Jerusalem - April 24, 1948

Dearest Mother, Dad and Naomi,‎

I must tell you how I spent Seder night in besieged ‎Jerusalem.‎

‏It was a wonderful evening, a huge full moon floating in a ‎bathtub of blue, with little sparklers of stars hovering close ‎by. The Mediterranean sky defies description. It's even more ‎brilliantly star-studded than a summer night in Vermont, and at eye level, all this beauty is silhouetted against stark earthy ‎rock and rugged hills.‎

‏We walked to town marveling at the unexpected quiet. Not a ‎shot to be heard the whole way. We were in high spirits, we stopped ‎off to bid‏ ‏Chag Sameach‎ (Happy Holiday) to mutual friends, sang ‎loudly and waved to people sitting on their balconies enjoying ‎the quiet and waiting for Seder guests. Everybody had guests ‎this year. There were about a hundred drivers in town who brought ‎the last convoy to Jerusalem, stranded away from their families ‎and, of course, hundreds of soldiers far from home.‎

‏Seder night, falling on a Friday eve in Jerusalem, is doubly ‎special. The holiday atmosphere is in the very air. The only ‎sign of the times was a thick security guard surrounding the‎‎ Chief Rabbi's home in Rehaviah, a block away from where we were ‎headed to Yehudah's family Seder at an uncle's house.‎

‏As we mounted the stairs I was a little apprehensive at the ‎prospect of meeting three generations of relatives but my fears were allayed in no time. I discovered that I knew the sister from ‎my first-aid course and her husband and I had once done patrol ‎duty together. There were several other guests and, reigning over ‎all, was a regal grandmother whose withered hand we all had to ‎formally kiss following ‎‏ Kiddush, the blessing over the wine. ‎There is a 105 year-old great-grandmother too but she was at Seder elsewhere because of the transportation difficulties.‎

‏The family is Sephardic in origin so, although the ‎Haggadah ‎was read in Hebrew, the important passages were reread in Ladino ‎for the benefit of the grandmother, and everyone at the table took turns reading, as we do at home. Whenever the ‎conversation lapsed into Ladino, the children - little ‎chauvinists - were genuinely upset and demanded that only Hebrew ‎be spoken.‎

‏As I was a special guest they provided me with a Haggadah ‎which had an English translation. And, probably because they ‎thought American Jews have no traditional background, they took ‎great pains and derived much pleasure from giving me instructions ‎on what to do and how to do it. I didn't have the heart to tell ‎them that I knew a thing or two about Passover Seders.‎

‏The herbs were truly bitter herbs, plucked from the fields ‎like the greens we now eat with our daily fare. The‏charoset‎ tasted every bit like the Egyptian bricks it ‎was supposed to represent although, in these times, there's no ‎way of knowing what it was made of. In essence the Seder ‎ceremony was the same as it is all over the world wherever Jews ‎congregate.‎

‏Only one custom was strikingly different and I rather liked it.

Instead of the‏afikoman‎ being placed between two pillows, as we ‎do, it was placed in a napkin, with its ends tied in a knot. Then the matzah bundle was passed to each one at the ‎table who, in turn, slung it over a shoulder and held it there ‎for a bit, symbolizing the way the Jews must have carried their ‎belongings out of Egyptian bondage. When it came to one of the ‎children it miraculously disappeared and was only forfeited ‎against the promise of a book.‎

‎A five-year old boy, the youngest in the family, in lispy ‎Hebrew that seems to characterize the speech of most Sabra ‎children, didn't merely recite the traditional four questions, but ‎asked them, in the most natural way, as if inquiring, "Why is ‎this night different from all other nights?" - his hands ‎clasped around his knees, his head tilted to one side, as if he ‎really didn't understand and wanted to be told why a Seder in ‎besieged Jerusalem was different from any other.‎

‏Despite the terrible food shortage, a meal of sorts was ‎served, simple but plentiful, with‏ ‏kneidlach‎ made ‎from something that tasted like nuts. The singing was really merry. I was asked to sing the melodies I ‎knew, which were very different from theirs. But, judging by the ‎way they all beamed, my performance must have been enjoyable and ‎interesting for them.‎

‏We had to leave early because of the long walk home, but not ‎before saying formal good-byes and kissing Grandma's paw with great ‎ceremony.‎

‏We took a short-cut home to be out of the firing line from ‎the "General Building" (the British Mandatory government office ‎compound) and passed through the crowded Mahaneh Yehudah area, a ‎very religious community. At one house we saw by the flickering ‎candle light in the window a large family group huddled around ‎the holiday table, the youngsters' ear locks dangling on the ‎cloth, all singing with Hassidic fervor, transported with joy. ‎Their singing had a haunting quality I cannot convey. Every ‎corner of the deserted cobblestone alley reverberated with the ‎sound of it, echoed and reechoed from every house. We hit the ‎open road near Romema and broke into song ourselves, joined by ‎the guards we passed at the various check-posts and roadblocks ‎en route.‎

‏This morning, Alizah and I made a matzah omelet from our ‎special Passover ration of one egg each.‎

‏It's unnaturally quiet today. I hope it isn't the quiet ‎before the storm. Please plague me with letters. After April ‎‎30th, when the British will discontinue all postal services, ‎there is no way of knowing what will be...‎

Happy holiday,‎



From the book, “Letters from Jerusalem 1947-1948”, by Zipporah Porath. To mark Israel’s 60th Anniversary, signed copies of the book (also available in Hebrew) can be ordered from the author. Contact: or Tel/Fax: 03 635 1835.

"Letters from Jerusalem 1947-1948" is now available on Amazon Kindle. Here is the link:

print Email article to a friend
Rate this article 

Post a Comment


Dan Salazar
I'm totally fascinated with "Zippy's" letters. My discovery of her came about as a result of having been asked to give a presentation on "Jerusalem" for a Sorority group.I haven't read all of her bio yet, however I feel a conection because I was in Haifa either at the very end of 1948 or in the Spring of 1949 on board a USN Warship. I was only 17 or 18 then, very inexperienced and naive, but very inquisitive. We were there on an important but mysterious mission, which Zippy may know more about than I do. There was still lots of fighting going on at the time and we were not allowed off the ship during the time we were there, 3 or 4 days. I remember hearing expolsions and seeing clouds of black smoke rising from afar. We had a mystery person on board that went ashore accompanied by a few high ranking USA military officials. I never found out who this person was. Dr. Ralph Bunche was the American council then. Thank you for your time...Dan Salazar,(AGE 81, Author: "Before the Silver and Beyond the Gold")

Related Articles


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...

Script Execution Time: 0.329 seconds-->