Saturday, 22 March 2008

Letter 17 - March 12, (1919)

Zionist Commission to Palestine – Tel-Aviv, JAFFA, Palestine

Dear Family,-

We have all just returned from a weekend trip to Jerusalem. I left here Friday noon with Robison and Szold. Dr. F. followed on Sunday with Com. Bianchini and Mr. L. Epstein. We came back together Monday eve.

The trip up was negotiated partly by machine and part by train. The train ride is thru most picturesque country – the hills surrounding Jerusalem. These hills are without trees or shrubbery of any sort and only have short stubble grass and rocks in large quantities. The train winds in and out of the valleys climbing around the mountains, occasionally stopping to take a few breaths and get some water. Finally a few red tile topped houses appear and the train stops. The station is called Jerusalem but the town is still several miles off. If one is a lucky a machine meets you – we met Dr. Lowenstein of the Red Cross, at home he is director of the large Jewish Orphanage in New York – and he took us in his machine. After several minutes of riding and the road passes round a small hill and into a valley Jerusalem appears in full glory on the heights. The road enters town at Jaffa Gate beside a portion of the old stronghold wall – and history immediately begins to peep from the massive walls, from around the narrow little streets, from the ancient well-preserved old fountains. Each square foot of earth seems to have its own individual share of history.

We met Dr. Rubinow and a number of his doctors and nurses. We located ourselves at the Commission house where the Z.C. representative, Rev. Segal and his son live. In the afternoon and next few days we wandered about, at least I did, saturating ourselves in the atmosphere of the Bible. We saw the old city with its narrow dirty streets, its unsanitary open market places, its clumsy old buildings, its massive archways; we saw the site of the old Temple and the magnificent Mosque of Omar inlaid with different colored stone; we saw the cave where Peter the Great (or someone else) delivered some famous or infamous speeches and several places where Jacob was buried – all equally authentic -; we climbed the Mt. of Olives where the OETA (occupied enemy territory administrator) is located and on one side saw Jerusalem on one side – free from all the sordid dirtiness of closer inspection – and on the other side the Jordan valley and in the distance the Dead Sea. On the hillside graze flocks of sheep and several cows. Closer an Arab is manipulating an ancient wooden plough drawn by an ox and a little donkey. There a few trees on the landscape – it is rocky and the top soil has been entirely washed away. Here and there stands a stumpy olive or fig tree and in the distance are a few stately cypress. The temperature is such that at noon for several hours it is as warm as our warmest days – it is customary for that reason to take two hours for lunch – while in the evening an overcoat is a decided comfort.

I brought your regards to Miss Seeligsburg, Mother, and she is duly grateful.

There is one very nice young fellow in the AZMU (Amer. Zionist Med. Unit). By trade he is a dentist, and a very efficient one – treating in a most satisfactory manner between fifty and sixty patients daily. At the hotel there was a piano – so that between us we stirred up quite a bit of excitement for Jer. The nurses joined in and we had a dance.

The following day I took a walk with one of the members of the Azmu, Moses Barroway – older brother of one of my classmates at JHU. We visited some of the little Jewish settlements on the outskirts of town. We got into one of the little schools. There seemed to be about one book to every few pupils. They were reading the weekly portion of the Bible. All were chanting in unison – yelling at the top of their lungs – interrupted occasionally by their ancient teacher. The rooms were small and the noise quite deafening. Of course when we entered the various classrooms the uproar increased; the louder they sing apparently the better they knew their lessons. How they learn anything is an inexplicable mystery.

I returned by auto Monday eve. It was moonlight and the trip was pleasant. The others returned by train.

For the last two days the work of the Z. C. has begun in earnest. At a formal meeting the reorganization with Dr. F. as the acting chairman was effected. It consists of Drs. Weitzman, Eder, Friedenwald and Messrs. Lewin-Epstein, Szold and Commandant Bianchini. This was received with some dissatisfaction, as a number of local men feel their work has warranted their remaining members of this executive body. But nothing serious will result, we hope.

Lots of love,


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