We came on Aliyah from South Africa in July, 1961, and in the summer of 1962, we came as new immigrants to the lovely suburb of Beit Hakerem, Jerusalem, after 8 months in an absorption center called Ben Yehuda, close to a “maberah” called Shikun Dora. The nearest city was Netanya. Once we knew that we were going to locate to Jerusalem, we searched for a neighbourhood that resembled as closely as possible, our own neighbourhood in Pretoria. Beit Hakerem, was the right choice.
My late husband, Sam and I, together with my two little girls, Lynette and Pauline, who were 8 and 6 respectively, soon integrated into the life in our new surroundings. We bought an apartment in R’chov Hechalutz, next to the WIZO centre, and soon I gave birth to my son Eitan. This was the Blumberg residence until 2010. At the time of the war, Eitan was 3 years old. (We gave a battle weary soldier a lift to his home, and he said to us ” your little boy will not have to fight after this war!”)
One Shabbat morning, very early, we woke up to the sound of tractors and heavy equipment and we thought to ourselves, the contractors who were building blocks of apartments throughout the length of R’chov Hechalutz at the time, were out of order, to build on Shabbat!
We got dressed and went outside to see what was going on, and to our astonishment, we saw that soldiers were excavating the “churshah” over the road. The whole neighbourhood was then very pastoral, with many little glens, or clusters of trees, which are called “churshot” in Ivrit. Slowly residents were coming out of their homes, still sleepy, and before long, we were part of the morning Shabbat service, together with the soldiers. Today, this “churshah” is an apartment building, and is close to the neigbourhood shopping mall and retirement home, Ahuzat Beit Hakerem.
We understood that it was now time to prepare for an eminent war, as Abdul Nasser’s closure of the Straits of Tiran, was casus belli.
As new immigrants, our feelings were confused, to say the least. Several of our Anglo Saxon friends and neighbours were discussing whether to send the wives and children back to their countries of origin, and some did. I asked my husband if he felt that we should go back or send the kids, and he replied, ” you now ask this question, at a time like this?” I was so relieved that he felt like I did, to stay, of course.
Preparations began, filling sand bags, volunteering and taking care of the 30 soldiers who were now a fixture. Pauline volunteered to work in the local post office, which she continued to do for a few months after the war. She received a certificate of good citizenship, of which she was so proud, and Lynette went to work in the Biblical Zoo. Sam who was not conscripted, drove children to school and back, made sure there were supplies of basic needs for all the young families who were left to manage on their own. Beit Hakerem, was populated, by many young couples with small children, with the men in military service.
The women and children took care of the soldiers by offering them hospitality. They could make phone calls home,( no cell phones in 1967), and we switched on the hot water boilers on a rotation basis, so that they could take showers. We fed them with cakes, cookies, goodies and fruit salads, all donated by the residents, not only from our street. At night, when the soldiers had entertainment, they came to fetch the children to join in. One day, it was our turn to put on the boiler, and around 6p.m. Pauline came home with a long face, very downhearted. I asked her what was wrong, and she said that the soldiers said that they had all showered already at other homes. She was miserable. A little later, there was a knock on the door, and there stood a young, blond soldier, hair wet, face rubbed pink and a sopping wet towel over his arm. He said,” I’m Yossie, and I came to shower, because I could not bear to see your little girl’s disappointment, so I reckoned another shower would not kill me!” Pauline was ecstatic and ran throughout the building shouting, ” he came to shower, he came to shower”.
At the time of the 6 Day War, I was employed at Hadassah Ein Karem, as a medical secretary in the Dept. of Geriatric Medicine and Rehabilitation. When the war broke out, I was at work and stayed all night to help wherever possible. The hospital was inundated with volunteers who came to help safeguard the Chagall Windows, and to secure all the departments, taking patients down to the shelters and working in the kitchens. There was a great deal of work to do, helping surgeons, doctors and nurses, who were now operating on all the injured who were beginning to flood the entrance hall of the hospital. Phones to answer and to make sure that all the patients were being cared for. I was frantically worried about what was happening at home and if Sam managed to collect the kids from school and to get them into the shelter. I tried to phone but no reply at home. Later that night, I did get through and then screamed at my husband for not being in the shelter! He assured me that the kids were, and that from time to time he went down to make sure that they were all okay.
The next day, one of the doctors said he was going home for a few hours and if I wanted a lift he could drop me off in Beit Hakerem. I gladly took the offer, but driving down Sderot Herzl, we were stopped, and told to take another route. I said that I would get out and walk home. Suddenly a plane came swooping down, and I nearly died of fright. I started to run when I heard my name being called, so I slowed down and saw my doctor friend calling from his car. He said he saw what happened and decided to turn around and take me no matter what. Later, we heard that our air force had destroyed the entire Egyptian Air Force on the ground!
All night we heard firing from the artillery unit over the road, in the direction of Bethlehem, and the name of the officer who was giving the directions is engraved in my memory, “Dorfman”.
After the war, we received an invitation in the mail, to a reunion dinner and dance from the unit. They had a special evening to thank the residents of Beit Hakerem for their hospitality and friendship, during the three weeks before they moved out to battle. It was a wonderful evening and I only regret that I did not keep the invitation, nor did we take photographs during that time. What a shame.
We tried to find a connection with these soldiers through Face Book, but without success. I sometimes visualise a reunion now, after 50 years, with those soldiers who were part of our lives in Beit Hakerem, during such an emotional and dramatic time and I like to imagine that the feelings of family and friendship we shared then, we would share now.
Written by Miriam (Mickey) Blumberg, Ahuzat Beit Hakerem,Jerusalem.