Sunday, September 28, 2014

Jerusalem, 1947

In 1947, Zipporah Porath (nee Borowski) from Los Angeles was chosen to spend a year on a scholarship at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  She was chosen mainly because she spoke Hebrew, since her father was a Hebraist and they spoke Hebrew at home.  When she arrived in Jerusalem in October, 1947, she had no idea what she was getting into. A bright, indomitable lady, she told her story at Netanya AACI. 
Within a month of her arrival the UN General Assembly voted on Nov 19 to accept the Partition Plan for Palestine and to establish a Jewish State. In Palestine the Jews went wild with excitement, the first Jewish State was born in the same place that it had existed 2,000 years before.  It was then that Zippy started writing long detailed letters to her parents describing the historic situation. She first typed the major part of the aerogramme on her portable typewriter and then she added last comments by hand.  Almost immediately 5 Arab armies attacked the fledgling state and Zippy found herself in the midst of a war. Very quickly Jerusalem was besieged, a situation that continued for 3 months. 
Zippy had a choice, either try to get out in a Red Cross convoy for foreigners, or stay and help fight for the Jewish homeland (not yet named).  She chose the latter and volunteered for the Haganah in any kind of service that was needed.  At first she had a hard time being taken seriously, but since she spoke fluent Hebrew she was able to establish her bona fides and was soon nicknamed "Zippy HaAmericait."  She did nursing, helping to attend to wounded fighters and helping people to find whatever rations were available, as food became increasingly scarce.  She also met many amazing people, including the British girl Esther Cailingold, who was killed in the siege of the Old City.  One large convoy managed to reach besieged Jerusalem and she smuggled her cache of letters that had accumulated out via a friend who was a guard accompanying it on its return.  She never knew if they actually were sent or delivered.
Eventually the situation became too dangerous with the pounding of Jewish Jerusalem from the guns of the Jordanian Arab Legion and so she took the Red Cross convoy out of Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, where she luxuriated in a bed with sheets and as much food as she could eat.  Then she learned that the new nation had been named Israel.  Since she had been in Jerusalem and could speak English she volunteered to help the fledgling State dealing with the foreign press, and she therefore became the first Israeli press representative, and did a bit of intelligence work on the side.  She did this for several months, but missed the intensity of being in Jerusalem, so returned and did a similar job there.  Eventually she got married and stayed in Israel.
It was only when her father died forty years later that her sister, in going through his papers, discovered a small folder that contained all her letters, carefully numbered in sequence.  SInce they were such a detailed personal eyewitness account of being at the birth of the State, Zipporah decided to publish them as a book, and they are now available as "Letters from Jerusalem 1947-48."  One thing she emphasizes in her book is the contributions of the foreign volunteers in the War of Independence, known in Hebrew under the acronym Machal ( She gave as an example how the story of Gen. Micky Marcus, the first General of a Jewish Army since the Maccabees, was deliberately downplayed because he was an American rather than a native-born Israeli.  Altogether a fascinating and compelling story.


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