Tel Aviv, June 22, 1948
“Dearest Mother, Dad and Naomi,
It is 6:00 in the morning and I’ve just awakened from a very bad nightmare in which there was shooting and shelling, hunger and thirst, blood and tension and unbelievable bravery.
I looked around and saw a cozy hotel room with a private bath and someone sleeping in the twin bed. I listened to the honking of bus horns and neighbors on a nearby balcony arguing. I stared at the ceiling.
I’M IN TEL AVIV!
Under the protection of the United Nations a convoy of wounded, which I accompanied for Magen David Adom, was allowed to leave besieged Jerusalem and to pass on the old Jerusalem–Tel Aviv route as far as Latrun – or what remains of it. Before letting us proceed, everybody checked and double-checked us: the Arab Legionnaires checked us, the American representatives checked us, the United Nations representative checked. For what I do not know – we had only bona fide patients with unhealed wounds.
From Latrun we took to the hills, jockeying and rumbling our way to Kfar Bilu, a converted hospital camp, formerly a British Army camp. Most of the patients were amputees and lurching over the rugged terrain was sheer agony for them. How desperately I tried to be cheerful, efficient, to give whatever sympathy and comfort I could.
There, the pain-weary and exhausted patients were given tea and sandwiches with tomatoes and cucumbers – after months of deprivation. Who could have thought a human being could get so excited about an honest-to-goodness tomato, but all of us did. It tasted of everything I had ever dreamed about eating during hunger pangs in Jerusalem – ice cream, coffee, hamburgers with ketchup, whatever memory or imagination could conjure.
It suddenly dawned on all of us when we arrived that we were actually in the State of Israel. A wild and joyous moment filled with relief and pain and overwhelming excitement. The patients banged their crutches and canes on the ambulance and bus doors. The din was deafening, the exultation uncontrollable.
The boys were sorted into two groups by an Army doctor: those to be kept for treatment and those to be sent for convalescence. I accompanied the convalescent group on to a Tel Aviv rest home. We had started out from Jerusalem at noon after much sitting around and waiting for approvals, but it was after 10:30 pm when we arrived at the outskirts of Tel Aviv-Jaffa where the rest home was and I was able to deliver my patients. Everyone was in high spirits, singing loudly and boisterously, proud of having come from the battlefield of Jerusalem and relieved at being somewhere else.
I started walking the unfamiliar, blacked-out streets, looking for a place to stay. I had brought with me all the money I possessed but that didn’t help. Every room in every hotel I tried was either occupied or had been requisitioned by the Army. Finally, bone-tired, hungry and on the verge of tears I went to the Military Police. I presented my leave pass, told them I had no relatives or friends in town, didn’t know my way around and demanded a bed.
When they heard I had come from Jerusalem, everything moved into high gear; they called a taxi, took me to the proper office, arranged for a bed at the Savoy Hotel and meal tickets at restaurants. One of the fellows even invited me for breakfast, to be followed by a sightseeing tour. I didn’t like having to play damsel in distress but it was so good to have somebody worrying about me for a change.
At the hotel, I felt so silly getting the thrill I did out of walking up carpeted stairs to a cream-colored room with a tile bathroom – then, turning on the faucet and watch water stream out. It was so civilized, even the military setup, a far cry from primitive Jerusalem. There we are partisans; here we are soldiers. My feelings were confirmed a few minutes later when a Palmach girl was brought in to share the room. She had just come from Kiryat Anavim near Jerusalem and was feeling very much the same way as I was. Incidentally, she had met up with Carmi and several other of my friends who are fighting in the area. We both rumpled the crisp sheets and tried to relax with a whole cigarette each before going to sleep.
I woke up this morning wondering if all the comforts of Tel Aviv had dissolved during the night; but they were still there, along with glorious sunshine.
I just looked out of the window and discovered that our room overlooks the Mediterranean Sea where people are actually swimming and sunbathing, like Palm Beach or Florida. Incredible.
Strangely, I suddenly longed to be with the boys I had come with. I wished I could have seen their faces, which had been contorted with pain on the difficult journey, suddenly relax into smiles at the sight of plentiful water and food and decent medical equipment.
My first stop this morning will be the post office to send you a cable and mail this letter and the twenty other letters that people pushed into my hand as I boarded the convoy. Then I am going to have breakfast with my “date”, order a tall glass of orange juice, an egg or two and enough coffee to drown in. Off with the uniform. A casual outfit and saddle shoes. Lady for a day.
Actually three days. Three whole days and nights of this paradise.