Top row center: Zipporah Porath, the Haganah nurse on the base.

Taken in Deir Yassinan, an Arab village, during a cease-fire, a few

days after Zipporah and all soldiers at camps and bases throughout

the country were officially sworn into the army of the new State of

Israel. From underground partisans in the Haganah, they became

soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, the first Jewish army in 2000

years. What a proud moment that was.

 

Haifa Bay, October 29, 1948

 

“Mother dear,

Believe me, the doomsday report you got is way off the mark. Probably from one of those people who hop over to Israel briefly, stick their heads through two doors, have a gossipy luncheon and go home loaded with “inside information.” They know as much about what makes the wheels go round here as the average American does about what cooks in Washington D.C. The nonsense these gossip-hungry people gobble up is often tasteless leftovers someone dished out mindlessly.

 

Take it for a fact that I am more familiar with the scene after a year here than your “here today, gone tomorrow” observer, who saw only a negative picture in stark black and white. What he failed to fathom was what lies below the surface and motivates most of the people who live here – fierce dedication and uncompromising faith, an unbeatable combination. Israel’s capabilities cannot be measured by any standard yardstick. It defies reason. It has to do with self-sacrifice, resourcefulness and steadfast determination. An outsider can’t really assess it. You have to see these people in action to understand what makes this country tick. They’re incredible. One learns a lot about tolerance in this country. It takes a lot of it to live with your fellow Jews. But I can’t help getting angry and protective when something I value and hold dear is maligned, degraded and diminished. We here can’t afford to dwell on our faults and shortcomings, and resent it when someone else points them out – as if we didn’t know about them.

 

Looked at from the outside in, one could easily label this county a disaster, a land of primitive people living in backward and isolated ignorance. And that is partially true. But at the same time, there are dynamic forces at work and an ever-increasing number of people fighting for change – even if they are fogged by idealism, blind nationalism and overconfidence fed on partisanship.

 

There aren’t words general enough to begin to generalize about the heterogeneity of this country – its people, cities, settlements and kibbutzim. Israel is a melting pot like America never was. A tiny sponge of land, which in the short span of a year has had to absorb in to its fighting forces, soldiers who aren’t soldiers at all, from every continent in the world. Their only baggage: culture, customs and tongues from foreign lands. They and their baggage were dumped here, for lack of any other address, in the midst of a bloody war, and no one has had time to open this Pandora’s Box and sort it out.

 

 

 

 

 

Such a little, pathetic, struggling state to have such a multitude of internal problems, so many of them seemingly insurmountable. Not to mention the ever-present horde of Arab states pressing menacingly at our borders in an unfinished war. It takes a lot of tolerance, compassion and understanding to accept all the things that are wrong and a lot of courage and physical stamina to stand your ground regarding things that could or should be changed.

 

In the army it’s the insignificant things that make a difference, become all-consuming: wanting a winter uniform when you are cold, a leave pass when you need to get away, stomaching inexperienced officers and ridiculous military discipline, seeing people stepping over other people in a hurry to get ahead, watching all the vanities of life at work, the spoils system at its worst…

 

In about ten years this will be a great country. Now its chaos; still in the throes of birth pains while the miracle emerges – with plenty of bloodshed.

 

I didn’t mean to get carried away, but your Mr. “Know-It-All” hit a raw nerve. Or maybe I needed to give myself a pep talk…to remind myself of things I know in my bones, but tend to forget when irritations get out of hand.

 

Anyhow, I’m sure we’ll straighten out the mess somehow. We have to. It’s just a matter of time.

 

All my love, Zippy”

 

 

From the book, “Letter from Jerusalem 1947-1948”, by Zipporah Porath.

 

Signed copies of the book (also available in Hebrew) can be ordered from the author:

zip@netvision.net.il .

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About the author

Zipporah Porath

Zipporah Porath is a free-lance writer/ editor/ and publications consultant. Born and educated in the USA, she arrived in pre-state Israel in 1947 on a one-year scholarship to the Hebrew University. C...
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