Saturday, 22 March 2008

Letter 14 - February 26, (1919)

Tel Aviv

Dear Family,-

We arrived in Palestine two days ago – Monday morning. Travelling thru this part of the world is no pleasure, but to be here is sufficient compensation for almost any hardship.

Here’s our story. Sunday eve we arrived at the Port Said r.r. station about half hour before schedule. When I tried to buy tickets I was told that no civilians could travel over that particular line which runs down the canal to Kantara unless they have a special permit. I was referred to the officer in charge of the station to whom I showed all manner of papers including one which I had just received from the British Base Commandant at Port Said – but in vain. I must return to the B.B.C. and get civilian passes. With barely a half hour to spare I captured a carriage drawn by two lean Arab horses and urged the driver to make time. Arriving I finally located the desired official, a suave old fellow, and told my story as hurriedly as possible. He coolly pulled out his watch and stated that I’d have to wait until tomorrow. After much urging he grudgingly consented to help me and several moments later I had the passes. I arrived at the station with scarcely a minute to spare.

At Kantara we came across several thousand Australian troops who were being sent to Egypt to be demobilized. Kantara is on the only line of communication between Egypt and Syria – it is the point where connections are made across the canal (Suez), between Asia and Africa. These Australians were a most jubilant lot – some had been serving for three years already in Syria and Palestine, and all were anxious to get home. We had with us several hundred Virginia cigarettes which I bought at the YMCA at Rome but which none of us liked. We gave most of them away, and you can imagine how they were appreciated. There was a Jew in the crowd, who after eyeing us for some time and studying the * (Star of David) on Dr. Rubinow’s uniform finally came over and murmured the mystic password “Shalom” – a very nice fellow.

After much waiting we were finally put into some Red Cross autos and taken across the canal and about two miles inland to the African station Kantara. There was a large camp almost deserted, but with a canteen still in operation – and we were duly grateful. At about eleven we were ushered into our sleeping quarters on the train to take us to Ludd. More pretentious quarters I’ve never seen. Each compartment contained two layers of boards with a thin leather covering – and nothing more. I located the baggage car and got out my blanket. Lying on my big overcoat, with my jacket as a pillow, and covered by the steamer rug I expected to be very comfortable – but I didn’t take into consideration the eccentric motions of the train or the delicious and refreshing flavour of the desert sand. Before retiring I had, in orthodox military style, polished and cleaned my shoes. The next morning they were coated in a thin layer of desert, as was everything including our throats. We arrived at Ludd about seven o’clock A.M. and were greeted in thoroly Oriental fashion by Mr. Lewin-Epstein*, who is the acting chairman of the Zionist Commission at present and a lovable old man.

The Army canteen of the camp at Ludd served us a good breakfast, and then we came out and looked about us. We were finally arrived in Palestine. The air was warm, the sky clear blue, the land healthy looking and fertile. In the distance rose the hills about Jerusalem, closer in the other direction stood the vineyards Richon-le-Sion.

Our cars were loaded with our baggage, so in an old French car we set out for Jaffa. It is an unimpressive little place filled with Arabs an dirt. But on the hill to the north is Tel Aviv, the Jewish Colony or suburb. Each clean little house has its own garden, the streets are well kept, there is even a little park in its center; it has a gymnasium well equipped for all studies – which has been temporarily a hospital. We were taken to the home of a Mrs. Moscovitz, where we are boarding. The rooms are fine, the beds luxurious, and the food – well, it rivals Lottie’s. Mrs Moscovitz is a very young woman, perhaps 35, with five children. Her husband is one of the best doctors here. Once during a storm he insisted on visiting some patients by wagon. On crossing a swollen stream the wagon turned over and he was drowned. That was about four years ago. Since then his wife has established this house which is about the only good place in town. It’s full with the five of us and two young English girls, the wives of officers stationed at Ludd.

The children speak German. French, English, and Hebrew with equal ability and among themselves use any one of the four at random.

We have had very little opportunity for sightseeing – one conference has succeeded another but today we are going to Jerusalem, an invitation of the British General to witness the opening of a large hospital.

There is an Italian in our midst – one Commander Bianchini* – a fine fellow and an enthusiastic Zionist. He ranks high in the Italian Navy and has a chest full of medal ribbons. He speaks several languages fluently and has the decided asset of being very cool and level-headed.

It’s going to take a week or two until we get properly acclimated, until we know all there is to know, until we are ready to begin work in earnest. Meanwhile we are listening, and studying, and not planning anything.

Lots of love and kisses,


Lewin-Epstein, Eliyahu Zvi:- b. Lithuania 1863 – d. Palestine 1932; acting head of the Zionist Commission in Palestine and of the AZMU after 1918

Levi-Bianchini, Commandante Angelo:- b. Venice 1877 – d. 1920 (murdered by a Bedouin in Transjordan); Italian Naval Officer and Zionist diplomat in Italy after W.W.1.

AMZU:- American Zionist Medical Unit, founded 1918, financed by Hadassah, ZOA (Zionist Organisation of America), AJJDC (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee), Palestine Restoration Fund

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