This is Part Seven in a series of articles showing God’s call on a family, their decision to move to Israel and what happened when they did.
In Part Six, “The Lost, the Lonely and the Seekers“, Scott writes about his family’s experience running a youth hostel in Haifa and their encounters with travellers who were lonely and looking for comfort and stability.
Adonai commissioned our family to move to Israel. We arrived with the dedication to do his will but with only a vague idea of how to bring that about. My father and mother did not have jobs, nor did we have a place to live. Through a family friend back in the States, my parents made contact with a local Believer who had then introduced them to a man looking for someone to take over Bet El (Bethel), a Youth Hostel in Haifa. In a short time, Adonai had miraculously provided not only a place for us to live but with the means to do his will.
Our family had fallen into a routine. Each day, my mother sent me or my brother to the baker’s kiosk at the corner for fresh bread. The loaves would be so hot that we could hardly hold them as we rushed back home for breakfast. Later, the staff would gather for the very English habit of mid-morning tea and biscuits and a time of devotions and prayers. Then there was always a rush to get to the shops and home before 1 p.m. because everything closed in the afternoon hours.
My parents decided to start a weekly gathering on Shabbat. There was plenty of room at Bethel plus we had a ready-made audience of new people arriving almost every day. There was also a small remnant of local Believers in the area. In addition, we were scheduled to begin Ulpan, Hebrew Language School. Before we got any busier, my father wanted to freshen up the facilities at Bethel as much as possible. That meant lots of painting.
One day my father asked me go downtown to the paint store and buy two cans of paint. He had a piece of paper in his hand. We had learned a few phrases and words in Hebrew and we had become very adept at understanding words in different languages, different monies and pantomime to get a point across the language barrier but my father had gotten Heidi, the German Believer at Bethel to write out exactly what we needed. He directed me to show the clerk the note and a paint sample showing the color that we wanted.
We did not have a car so we got around the way that many people in Israel got around; we used public transportation. Bet El was located about midway up the side of Mount Carmel in a part of Haifa known as the German Colony. The area had been settled in the late 19th century by a Protestant sect of Germans known as the Templers. They had established the public transportation system in Haifa. The bus stop was just around the corner from Bethel and was always an interesting mix of the old and the young, Jews and Arabs, soldiers and young mothers with babies.
I waited patiently as the old folks got on the bus in front of me. The longer I was gone, the less I had to paint. By the time that I got on, every seat was taken. It was too hot to sit down anyway. Egged was the Israeli government bus service and I had already learned that the drivers drove fast and very aggressive. I planted my feet and braced myself. I had one hand on the handrail and one holding a straphanger. The bus left the curb with a roar.
I found myself standing next to an old woman who was still settling in her seat. She wore a sleeveless blouse. Her hair was mostly white but at some point it had been darker which still showed at the roots and around her ears. She was heavy. It was hot and the windows on the bus were open. Her hair was wispy and was gently moving in the breeze.
I looked past her, then back. My eyes fell to her left arm. It was wrinkled and lined with blue veins and I could see a large bruise mark at the top where the blouse met her shoulder. There was a knitted bag hanging from her wrist. Something caught my attention. There was a letter and numbers on her forearm. They looked rough but distinctive. They were easy to read. I stared a bit too long.
She looked at me. I caught her eye.
“American” she said. It was spoken with an accent. A question in the form of a statement. I wondered how she knew.
I nodded, “Ken,” yes.
“Atah medaber Ivrit?” You speak Hebrew?
“Ktsat,” a little. I grinned and then quickly added “Lo,” no.
She did not smile.
“You are looking at the number?” She pointed at her forearm.
I nodded, “yes.”
“Do you know what it is?” She asked. With her accent “What” came out as “vwhat.”
I nodded again, “I think so.”
“What is it?” She asked.
Just then the bus lurched and with brakes squealing it came to a sudden stop. The momentum jerked me forward then back. The doors at the front and rear opened with a whoosh. People at the stop began to get off while others got on and crowded the aisle. There was lots of pushing and shoving. I was shuffled up the aisle and we were separated. I worked my way back until I was standing next to her again. She looked up. I grabbed the straphanger just in time as the bus thundered away from the stop blowing black smoke.
I steadied myself. I pointed in the direction of her arm, “It’s from the Holocaust?”
I said it too loudly but the radio on the bus was blaring with some kind of an advertisement. The old man in the seat behind us heard me. He had just unfolded his newspaper. He looked up. His eyes were bloodshot and interested.
“Yes” she said sharply. “The Holocaust.” She pronounced each syllable with disdain.
Then with a vengeance she said, “From Hitler.”
She spit into the air. The light caught the spray. A small bead of moisture fell lightly on my arm. I looked at it. I wanted to rub it away but I felt that somehow it would be disrespectful. I looked at her. She seemed to be gathering her thoughts.
The bus swayed and screeched. Who knew that you could maneuver a large metal box like a small sports car? Even with the windows down, it smelled of body odor, bad breath and cigarettes.
She glanced at me and I thought that I saw fear in her face. She licked her lips.
“I was fifteen,” she said.
Fifteen. My mind wrapped around that. Close to my age. I tried to imagine her as a fifteen year old girl, but I could not.
Her eyes grew soft, “We must always remember” she said.
She quickly glanced out of the window and then she looked at me with intensity, “You must always remember.” Her body leaned towards me and she emphasized “you.”
She took a deep breath, then in her accented English, “Today, tomorrow and every day after.”
Today, tomorrow and every day after. The words carried an unseen weight.
It was a challenge. A commission. An order. I nodded yes.
She looked back out of the window. I nodded again but she did not see me. She seemed lost in her thoughts.
The radio was loud and irreverent. The bus picked up speed as it headed down Mount Carmel. I held on tight. The smell of diesel was strong.
Still staring out of the window, she repeated it “You must always remember.”
Later, I went over the conversation in my mind. Today, tomorrow and every day after… I could not imagine what life had handed her. Freedom with regret? A lifetime of remembering what you did not want to remember? Somehow I saw a distinction where I had never seen one before. Life was what we lived, while reality was its marriage with the past. Since we had moved to Israel, my perception of what was valuable had been constantly challenged. I now understood that it was skewed. At her age I had to give up what I had considered valuable; family in the States, our dog, and my friends. Yet when I compared it to what she had given up, there was no comparison. No one had died with the choices that our family had made, however she had no choice and everyone had died. I lost what I loved but she had lost those that she loved. I was gaining a realization that the value of life was not what we have but who we have.
“Today, tomorrow and every day after” is a commission to always remember what happened in the Holocaust and to prevent it from ever happening again. For Believers, the act of remembering is to also recall what Adonai has commanded us to remember. In Isaiah 46:9, he prompts us to “remember the former things.” What are the “former things?” We are to remember and honor Adonai’s sovereignty. We are to consider his judgments and we are to love his Law. Yet remembering is not always enough. We must be “hearers” and also “doers” of his word. To remind us, God presents us with some important questions and answers. When we do these things, it enables us to live lives pleasing to him and to others. Adonai asks, “What does the Lord God ask of you?” The answer is to “fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13). Then he asks us “what does the Lord require of you?” Adonai’s answer is to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Past and present history has shown us that much of the world does not and will not live according to Adonai’s standards, but there are millions of Believers who are following God’s directives on a daily basis. When we live according to his will and carry the biblical mandate to remember, we are not just remembering the horrors of the past but also the goodness of Adonai throughout the generations and we are taking steps to make sure that a holocaust never happens again.
Next: Dreaming in the Language of the Prophets. In 1973, God told our family to move to Israel. This is our story.