Volunteers busy clearing the trenches
I was 22 and very busy creating a crucially important step in my professional career. As important as that was to me personally, volunteering meant casting that aside in order to do something that was more important. The threat of an imminent and massive attack on Israel was infinitely more urgent than my career. Volunteering did mean interrupting and delaying my career development, but it was to prove to be a crucial step in my self-development, and not at all a halt in it.
My story starts with the fact that I identified with Israel already at the age of 11. That was during the Sinai campaign in 1956. There in Salisbury, Rhodesia, the front page of the “Rhodesia Herald” carried a large picture of “Israeli troops advancing over a rocky incline in the Sinai desert…” I was enormously proud. I probably identified with Israel much earlier than age 11, because I had an Israeli mother. She came to Tel Aviv with her family at the age of three from Poland in 1923, and had lived there until she married my father and they moved to Rhodesia.
That’s probably the background to me living in “the movement” (Habonim) as much as, or more than, anywhere else. That is not an over-statement. My problem was that at 18, I had absolutely no idea of what I wanted to do in life. I wanted to make aliyah, but needed first to find some direction in life, so I discovered anthropology and psychology and went to study at the University of Cape Town. That turned out to be the right decision for me. Compared to Salisbury, Cape Town - a sophisticated cosmopolitan city with a major university - was a great step forward for me. In 1967, I was in the second year of my studies, doing well and flying high. Those were probably two of the most significant years of my life. I initiated what turned out to be an enquiry into the poor academic level of the Sociology department, and began to get involved in the Academic Freedom Committee. In Habonim, I was in a senior leadership position.
Volunteers picking fruit at one of the orchards at Ma’ayan Baruch
In May of 1967, we followed the BBC news from Israel closely on the radio. It became increasingly clear that war was about to break out. When the South African Zionist Federation organized the first plane of volunteers to Israel on June 4, I was on it. My parents did not object. They were concerned, but understanding and supportive. I dropped all that was truly important for something infinitely more significant. I was not alone. Of the 30 or so volunteers on the that first historic flight with me, and on later ones, were Jeff Abel, Meish Arenson, Ian Browde, Alan Caplan, Ian Dreyer, Albert Edelson, John Eliasov, Heather Gordon, Alan Hoffman, Colin Horn, Paul Horwitz, Baldy Krell, Max Moss, Bruce Oppenheimer, and many, many others. After the war, I realized that by volunteering I had in fact already made aliyah. I stayed in Israel, picked up my studies at the Hebrew University and have never regretted not going back to South Africa.
One of our mottos in Habonim was that we would “build the country and be built in it”. At the time, I don’t think I really understood what “being built in it” meant. Today, I can see that I had been carving out what I wanted “to do” or “to be” in life, and that moment of crisis in the Six-Day War was an essential and significant step forward in defining who I was.
Many of us feel that because our victory in the Six-Day War was so profound and dramatic, the enormous sense of self-confidence and power that the victory created in us contributed to our chronic failure to find a solution to the difficult issue of our control of some of the West Bank for 50 years. I think that the damage to ourselves and to the Palestinians is enormous. There has to be a viable security solution that can make a separation possible. That is an enormous task that we still have to face and succeed in. Maybe it is one of the most important contemporary tasks calling out for volunteers today.