To be a free people in our land

    May 2008            
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Opinion & Society


A Grandfather's Musings

By Cyril Atkins

Two years ago Israel commemorated "Holocaust Remembrance Day," a ceremony of remembrance was held at Yad V'Shem, Israel's Holocaust Memorial Centre. It was attended by Israel's leaders many of them survivors or children of survivors. Soon we will celebrate Israel's 60th Independence Day.

Almost 63 years to the day that I entered the Royal Air Force during the war against Hitler's Germany and their allies, I attended a ceremony to mark the commissioning of one of my grandsons as an officer in the Israel Defence Force. The ceremony took place at the Officers Training College in the Negev Desert . Sandhurst it is not. If the Sergeant Major of the Scots Guards had been there to see the marching that was almost in time with the music, he would have curled up and expired on the spot.

Three hundred new officers took part - watched by proud parents, siblings, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and uncle Tom Cobleigh and all. On to the parade ground marched or should I say strolled a young corporal who was the Master of Ceremonies. He explained everything that was going to happen and what was happening and what had happened, he introduced the speakers and he was the one who told us when to stand and when to sit.

The Band marched on. The Drum Major twirling his stick. Up in the air it went turning somersaults and was deftly caught. A round of applause from the crowd. The man sitting next to me nudged my ribs "Haim lomdu et ze mi'habritim". "They learned that from the British" he said. "You don't say" said I in my, heavily British accented Hebrew. The six companies marched on to the parade ground. An excited crowd said "there is Moishe," "there is Lior," "there is Rotem," as all the guests tried to recognize their family members. Rotem's family proudly wore T shirts and baseball hats with her name prominently written in large letters.

In April 1943, I joined the Royal Air Force, I was 18 years old and the war was not going too well. News was just beginning to come out about the murder of Jews in Europe but it was not until much later when the allied armies were driving the German armies from Europe that the full extent of the Holocaust began to be revealed. Nevertheless, even before the war Jews all over the world knew of the German persecution of the Jews, a fact that was ignored by the countries of the world who pretended to believe that what Hitler was saying he did not really mean and was for the consumption of his own citizens.

The French have a saying "The more things change the more they stay the same". We see this 65 years later with the pronouncements by Ahmadinjad, the Persian Haman of today, and some Arab countries about what they think should happen to the Jews and principally to Israel . The majority of countries in the world say. "Well they don't mean it, it is just for internal consumption". The unspoken comment is terrorist attacks in America and Europe and even in Arab countries are all the fault of the Jews and if they would only go away what a better place, the world would be.

My grandfather, had a little of bag of earth from Eretz Yisrael which he kept to be placed in his coffin when he died so that he would be buried with the earth of Eretz Yisrael. Jews in the Diaspora say on Passover and Yom Kippur "Next year in Jerusalem" for my grandfather that was a seemingly impossible dream. When I joined the Royal Air Force, the foundation of a State of Israel a Jewish State which took place 5 years later, was a seemingly impossible dream, and yet, there I was standing in the Negev desert 150 Km from Jerusalem where I now live, and 50 Km from the Kibbutz where Howard, the proud father of the new officer, and his family live.

Telling a friend of mine that I was going to the ceremony he said to me "have a lot of Nachas". Nachas is what you get when your grandson becomes a doctor or a lawyer or even a Rabbi, but do I have nachas from my grandson the officer. Several years ago during the Passover festival, a suicide bomber managed to get around the protective fence near Jerusalem made his way to the old Tel Aviv bus station and blew himself up killing 9 people and injuring many more. My grandson, the officer, perhaps may help to stop wholesale murders like this happening in the future.

When I was serving in the Air Force so many years ago it never even occurred to me that a State of Israel could ever be more than a dream or that I would live there and that I would have two generations born there, or that my grandson would be an officer proudly defending his country.

When I was young I learned the Hatikva and sang it many times without really knowing what the words meant. However living in Israel with Hebrew as the daily tongue, singing the Hatikva at the end of the ceremony and coming to the words:

    "Our hope is not lost
    The hope of two thousand years
    To be a free people in our land
    The land of Zion and Jerusalem "

I had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, I thought of my grandfather with his little bag of earth from Eretz Yisrael and of his "Next year in Jerusalem " and all those generations before him saying the same words I thought perhaps that I should be proud of my grandson and have Nachas after all


from the May 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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