannot adequately portray what went on all over Israel today. Even for you who will read these words, each of you, as you read this and other reports, will have your own individual reactions to this day, but intensify that a thousandfold and you will have some notion of our feelings.

We're becoming a little more settled in our "apartment" but the process has been slowed down somewhat due to the fact that since we moved in last Tues., except for about 4 hrs on Friday, we haven't had any water, until we returned this afternoon. Turned out there was something wrong with the meter. So I quickly got into working clothes and did some of the laundry that has been piling up; the rest I'll finish tomorrow. We've had enough for cooking and superficial washing because of a reserve tank that most people seem to have in their kitchens. Even with 4 of us using it, there was still some left over when our regular supply started again. Now it's filled again, for emergency use the next time something happens to the meter, or we run short. There's a shortage of water anyway, and it's pumped into different sections of the city on different days.

Other than that there isn't much new. Trying to keep my husband's stomach full is even more than a full time job here in Israel, and I keep racking my brains over what to cook. We're making good use of American canned goods that we've bought here: tomato and vegetable soup, tuna from Turkey, salmon from Canada, apple compote from Australia, tomato puree and spaghetti - Totzereth Haaretz [produce of Israel], cheese from Denmark, eggs from Holland, carrots from Italy, and potatoes from Holland, too, I believe. The meat ration is 250 grams for 2 people/week: about 1/2 lb. Since we don't have our points [rationing cards?] yet, this represents 250 grs. more than we are getting at present. But every few days we eat out, so we get our meat, as we did today, for instance.

Housekeeping here is quite different from what it is in the States. Since most houses are built for the hot summer weather, the floors are tile, which means washing every other day. Someone has yet to introduce a good American mop here, so one uses a big, special rag for the occasion, which gets wrapped around a thing that looks like the frame of a broom, only without the bristles, and then you push and wash. As a matter of fact the rag is called a "scavah" which comes from the word meaning to push, or to drag. Other than that, dishes get washed here the same as in the States, only water has to be warmed first. I haven't yet been able to accept the local custom of washing in cold water, even tho the soaps all sud in cold water. I had been telling the woman who lives in the other room here about taking such things as water, both hot and cold, or electricity, so much for granted. She knew something about it because of a sister who lives in Milwaukee, who writes to her of some of the wonders of America, but shortly after that she called me into the bathroom, saying that in case I ever had a house of my own some day, I should know how one washed the bathtub in Israel. Whereupon she proceeded to use a rag and some powder and scoured. She was so surprised when I told her that we use the same system in the States. She thought that surely we would have thought up some labor saving device.

At some point around this time, I was conceived. In the last letter of the set, my father appends a note saying that my mother is three months pregnant and doing fine. In the interim, however, they spent the Shavuot holiday with a cousin of my mother's father, Moshe Schneebalg. The two Moshes and a third cousin, Mendl Sherl, came from the Carpatho-Rus area (near the corner of eastern Slovakia, southern Poland, and western Russia). My grandfather was a child when his family landed in the US. The other two cousins arrived in Palestine as young men. Cousin Schneebalg jumped a train that the Nazis were sending to one of the camps, made his way through the forests, and eventually to Tel Aviv. In a letter dated Sunday, June 5, my mother describes their meeting and his reaction to "news" from America. At the bottom of the first page he writes 8 lines, in Yiddish, to his "tayere [dear] Moshe."

Sunday, June 5, 1949

Dear Folks:

Well, I thought I'd surprise you by leading up to it gradually, but you'll probably know from first glancing at the bottom of the page that we've seen Moshe Schneebalg. Seen him is a bit of understatement; he came to Jerusalem for Yom Tov, and we were together practically every minute of the time, or so it seems. He called Al on Wednesday to ask if we were going Tiyuling [touring] or not; when he heard that we'd be here, he said he'd come and asked that we make a reservation for him, which we did. He came over to the house Wed evening about 9, even tho I was expecting him for supper, and stayed until about 11:30. His excitement at seeing a member of his family was quite intense, as you can imagine; as a matter of fact, it wasn't until yesterday that he calmed down a little bit. In general he seems to be a pretty nervous guy. He's rather short, nice looking, with beautiful eyes - green, which he says have only turned this color from brown within recent years, long eyelashes and from the nose down he looks just like Pearl [her father's youngest sister]. His hair which is thinning is grayish white. He dresses very nicely and is a pretty sharp guy. Well, he began talking Wed nite, asking questions, interrupting himself time and again and certainly interrupting us when we tried to answer some of the questions he threw at us. The first thing he remarked was that I had the "family face or look" - evidently I reminded him very much of one of his younger sisters. About the next thing he said was to recall how Daddy used to pinch him and lift him into the air and how the Mima Hudia used to shout "Gewalt. was willst du haben von dem Kind." [Oy, what do you want with the child?] He remembers Aunt Dotty [next oldest to Pearl] as having a lot of temperament, which I told him is still true. He remembers Tante Annie [the oldest] for her 'Akshanut" [stubbornness] which I told him is also still true. He wanted to know about all of the wives and husbands and children, and were they 'adukim" [observant] and how "aduk"; how was it in our house on Friday night, and when I told him he couldn't get over the fact that it was just' like "at home." He remembers that Daddy liked a kind of cake on shabbat that he ate with fish: with raisins and nuts etc. He talked about Fluden, kreplach, noant, milchige fish - and when I seemed to know about all of these things, his amazement knew no bounds.

He was also very much surprised at a few other things: 1) that we were so serious: he had imagined himself that a girl from a middle class family might finish school and then just sit home and let her parents support her while she went to the American equivalent of cafes, thought of nothing but dresses and prettifying herself and getting married, after which she'd marry a rich man and settle down to a comfortable life. 2) He was most surprised when I said that we didn't have a servant at home on a steady basis. Also Aunt Anna, he asked, and when I said also she, he couldn't get over it. 3) He also mentioned not being able to understand how my family consented to my leaving home for Israel, especially with someone not aduk as they. His impression was that the family is not very interested in Zionism and when I said that Daddy gave money for Zionist causes, he was again surprised When he saw the candles on the table Thurs nite [it was Shavu'ot], he said If his mother could only know that Moshe's daughter lit candles. All in all, it was a full 3 days. He came for lunch on Friday, and luckily I had been saving one of the cans of meat from the package for Yom Toy, so we had that. He wouldn't stay for supper; instead we met him in town later in the evening, and then he walked home with us. Evidently, he knows many people here, landsleit, and he also wanted to visit them. When he walked home with us and we were talking about meeting the next day - and I told him I was prepared for his having all his meals with us - he told me a story about the Mima Hudia who was once invited some place and answered that she'd try to come. When she was pressed for a definite answer she said to the person who had invited her: "Ihr hat gedarf Sechel haben mich einzuladen; ich dad haben Sechel nit zu kommen." [You have had the wisdom to invote me, I must have the wisdom not to come.] So I didn't press him any more. Shabbat morning we met at the Bezalel Museum and then that nite we had supper together in town. He left this morning. He seems to have a good job at the Hamashbir Hamerkazi - one of the largest cooperatives in the country; Histadrut, of course. His room doesn't sound like too much, but he says he's fixed it up nicely. He talked of not being married because he always liked his freedom too much, and how his mother used to worry because of that. He says she once told him that if he wanted to marry someone who was both pretty and intelligent, as he seemed to prefer his girls, that he'd have to marry 2 people. Now, of course, he wouldn't have an apt if he should get married, and he has no pretensions of marrying someone with a big N'dunia [dowry]. He says he could have gotten apts before, but he was never too interested. My impression now is that he'd get married if he found someone to his liking. Sophie wants to fix him up with her cousin, but I think he'd rather do it all on his own, of which he's quite capable.

Moshe had asked when I was writing home and asked me to save him some space at the end of my letter. I thot I'd have time before we met him last nite, but as I didn't, I just took along a sheet of paper and he wrote on the bottom. When I told him to start in on top, he insisted he didn't want to write a letter, just "zuschreiben a Grusz." Altho he still wouldn't want to leave here, he would like to go for a visit. If he knew English, he would have the chance of being sent on Shlichut - but he has no patience to study. I was able to speak to him in Hebrew, or else to use the good services of my husband as translator. He was quite interested in the things we brought with us - the dishes, pressure cooker, etc. I showed him our wedding pictures, but didn't have enough other pictures of the family to show him.

That's about all I can think of now. Yesterday was a hell of a hot day - intense heat, just like an oven, but it began to change in the afternoon, and by the time we walked out, we had to go back for jackets, it was so cold. Otherwise, nothing else new, except I'm getting dishpan hands and whenever I call my husband in to open a can or something, he cuts himself, so we've decided it's a good idea for both husbands and wives to stay out of the kitchen. Only we haven't figured out how we'd eat under those circumstances.

The letters reflect the spirit of the times and of a newly-wed new immigrant from America. My father couldn't get a job that would pay the rent; housing was scarce. They returned to the US at the end of the summer, to Bloomington, Indiana, where he became Hillel rabbi at the University and I was born. My parents returned to Israel in 1972, with three of their four children. My mother became Program Officer at JDC-Israel. This time they stayed 10 years. Saving letters runs in my family; among my grandmother's papers, after her death, my mother and I found another set of letters, written to her by my grandfather in 1919 and 1920 in pen and ink from various ports of call on his route in New England as a tie salesman. The letters begin shortly after he traveled from the Bronx to Bayonne, NJ to meet her. But that's another story.

DVORA YANOW, a contributing editor, lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she is Professor of Public Administration and co-Chair of the Jewish Studies Committee at California State University, Hayward. Her article, "Sarah's Silence, "appeared in the Fall 1994 issue.
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Title Annotation:For Israel's Jubilee Year; discussion of Helen Vogel Yanow's life
Author:Dvora, Yanow
Publication:Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought
Date:Mar 22, 1998
Words:4409
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