Tuesday 9 August 2016

My grandfather's exodus - part 8

The eighth in a series of blog entries in which my grandfather, Arieh Rabani (Lova Rabinovitch), tells his adventures walking from the Soviet Union to Israel (1927-1929). You'll find the first part here. In this part, Lova finds a man who claims he can help him steal the border... and gives it a try, together with an unknown teenage boy met in the streets of Beirut.

An interview recorded by my cousin, which I then transcribed and translated from Hebrew

Lova: Nu, from the morning till one o’clock in the afternoon I had to find something to do. So I started wandering aimlessly around the streets, and then back to where the hotel was. And as I was wandering I saw this couple, two Jews, a woman, her husband, and a thin blond boy, about thirteen years old. Maximum. Maybe less. Just wandering about like me. So out of pure boredom (I was getting bored of wandering about) I asked, “Ir zayt yidn?” “Are you Jews?”

Beirut, coffeeshop, 1919

“Yes, Jews.”

So I said, “What are you doing here? Where are you from?”

“We came here from Germany. And we were transferred illegally to Israel. And lived there for half a year. The boy already started learning in a school in Tel Aviv. Meanwhile, the British caught us, discovered we had come illegally, and sent us back to Beirut, because the visa was for Beirut, they wouldn’t give us a visa for Israel. And now we don’t know what to do. The boy has started learning, and he’ll miss out on his studies until we manage to cross the border again. Maybe you... what are you?”

So I said, “I’m walking to Israel.”

“Oy, maybe you can take this boy with you?”

I said, “I can take the boy with me, but on one condition.”

“What condition?”

“That I won’t see you around here any more. So that I can’t give him back to you here, even if they force me to.”

He says, “Allright.”
Beirut, Place de Canons - the shoeshiners, and a boy walking
Why? Because if the taxi driver would say, “Oh, we cannot take him with us, and such and such, and so on,” then maybe I would have given him back and said, “I’ll manage to cross somehow or another, but with a boy? In such a way, walking by foot, and stealing the border, it’s not something to do with a baby, with a boy.”

Fine. So they really disappeared and I didn’t see them any more.

At one o’clock sharp, I saw Khakla’i approaching with a young lady, a friend of his Rachel from Jerusalem, and they started walking to a parking lot full of cars and taxis. And the boy and I started walking a few meters behind them. They were chatting and chatting all the time to one another, and didn’t notice anything around them, and couldn’t hear what was happening behind them.

After about twenty or thirty minutes walking along, suddenly he looks back and sees the boy. He says, “Who’s this?”

I said, “A boy.”

“Which boy? Where’d he come from?”

“A boy. Walking with me.”

“You didn’t say anything about a boy.”

I said, “I don’t say what I’m not asked. You didn’t ask, so I didn’t say. I learned something along the way – it’s better not to talk too much.”

“So what if we can’t take him along?”

“If you can’t take him along, fine. Give me the money back, and I’ll turn the other way. I’ll keep walking just as I’ve walked up to now.”

Beirut: the road to Tripoli
He said, “Nu, ok, take him along.” So we sat down in the car and we drove off. We drove through Tyre and Sidon, until we reached Shdeyda. In Shdeyda on top of a hill there was a big house in which a French officer lived, a friend of the Jews. So Khakla’i said, “Sit here and wait until the evening. Somebody will arrive to take you.”

Nu, we sat in a huge room on a sofa. The room was empty, with only one sofa in a corner. The whole time we just sat there, looking out of the window, and the boy started getting nervous. So I said to him, “Don’t worry. Everything will be allright.”

And when it started getting a bit dark, just around twilight, I saw two young men passing by the window with a donkey. And they came straight towards the house, and asked us to come with them. The boy sat on the donkey, and I carried the boy’s bag. I said he’ll be more comfortable riding, and to be careful not to fall off. These were two young men from Metulla [settlement in the northernmost tip of Israel]. One of them was Reznik, the other I already forgot his name.

I walked along with them, and we started climbing down the hill, along all kinds of paths, and it was almost entirely dark out. Suddenly somebody starts shouting in Arabic, or so it sounded, and starts sounding a horn. So I say to them, “This doesn’t sound so good.”

He says, “Never mind. C’mon! Quick!”

And they started running, but two policemen or soldiers or somebody came, with guns, and told them to stop and started shouting at them. The two men started speaking to the soldiers in Arabic, and I said, “Gentlemen, tell them that the boy came with you from Metulla.” You see, it was legal to cross the border from Metulla. They worked some land also on the Lebanese side of the border. So they could cross freely.

“And give me the boy’s stuff, so that they won’t think you’re trying to smuggle anything in. Because I’m allowed to stay here another few days, I have a letter to prove it. I can always cross the border later.”

They didn’t want me to go with the Arabs, but I was afraid for the boy. I got angry, like I know how to do sometimes, and I started to curse them, and I shouted, “Take this boy and get out of here right now! Back to Metulla!”

They realised I was a bit crazy, so they left me alone, and off they went. And the two soldiers, or policemen, or whatever they were, they took me to the border station: a small house, surrounded by barbed wire. They took me into the house. There there was a French officer, and ten or twelve soldiers – the border patrol. And I got a bit annoyed and started cursing them in their own language, or maybe in Turkish. But they probably understood me, and one of them even wanted to start hitting me. So the officer said, “Atten-tion!”

And they all stood at attention.

Then he asked me if I wanted anything to eat.

I couldn’t speak any French. He said, “Eat”, and showed me with his fingers.

I said, “No, just something to drink.” He brought me a cup of water, then another one. Then he told them to stay, and to sit there. And the soldiers stayed. And he came outside with me, and walked from the little house to the guardroom. And then he walked with me another half a kilometer or so. And then he showed me, far away, some lights, and said, “Metulla. Metulla. Metulla.”

Map of Lebanon, showing Lova's approximate route from Beirut to Metulla, 1929
Continued in part 9...

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