By Lennie Lurie
One is sometimes inclined to deride and even scorn unusual events which bear the title of miracles. The Bible is full of such miracles which are difficult to explain and are usually accepted with an element of religious faith.
I would like to share with you a real “miracle” which I experienced exactly 48 years ago. I ascribe the circumstances of this amazing event as a “miracle” because they exceed the realms of sheer coincidence. The ramifications of this miracle brought me indescribable joy under conditions which nobody could have ever foreseen.
In May, 1967, Jews all over the world followed the events developing in the Middle East most anxiously. The United Nation forces in the Gaza Strip were expelled by the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdul Nasser. The strategic Straits of Tiran, providing shipping access to Israel’s southern port, Eilat, had been closed by Egyptian war ships and artillery. Egypt and Syria had united to form a formidable military threat. It was obvious to me that the Western world was gutless to do anything to change this dangerous situation and that a war involving Israel was inevitable.
At that time I was working with my late Dad in his clothing factory. My younger brother, Bernie, had recently departed for an extensive tour of Europe and was then in Morocco, en route to his next destination, Madrid, in Spain. As I had served (as a volunteer) in the Israeli Army for 15 months after matriculating from school in 1958, I felt strongly that my duty was to be with my fellow soldiers in Israel. I was convinced that a war was going to break out and I did not want to just read about it.
Already all able men in Israel had been mobilized into the army and there was a desperate shortage of man power to work in the agricultural fields of kibbutzim and moshavim. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies began calling for young volunteers to go to Israel and work in the fields. I immediately made contact with the Board but insisted that as an ex-Israel soldier, I wanted to join my unit, the 50th Paratrooper Battalion. Permission was promptly granted: I could fly together with the other volunteers to Israel but on landing, instead of being taken to some kibbutz, I could break away and locate my army unit.
Dad and Mom realized that nothing would deter me from rejoining my army unit and I left with their blessings … and prayers! My last undertaking before leaving home was to write a brief letter to Bernie, explaining to him that I believed that war in Israel was just a matter of time and that I had to be there with my fellow Israeli soldiers. I ended it with the hope that our paths might meet again under happy circumstances.
Our plane landed in Israel on Sunday afternoon, 4th June. The Six Day War broke out the following morning. The war ended on the Saturday which found me at some outpost overlooking the Golan Heights, which the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had just conquered. I won’t describe all my desperate endeavors to locate my unit, which ultimately proved unsuccessful. Eventually I arrived at Kibbutz Yizrael, in the north of Israel, near the town of Afula, where I knew a number of South African kibbutz members.
I began to work in the agricultural fields together with other volunteers who were arriving every day from overseas. Almost every night I would be woken up to help new volunteers get off the buses and trucks with their baggage. One evening, after helping a new volunteer from Australia to get off a truck with his back pack, he asked if I was a South Africa. I naturally replied in the affirmative, not considering this question unusual as there were many South Africans members on Kibbutz Yizrael. However, I was quite taken aback when he enquired if my name was Lennie! I again confirmed his question and then the heavens opened when he told me: “Bernie is in Israel!”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Bernie was in Israel? How did this stranger know who I was? In a state of near shock I asked him to explain to me the background to his astounding revelation. I will call this volunteer, Jim.
“We left Sydney and flew to Rome to take a connection to Israel. I began to talk to a young South African, Bernie, who was sitting next to me on the flight to Israel. He told me that his brother, Lennie, had left for Israel before the war started and that he had planned to join his army unit. Bernie had no idea where his brother was and was most concerned about him. Bernie had broken off his European trip in order to find Lennie. When we arrived in Israel Bernie said to me: “If you see a man with a beard, ask him if he is a South African. If he says “yes!” then ask him if his name is Lennie. If he says “yes!” again, tell him that his brother, Bernie is in Israel”.
I firmly believe that the Almighty wanted the two brothers to be united. But the question arose: how do I now find Bernie. I decided my best bet was to phone the South African Zionist Federation in Tel Aviv (that looks after the interests of South Africans living in Israel). Maybe Bernie would contact the “Fed.” at some time after his arrival. So, very early the next morning I phoned the Fed. One of the secretaries, Myra, whom I knew, answered the call. I had barely completed stating my name when she interrupted me to say: “Your brother, Bernie, is standing next to me. Do you want to speak to him?” I found the strength to utter two words to him: “Don’t move?”
Three hours later Bernie and I were reunited in the Fed offices. People could only stare at two young men embracing each other in uninhibited elation, tears of joy streaming down their cheeks. I returned with Bro’ Berns to Kibbutz Yizrael where we stayed for a few days. We then hitched hiked together to the Golan Heights and to Eilat, sharing with Israelis the wonders of a victorious Israel with a united Jerusalem.
I defy you to convince me that our reunion was not a miraculous event!
I firmly believe that the Almighty for His own reason, wanted the brothers to meet, to spare them unnecessary anxiety and trepidation; to reward goodness with jubilation.