Equal Partners
by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners

By Roland Ezri

"Women are the backbone of all societies. They do a substantial part of the work, and play a major role in raising the future generation yet they are largely powerless. The decisions that count are made by men and foisted upon women."

Writings by Roland Ezri

The Second Exodus – Israel – CCXXXIV. The Ma’abarot Stage (10 of 26)

Israel at the time of our arrival (and many years after I left) was a socialist country.  Most of the parties making the coalition that governed the country were left-leaning.  The line delivered by the government, was that a country with so many new immigrants had to follow such a system in order to be governed fairly.  You and I know that a fair system of government exists nowhere in the world.  There are many reasons for that, the main one being that fairness is in the eye of the beholder; what is fair for you may be unfair to me, or vice-versa.  Indeed, not many immigrants felt they were treated fairly.  At any rate, this is the system that existed in those days, and the institutions I will be describing next reflected that philosophy.

Ha Soukhnout

Ha Soukhnout, (Jewish Agency (JA)), as it is known in Hebrew has a long history (going back to 1929); it played many roles before the official start of statehood.

Once Palestine was partitioned in November 1947, the Soukhnout and the Va’ad Leumi (National committee) set up a National Council and a National Administration which became the State of Israel’s provisional legislature and government.  The Prime Minister of this interim government was none other than Ben-Gurion.

After the state was established the JA relinquished many of its functions to the new government, but retained responsibility for immigration, land settlement, youth work, and relation with world Jewry.

The number of immigrants that arrived into this new and tiny state is hard to believe.  They came from many nations, used various means, and had wildly differing backgrounds, languages, and customs.  And yet, out of these dissimilar groups the modern State of Israel was forged.  Two factors made this possible:  They were all bound by their Jewry; and the near-miraculous work performed by the JA.

The JA faced a monumental task; to really understand the scope of this undertaking, let us look at some facts and figures.

In 1949, the agency brought to the holy land 239,000 Holocaust survivors that were scattered in camps throughout Europe.  As well, many refugees were stuck in Cyprus (or Kafreesin as the island is called in Hebrew).  They had come to the shores of Palestine, but the British turned them away and interned them in camps on Cyprus.  You no doubt (if you`re old enough) remember the book Exodus (and the movie based on that same book).  It`s a work of fiction based on these events.  Indeed, “let my people go,” was heard again millennia later with the British replacing Pharaoh!  (In truth England was bound by the terms of its Palestinian Mandate; after all these decades its actions while difficult to excuse can be understood).

These refugees that have lived through hell and lived to tell the tale were now finally at home.  But they needed so much.  And so, the Souhknout provided them with housing; send them to ulpanim to learn Hebrew; and gave them the training they needed so that they could make a living.

Again in 1949, the JA airlifted some 50,000 Yemenite Jews in an operation called On Wings of Eagles (or Magic Carpet).  These immigrants were scattered throughout Yemen, and many undertook extremely dangerous and risky journeys to arrive at Aden, the capital of Yemen, where some 380 flights took them to the Holy Land.

In 1950-51, some 343,000 immigrants arrived from Eastern Europe and North Africa.

In 1951, 110,000 Iraqi Jews were evacuated in operation Ezra and Nehemiah.

From 1949 to 1951, nearly the whole of Bulgarian Jewry, more than half the Jews of Yugoslavia, 40,000 Jews from Turkey, and 18,000 from Iran emigrated from their respective countries to begin a new life in Israel.

During its first 4 years, Israel, while struggling to survive, absorbed over 700,000 olim (immigrants)!  It’s a miracle the state didn’t collapse under the weight of that burden!  It may have come close, but the financial help of Jews throughout the diaspora, and the competence of the JA and the experience they developed in dealing with seemingly impossible situations saved the newborn state.

By the time we arrived in 1957, the administrators at the Soukhnout had seen it all!  Thus they came across as being unforgiving, distant, and inhumane.  In actual fact they were, with our immigration wave, dealing with an easier (in relative terms) situation than the hellish early days of the new state.  Thus they were able to do so much more for us.  We couldn’t recognize that having no clue as to what the first newcomers went through.  Yes, we heard their (the early immigrants) horror stories; but hearing of their tribulations and living through incredible trials are two very different matters.

So how did we view the JA and how did we interact with their administrators?

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