Saturday, 22 March 2008

Letter 28 - May 11, (1919)

Zionist Commission to Palestine

Dear Family,-

All arrangements are completed for our moving to Jerusalem. Dr. Eder and Mr. Lewin-Epstein are to remain here, Szold is to travel back & forth and Dr. F and I will be permanently there. We move in two days. Our work is to be only political and external. The Z.C has been gradually becoming the dumping ground of all local troubles, and now we’re going to stop it and settle to the real work. Internal affairs will be handled by the local offices thru the country. We are organizing departmentally viz Financial, Political, Agricultural, Technical, Educational, Immigration, etc. Each dept. is to have its administrator, not necessarily a member of the Commission, but an appointee thereof. Each dept. is to render reports at definite intervals of its work. The execution of the C. is to supervise all work, but limit its own activities to political work.

We all miss Bianchini lots. He is a fine man. It was quite touching when he kissed me goodbye – I haven’t quite recovered yet. I suppose he felt that he had to kiss someone connected with the Committee. By now he must be almost in Italy.

Our new house in Jerusalem is ready for occupancy. Yesterday before I left Jerusalem I hired a cook, housekeeper and maid. We are going to live in real style. The cook is reputed to be the best in Jerusalem – and so we expect to entertain royally.

You know since I’ve been here, America hasn’t seemed so far off. I see Saturday Evening Posts with their ads and Uncle’s pictures, Gilletes and Singer Sewing Machines are in abundance, Fords are everywhere – but the climax was reached yesterday evening in Jerusalem. While meandering along one of the streets at dusk I beheld a crowd before a building. Joining it I pushed my way to the front to find myself at the entrance of the lone movie show of the town – and Chas. Chaplin Esq. was the attraction!

The Inter Allied Commission to determine the destiny of Palestine is reported en route. We are making preparations to show them thru our colonies – our proudest possession. I hope that by the time my various duties will be sufficiently light to enable me to go along.

I’ve just received another letter from Lance Corporal Breth. He seems to be slowly recovering. I hope to be able to arrange a short leave of absence for him shortly to spend with me.

Several evenings ago Dr. F. and I took a walk thru the palms under the moonlight. E is quite discontented with the progress of the work. We are hampered in every way – the local population, the administration, the Inner Actions Committee. There is no real cooperation – coordination of work. We receive terse orders to do this or that from London – things which often are not advisable and occasionally are most unadvisable – things which can’t often be. The local population looks upon us as a rich charity – they take while “taking’s good.” If an institution requires £1000 it will invariable ask for £2000. And the authorities – ostensibly are inert. Dr. F. has solemnly assured me that he will never again come to Palestine in an Administrative capacity; he will stick to his profession. He claims that heretofor he never knew what work was. As a matter of fact he is working, strenuously – but is looking and feeling fine; it seems to agree with him.

He and I will of course live together in our new house. I turn his light out for him in the evening when I come home from my visits to the “local population” and he wakes me in the morning. We, at least, have cooperation.

We are advised from good authorities that in Egypt there is strict censorship of mail these days – and that objectionable letters are merely destroyed – no effort is made to take out the censored parts. My recent letters have been so full of politics that I wonder whether they’ve gone thru. We’ll have to stop it. Luckily I’ve finally followed your advice Mother – since my arrival in Palestine I’ve kept a rather full and complete diary.

The Z.C. only has one car running – and I’ve fired all the chauffeurs except one. They were the most organized wrecking crew I’ve ever seen. Now I’m mainly begging the gov’t. and the American Red Cross to sell, lend or rent me a few Fords. They are impossible to obtain- in Cairo a few are being sold for £500. Yet the gov’t. has hundreds of them.

Speaking of the American Red Cross – the crowd here is the most untolerable set of supercilious and disobliging persons I ever hope to meet. They have made every effort in their part to keep us from acquiring their supplies which they are rapidly selling. They claim that now they are a salvage and not a relief organization and that their orders from America are to get most money they can from supplies. And they have tremendous quantities of material viz – desks, bldg. material, hardware, stationary, pipes, tractors, giant water filters etc., etc. and of course Fords. They have volunteered to sell their entire outfit to us at cost e.g. war prices plus transportation – and that, they feel is a favour. When we require individual supplies from them they charge terrifically – a Carona typewriter they sold us for £15, which cost them $50. Another time we had to get some medical supplies to Safed and rented several of their trucks. They sent us a bill for $50 per truck per day. When Dr. Rubinow went to them and stated that he proposed to send a telegram to America about it they said it was only a joke. The main offender is one R.C. Major Groeniger.

Contrasted to this attitude of our own Americans to the A.Z.M.U. – several weeks ago the Australian Red Cross shipped us gratis 34 cases of medical supplies. And we had never even come in contact with them.

I’ve received no letters in some time. But I’m sure you’re not responsible for that! A letter has just arrived in Tel-Aviv which was 2yrs en route from Russia. I’m sure there will be mail awaiting me on my next trip to Palestine.

The Ben Yehudas* arrived several days ago. Mrs Ben-Avi* delivered your message Uncle F – thank you.

The rainy season has passed and new things are beginning to dry. The hills and mts. About Jerusalem are brown and grey – only spotted here and there with gnarled and hideous clumps of live trees. There is a dried up river bed between two of the hills. Pools where the cattle used to drink are no more. Summer is coming

Lots of love & kisses,


*Ben Yehuda, Eliezer:-b. Lithuania 1857 – d. Jerusalem 1922; pioneer in restoring Hebrew language to daily use

*Ben Avi, Itamar:-b. Jerusalem 1885 – d. Jerusalem 1943; son of Eliezer Ben Yehuda; first child in modern times whose mother tongue was Hebrew; writer, Jewish Nationalist propagandist; Mrs. Ben Avi noted lexographer

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