Reliving the miracle of Israel’s rebirth

Remains of armored vehicles from the War of Independence at Shaar Hagai, on the road to Jerusalem. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

“That’s it! I can’t take any more of his crying! I am going to the market!”

Before I clarify my opening sentence, allow me to introduce myself: My name is Adam Uzi Lotan. I was born in Kibbutz Beit Keshet in the Lower Galilee in May 1950 two years after the State of Israel was established. I am counted as one of the first generation of Israeli Jews born in free Israel after the rebirth of a people 2,000 years in exile. What a privilege!

Back to my opening sentence. It was 1952, four years after the establishment of the nation. It took place in the Ajami neighborhood in Jaffa. The speaker was my grandfather, Nathan.

What Grandpa could no longer stand was my crying. I was a 2-year-old infant, hungry to eat meat during difficult economic times. Food was not readily available back then. In fact, it was only available for purchase through registered rationing. If you wanted more, and you could afford it, you had to go underground to the “black market” where greedy sellers charged an exorbitant price for every crumb. It involved quite a bit of risk: If you were caught, not only would the seller stand trial, but also the buyer, being accused of supporting this underground business. Making matters worse, this food was considered “stolen” from the state, and did not reach the general market, thus extending the economic strain.

And that is exactly where my grandfather went — to the black market! He came home with a chicken, gave it to my mother, Hana (his daughter), and told her: “Cook the chicken, and give it only to Uzi: He needs it in order to grow. We will manage without it.”

The need for an allowance was due in part to the lack of food after agricultural cultivation ceased during the war, but also as a result of mass immigration mainly from Europe. Holocaust survivors, to whom the doors to Israel were suddenly open, came to the country not only as a place of refuge, but also to build a home and be rehabilitated in this safe house. Ezekiel’s dry bones vision came true before our eyes! But all these precious people, whose numbers grew daily, had to be fed, and the quantities of food produced did not keep up with the growth in population.

Food rationing ended a year later. Another time I can tell of how the monthly rationing affected my family.

But for now I will tell of our move to Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv of the 1950s, was known as the “white city,” described in Naomi Shemer’s song, a city “innocent” and pleasant to anyone who visited. It hadn’t yet become the snobbish and proud “State of Tel Aviv” and the rainbow capital of Israel’s gay and lesbian community.

It was fun to grow up there. As a child in first grade in 1956, I remember well the firsthand stories of my teacher Rachel, who fought with the convoy leaders in an attempt to bring food, water, ammunition and medicine to the besieged Jerusalem. I remember to this day her stories about the battles in the “Bab-al-Wad” of that time, now called Sha’ar Hagai. These stories impressed us children, perhaps even frightened us a bit. But somehow, despite our young age, we understood that the miracle of Israel’s revival exacted a high price.

And then came the first trips to Jerusalem — without Highway 1 that we have today. The remains of cars and trucks which had attempted to break the siege into Jerusalem were left in Sha’ar Hagai, on the side of the road, but not yet respectably presented as they are today, lining the modern highway.

The vehicles were still sooty from fire and riddled by bullets and explosions. These real-life testimonies made a strong and sometimes petrifying impression on us — the first generation after the rebirth of the state. But at the same time they planted an indelible message in us. With our own ears and eyes and not through theory, we understood the price of the rebirth of the State! The song “Bab-el-Wad” was part of our personal experience, not a theoretical story.

The other thing I remember about Tel Aviv in the ‘50s was the rehabilitation process of Holocaust survivors. In the little Tel Aviv of back then there were many. They were part of our daily existence as neighbors, friends of our parents, parents of classmates, family doctors, shop workers and more. Some were more successful, some less. But they were all determined to actively and practically participate in the rehabilitation process in a country that no one expected would ever arise again!

Because I was born in 1950, I “missed” the War of Independence, but I remember very well all the wars that followed. During Operation Kadesh (Sinai War) of October 1956, I was 6 years old, in first grade. My father was drafted and so was my teacher. In the 1967 Six-Day War, I was in the 11th grade, almost an adult, but not yet a soldier. I remember the fear of Holocaust survivors, who for the first time since the end of World War II felt an existential insecurity when for three long weeks of waiting, 19-year-old Israel was threatened by three Western countries and indirectly also by the Soviet Union.

And then there was the war I know well. The 25-year-old State of Israel was almost wiped off the map during the first 48 hours of fighting in the Yom Kippur War in October 1973. In this war I had taken an active part as a 23-year-old armored reservist who on the eve of Yom Kippur returned from a dreamy honeymoon in the Swiss Alps, with the last El Al flight from Europe. The next day I was already on the battlefield in Sinai!

I finished my part in the war in the last hour before the ceasefire stationed at the entrance to the city of Suez in Egypt: I sustained a head injury that left me paralyzed in my lower limbs. But this too is a “story” for another time. The words from the song Bab-al-Wad, “the iron frame is silent like my friend,” meant a lot to me after the Yom Kippur War: Iron frames and silent friends ceased to be the monopoly of the generation of the 1948 fighters, and became my constant reality as well.

Something so precious to us those first years of rebirth after independence was the overwhelming happiness across Israel because of the miracle of statehood, something people take for granted today. We had so much excitement and emotion that it is hard to grasp today. Everything was new, appreciated and valuable. Nothing was taken for granted. We, the first generation, saw the miracle of the resurrection with our own eyes, as we grew up with it.

For the past two years, my wife and I have been living in Ireland, where we were sent by the Lord to serve him here in study and teaching. My feet are planted in the West, but my heart is in the East, in my beloved country of origin, Israel. She has always been, and always will be, “my piece of God,” just as Uzi Hitman says in his song “Here.”

As far as I am concerned, it cannot be any different: After all, I have a blood covenant with her!