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Rochelle Mass, who immigrated to Israel in 1973.


By Rochelle Mass, former Winnipegger living in Israel, posted May 6, 2011

[Editor’s note: This fine piece was first published on April 28, 2009 in the  Jerusalem Post but remains as timely now as when it was written. Reprinted with permission of the author] 

In May 1948, my parents invited over a group of friends from their Labor Zionist group to our Vancouver home to listen to a special radio broadcast: the United Nations would decide that evening whether or not the Jewish people would have their own country. "We'll have our own homeland," my father said. I didn't understand why we needed a "homeland."

I was born in Canada What would we do with two countries? My parents talked about "birthland" and "homeland." I was only five years old. It didn't make sense to me. "We'll talk about it later," my mother said. The visitors arrived. Everyone talked at once, they were very excited. Our large wooden radio was placed in the center of the room. They all crowded around. My father brought one chair after another into our small living room, borrowed some from the neighbors.

At each vote my parents explained that another country had voted in favor of the Jewish people. The voting continued hour after hour, late into the evening. Each country was called out in alphabetical order and, in a loud, somber voice, asked to announce their vote. Suddenly, everyone began to clap and shout. My parents and their friends began to sing Hatikva louder than I'd ever heard before. They pushed chairs aside, held each other's shoulders and began to dance the hora. I crowded in as my mother served wine and everyone bellowed Le'haim. I expected my parents to tell me we we'd be moving to Israel when everyone left, but they talked on and on about the miracle of a Jewish state as they returned the chairs and washed up the wine glasses. They put the radio back into the corner where it always was, kissed me warmly and we went to sleep.

I thought I'd better pack since I was sure they'd get ready to move to Israel in the morning. I took a few books, my watch, a few pairs of socks, some underwear: Put everything in a pile at the end of my bed. In the morning my mother made my father's lunch as usual and he left for work. I didn't hear anything about moving to Israel, so I thought, "Well, he can't leave right away - he has to tell his customers, sell all the watches, return the repaired clocks to their owners, then close his store." In the evening we had dinner as usual. They talked about the new State of Israel as if it was the center of the whole world.

One day passed after another. Our life continued as it always did except that we never stopped talking about the importance of the State of Israel, how proud we were. My father said it was a great privilege to be alive during the establishment of our homeland. I heard my parents talk to their friends about how they were going to collect money to send to Israel, how necessary it was to support the new Jewish state, how they were going to do their best to make sure it was strong.

But I didn't hear that they were going to live there.

Well, I decided, when I grow up, I'll go. Many years later, my husband and I and our two daughters aged five and seven moved to Israel in August of l973, two months before the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War. We lived on Kibbutz Beit HaShita in the Jezreel Valley for 25 years where we watched the pioneers plough their dreams into the tough land, and saw their children and grandchildren building their own ideas.

We now live in Gan Ner, a small community on the Gilboa mountains, overlooking that valley. Our home is 12 kilometers from Jenin. From my kitchen window, I watch the city spread. Houses in Jenin stretch farther over the hills, more rooftops panel the slopes every month, every year. Jenin used to be a core of hostility. Now, it lies silent. We are not currently threatened by suicide bombers from Jenin harboring explosives in their clothing, but we still don't travel in that direction. Israel still seems to be the center of the whole world, like it did in l948.

Rochelle Mass is the author of three books of poetry in English.

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