“The Israel Advocate”

by Nathan Borsky, Israel Advocacy Chairman

MEET THE MODERN DAY MACCABEES

These self assured young Israeli beauties are a testament to the heroic survivors and martyrs of the Holocaust and subsequent wars, who have created a modern and vibrant Israel, a true light “Onto The Nations”.

One such Holocaust survivor, Shulamit Garbash, at the same age as the above young ladies in the photo, became a fighter and defender of Israel in her own time.

“I came to Israel on the Tel Chai. We were caught and sent to the Atlit detention camp. Because of my young age - 17 - I was released… I decided to join the Palmach… In March 1948, when Jerusalem was besieged, my company was sent to join up with the city. We passed Sha’ar Hagai and managed to make it to Ma’ale Hahamisha without being attacked…I remember the battle on Har Adar as one of the fiercest. We bonded under fire… During the time I served in the Palmach a fraternal bond forged between us - the fighters - which made me feel, even during the hardest times, that the State of Israel was my home.”

During the Shoah, the Dutch-born Garbash was interned in concentration and slave labor camps, and forced on a death march. After WWII, Garbash and her sisters returned to the Netherlands, in the hope of finding their parents, but they hadn’t survived and the young women decided to emigrate to Eretz Yisrael. Thousands of other Jews made the same decision, some from the mass movement known as the Bericha (escape) that propelled them to the shores of the Mediterranean. Their ultimate dream was to join the Jewish settlement and participate in the struggle for national independence. Orphaned teenagers from the camps and the forests and, together with women and children, partisans and soldiers in the armies who had fought the Nazis, boarded ships to make their way clandestinely across the sea. When these “illegal immigrants” reached shore, they were immediately arrested by the British and placed - once again - behind barbed wire.

After the United Nations General Assembly resolution and the declaration of the Jewish State, the gates of the country opened and the immigrants longingly cast their eyes at the approaching shoreline and tasted oranges for the first time in their lives. Many young people rushed to join the defense forces, without asking for a moment of recuperation or quiet. They were among the dedicated fighters on several fronts, in breaking the siege on Jerusalem, in defending the Etzion Bloc, and everywhere else they were sent. Their comrades-in-arms quickly learned to appreciate their enthusiasm and dedication. In 1948, volunteers from Machal - overseas recruits - arrived, and joined the fighting units. By the second half of 1948, about half of all IDF combat soldiers were new immigrants. Many fell in battle, among them the last remnants of entire families.

With the birth of the young state, a new battle was set before the survivors: the struggle to make a living, build a home and establish a new family. Even living in tin huts, tents, immigrant and transit camps did not deter them. They strove for these goals relentlessly, out of a keen desire to become part of Israeli society, and took the initiatives required. The economic crisis, the deprivations of the Austerity Period, and the difficulties of learning Hebrew and assimilating into Israeli culture did not weaken their resolve: “During the first years, I wanted, like [many] survivors, to distance myself from my past. I wanted to be like the native-born Israelis, just to live the problems of the moment,” remembers Yad Vashem Academic Advisor Prof.Israel Gutman.

With no help and little governmental assistance, the survivors built their new lives. Clinging to their Jewish identity, they became active partners in the most important communal endeavor of the Jewish people of the 20th century - the establishment and development of the State of Israel.