Monday 12 September 2016

My grandfather's exodus - part 9

The ninth 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 wanders about on his own in the dark, trying to find his way across the border to Metulla.

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

Lova: I said goodbye to him, shook his hand, and started walking. At first I wore my white cork hat. But suddenly I heard a wagon squeaking – the wooden axle of a wagon turning and squeaking, and I was afraid of being seen with my white cork hat. So I took it off, and put on the grey Arabic headscarf instead, and started slowly, slowly to walk, until I finally reached Metulla. But when I got there, I didn’t know how to get in. I had arrived from the Lebanese side, from the left. And everywhere I managed to get to, I came up against a deep trench and a barbed wire fence.

Lova with a hat: could this be the cork hat mentioned in this story?
More samples of this British inspired fashion in the footnote section below.
I didn’t know there was only one entrance from the South, and another one from the North. So I looked and looked, I tried here, I tried there. Suddenly I heard from somewhere two people moving and talking. I was afraid to approach them, I didn’t know who it was. I wanted to see which way they’d go. They walked straight Northwards, and according to my calculations they had already crossed the border. I followed them, biding my time. Another kilometer or so I kept following them. And then I thought, why not? Since I have a letter saying I can stay here for eight days, and so far only two days had gone by, what have I got to lose? Either I’d have to stay there another six days until finally I managed to cross the border, or these people are Jews.

So I really started to shout, “Khaveyrim! Khaveyrim!” “Gentlemen! Gentlemen!”

They say, “Yes? What? Who?”

So I said a few words to them in Yiddish – Hebrew I couldn’t speak very well. I said, “I’m probably the man you’ve been looking for out here.”

“Really? C’mon.”
Metulla, 1931. Possibly Khakla'i on the horse?
Painting of Metulla, 1940, by Aharon Kahana
And they really brought me into Metulla, through some little entrance that you can’t see in the fence. Through a barn, from the barn to the yard, from the yard to a house. And the house was full of young people, listening to a record player, making lots of noise, maybe so that nobody would notice us coming in. And as soon as I walked in, the boy [very emotional, almost crying as he speaks – according to my mother, Lova would always get very emotional when he spoke about this boy], he leaps up to hug me, and starts crying. A driver came, by the name of Reuven. He took me and the boy, brought us to his house, and gave us something to eat. Then he took us downstairs and said, “Khevreh, tomorrow we’re off at four o’clock in the morning. It’s time to go to sleep.”

And really we fell asleep – it didn’t take much arguing to convince us. Then, at four o’clock in the morning, maybe a quarter past four, or maybe a quarter to five, he came, woke us up, and took us into the taxi. He took the boy to Tzfat. And since then, to this very day, I haven’t seen the boy again and haven’t heard anything about him. He went to stay with some relations in Tel Aviv. And I drove with the taxi driver up to Tiberias. I knew I had a cousin, or rather a cousin of my father’s, from the pioneer group in Saratov, in Russia, who had moved to Israel, and I thought I had heard he was in Dganiya. So I went to Dganiya. I spent the night in Dganiya Aleph. And I looked for Gelman in Dganiya Bet. I didn’t know he had changed his name to Gil’adi. And I couldn’t find him anywhere.

Dganiya Alef (the first Kibbutz in Israel, just south of the Sea of Galilee), 1934, three photos

I couldn’t find him there, and I couldn’t find him at the Sea of Galilee. So I decided to go to Haifa. There I had another cousin, and I was very happy to see her. And then I went to Tel Aviv, where I had another cousin, David Freedman, David Arieh Freedman, an eye-doctor and an author. And an art critic. I stayed with him a few days, and then I went to Jerusalem, to visit the Rabbi Kook (the chief Rabbi of Israel) and his brothers, who were also relations of my father. So I met the Reyb Khaim Kook, and he was completely blind – couldn’t see a thing. Also his wife Sarah. They had visited us in Russia, so that I knew them very well. And I also saw some other relations.

HaRav Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the British Mandate of Palestine and Lova's cousin, 1924
Now, when I visited the Rabbi Kook, he said to me, “Learn how to speak Hebrew and English, and I’ll take care of you. You can become a government clerk, I can manage that for you.”

I said, “Rabbi, I walked for two years not in order to become a government clerk. It’s not such a great honor. I want to be a pioneer.”

“Oh...” he said. “A pioneer! A pioneer to build the land, this is the greatest deed in the world.”

And then I told the rabbi briefly about my travels, and he said, “How’s this now? I sent you an immigration certificate to Istanbul, to Kushta, for you to come.”

I answered, “Only I didn’t know about it, I didn’t hear about it, and in Kushta nobody knew anything about me. I was far away from Istanbul. I was somewhere else, and I never found out. I would have been delighted to have been able to cross the border legally a long time ago!”

And that’s how it was. Only when I visited the rabbi did I find out that they had sent me an immigration certificate to Turkey. You see, when I was in Turkey, in Sebinkarahisar, I once wrote a letter to my cousin Leah Yablokovskaya, may she rest in peace. And she sent the letter on to the Rabbi Kook, and on this basis he sent an immigration certificate to Istanbul. Only, they didn’t know the exact address. I was wandering about, and I didn’t know or dream that anybody was planning on sending me a certificate, so that the certificate reached Istanbul, while I reached other places. We didn’t meet each other. [he laughs]

Continued in Part 10...

A (longish) footnote regarding cork hats

Regarding Lova's cork hat - this fashion was inspired by the British soldiers in the mandate period, who wore cork hats which they called “pith helmets”.

This picture is taken from one of my favorite books as a child: In the Land of Lobengulu King of the Zulus (בארץ לובנגולו מלך זולו), written and illustrated by Nahum Gutman, published 1939. In the picture, Nahum paints himself with a cork hat, exploring the African safaris.

Nahum Gutman, Lobengulu King of the Zulus
Here we see travelling fashion in Israel in the 1930's: khaki shorts, three-quarter length socks, Arabic keffiyeh, cork hat:
1939, photo by Nurit Grindlinger
And a certain Shlomo Kramer (unknown stranger) with a similar cork hat:

1938, photo by Nurit Grindlinger
The originators of this fashion were the British empire troops. Here's one picture in India:

And another in Iraq, 11 June 1941:

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