One of the hills I will die on

Warning: Any hateful, violent, threatening, anti-Semitic comments will be immediately deleted and the commenters blacklisted. If you truly cannot recognize certain phrases and remarks as inherently anti-Semitic and double-standardish, I suggest you leave your echo chamber and stop getting all your “information” from one-sided, biased sources.

I am absolutely disgusted at how many people on my purported side of the political aisle are excitedly celebrating and/or justifying the latest violent attacks on Eretz Yisrael. Many are quite open about their anti-Semitism and desire to wipe out the world’s only Jewish nation (often praising Hitler and wishing he’d finished the job), while others play the “I’m not anti-Semitic, but…” card.

Ever notice how these people are anti-war until it comes to cheering on violence against Jews? How they don’t obsessively argue against the right of any other nation on Earth to exist except Israel? How they’re all about “punching Nazis” while calling for the destruction of the one nation where Jews found refuge from Nazis? How they seem to care less about things like Chinese atrocities against Uyghurs, human rights violations in Myanmar, FGM, and the imprisonment and torture of Iranian women protesting compulsory hijab laws? How they act like Ph.D.-level experts on a complex geopolitical situation and 3,000+ years of history, from the safety of their cushy homes in the West, as they sip almond milk lattes from Starbucks?

Do you hear yourself talking when you say you’re not against Jews or Israel, “just” Zionists? Are you that ignorant you don’t know it’s a classic calling-card of anti-Semites to use the words Jewish and Zionist interchangeably? Have you never heard people routinely affixing words like dog and pig to it? Never seen the hateful rhetoric calling for death to all of us and wanting to drive us into the sea?

I’m a proud Zionist, and so are 95% of my co-religionists! We also have many allies in other religions! Zionism is nothing more than Jewish self-determination in our own nation, and includes diverse streams such as Socialist, Cultural, Synthetic, Labour, Religious, Political, Revolutionary, and Practical. I guarantee there’s a place within Zionism for you that perfectly fits your beliefs!

If you truly care so much for the plight of Palestinians, why do you never speak out against Hamas and the PLO? Their top brass live like millionaires while they keep their people in poverty and use them as political pawns! And after Gaza became Judenrein in 2005, Hamas destroyed all the beautiful greenhouses and used their constant stream of donations for weapons instead of schools.

Why do I never see you sharing stories about Arab Israeli citizens living very successful lives in the Middle East’s only democracy? About how doctors and nurses treat their Arab patients the same way they treat Jewish patients, even when those patients are terrorists? How a Jewish nurse breastfed a Palestinian baby while its mother was hospitalized? How Israelis have taught Palestinians how to farm pineapple? How Israelis have sheltered Palestinians fleeing from Gaza and the West Bank for falling afoul of the thugs in charge? How a popular Palestinian DJ was arrested for attending a Christmas party rave in Ramallah? How Haifa is the country’s best-integrated city and people of all faiths gather every year at the Santa Claus House for a Christmas party? How Israel took in 850,000 Jews expelled from North Africa and the Middle East starting in 1948? How Hitler was buddies with the anti-Semitic Grand Mufti of Jerusalem?

No, instead you only post easily-debunked propaganda, libel, slander, one-sided garbage, ahistorical nonsense, doctored photos, incomplete videos with false claims, lines that come straight from anti-Semites’ playbook.

I’m a charter member of the UMass Student Alliance for Israel. We founded this group in 2002, at the height of the Second Intifada. One night I went to the campus police station with a few friends to report graffitied flyers for our events (including a peace vigil). They all were recorded as hate crimes. On all five of the area campuses, there was a sickening spate of anti-Semitic graffiti, including incitements to violence. Some of these hate-mongers even tried to disrupt a huge community-wide rally against the graffiti!

Israel’s right to exist and defend itself against terrorist attacks isn’t an issue I can agree to disagree on. Your performative virtue-signalling puts Jewish lives in danger.

Zionism and “Zog Nit Keyn Mol”

My WeWriWa post is here.

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Theodor (né Tivadar) Herzl (2 May 1860–3 July 1904), Father of Zionism

Contrary to what you might’ve heard about Zionism from the modern-day extreme Left, it’s simply a movement for Jewish sovereignty in our own nation. It never outlived its usefulness, and there’s absolutely nothing racist about it. Certain individuals don’t speak to the movement as a whole.

There are many streams—Religious, Socialist, Practical, Political, Labour, Synthetic, Revisionist, Revolutionary, Cultural, Neo, et al. It’s a total lie that you have to be super-religious and/or super-conservative politically to be a Zionist. Many of the early Zionists were committed Socialists.

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Though many countries emancipated their Jewish communities between 1791–1923, it was still very difficult to live as a religious minority. Just because the law says one thing doesn’t mean all of society will change long-established attitudes overnight.

There also wasn’t any emancipation in places like the Russian Empire, and while the Jewish communities in the Islamic world were almost equal legally, they had dhimmi status. Dhimmitude entailed certain restrictions, and the payment of special taxes.

While I still feel it held people back to exclusively speak Yiddish and make no attempt to become a real part of their respective host cultures, I now understand why so many resisted. What incentive did they have to, e.g., adopt real Russian names, speak Polish, dress in modern clothes, or apply to secular schools when they were so hated and held back from so many opportunities?

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Moving to Israel, then called Palestine, was freedom. Even North America, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand didn’t afford the opportunity to be surrounded by one’s own people, instinctively understood, part of the majority. The Romans renamed Israel Palestina as a humiliation, a punishment, using the name of the enemy Philistines. Arabs in Israel didn’t begin calling themselves Palestinians till 1967!

These early pioneers took desert wastelands and turned them into oases, dug ditches, planted crops and fruit trees, established modern towns and cities, brought this largely abandoned land into the modern era. This is how Tel-Aviv looked in 1909, when the first settlers (drawn by lot) arrived:

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People needed a safe refuge from pogroms, institutionalised discrimination, numerus clausus quotas for schools, anti-Semitism, denied opportunities. Had there been a self-governing State of Israel, free of British rule, so many people would’ve been saved from the Shoah. Thanks to the horrific White Paper, countless people were denied immigration visas when there was still a window of opportunity to flee.

Most of my Hungarian-born characters were deeply involved in the Socialist–Zionist youth group Hashomer Hatzair, which convinced them their place is in Israel. After the war, all the survivors do indeed go to Israel, either on legal visas after the British are gone, or through relatives already in Israel sending papers for them.

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Partisans’ Memorial in Givatayim, Israel, Copyright Avi1111 (Dr. Avishai Teicher)

“Zog Nit Keyn Mol” (“Never Say”) was written by Yiddish poet and partisan Hirsh Glik in 1943. Born in Vilna (then part of Poland) in 1922, he began writing poetry in his teens and co-founded Yungvald (Young Forest), a group of young Jewish poets. Following the German invasion of the Baltic states in 1941, he was sent to the camp Weiße Wache, and later transferred to the Vilna Ghetto.

Many ghettoes tried to keep up a semblance of normalcy with a strong cultural life, and Vilna was possibly the greatest of all cultural centres. Hirsh was a big part of the artistic community, and simultaneously served in the underground. On 21 January 1942, the Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye (United Partisan Organisation) was founded, with the motto “We will not go like sheep to the slaughter.”

Paul Robeson, one of my heroes, singing a shortened version in the USSR in 1949

In 1943, Hirsh wrote “Zog Nit Keyn Mol” to the music of Russian composer Dmitriy Yakovlevich Pokrass. Though he managed to flee during the ghetto’s liquidation in October 1943, he was recaptured and deported to a camp in Estonia. He continued writing poetry and songs in captivity, and escaped in July 1944 as the Red Army neared. Hirsh was never heard from again.

The song made the rounds among other partisans, and today, it’s commonly sung at Shoah memorial services all over the world. Though my characters aren’t from a Yiddish-speaking area, they nevertheless express sentiments from the song a few times, “Never say this is our final road when the hour we longed for is so near.”

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Wesselényi Utca and the White Paper

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Wesselényi Utca is part of Erzsébetváros (Elizabeth Town), the historical Jewish quarter of District VII of Budapest. During the German occupation of 1944–45, it formed part of the large ghetto. There were two ghettoes, a small, international ghetto for those with phony foreign citizenship enabling them to live in the relatively protected Yellow Star Houses, and a large ghetto for everyone else.

The street runs about a kilometer and a half (a bit under a mile).

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Budapest JCC, 7 Wesselényi Utca, Copyright Globetrotter19

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Detail of cast-stone reliefs depicting the Twelve Tribes, Sculptor István Strasser Örkényi, Copyright Globetrotter19

The street got its modern name in 1872, from reforming politician and patriot Baron Miklós Wesselényi de Hadad (20 December 1796–2 April 1850). Only the downtown side was developed until 1887, when it began expanding and improving.

Landmarks include the former Metropolitan Shoemakers’ Guild HQ, the Ministry of Education, Henrik Meyer Baptist Theological Student Hostel and Baptist church (in the same building), the stage door of the Magyar Theatre, former HQ of the Paint Industry Board, a former Jewish elementary school (converted to a hospital in the ghetto), and the former JCC.

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Classicist monument house, Wesselényi Utca 15, Copyright Globetrotter19

My characters the Goldmarks, widowed mother Lídia and her children Imre, Júlia, and Nándor, move into an apartment on Wesselényi Utca after the end of the war. Mrs. Goldmark was in the large ghetto without protective papers, but she managed to send her children to relative safety in the international ghetto with phony papers from Carl Lutz. They formerly lived in the Castle District on the Buda side.

Mrs. Goldmark found a way across the Danube and recovered what she could from their former home, including a fair amount of furniture, and brought it back across the river to their new apartment. Though they’re a religious Neolog family, they’re still upper-middle-class Budapestis used to a certain lifestyle.

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Former Shoemakers’ Guild HQ, Wesselényi Utca 17, built 1905, Copyright Diana, Source Flickr

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Detail of wall decoration, Copyright Diana, Source Flickr

The British White Paper of 1939 is one of the blackest marks on British history, very similar to America’s equal black mark of “The Emergency Immigration Quota.” Both significantly contributed to the number of people prevented from reaching safety before the Nazis devoured them.

Neville Chamberlain issued this most foul piece of quasi-legislation in response to the 1936–39 Arab revolts in the British Mandate of Palestine. The Arab population (who weren’t calling themselves Palestinians at this time, contrary to modern-day ultra-Left propaganda) revolted in part because they were very unhappy with the large mass of Jewish immigrants.

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1936 bus with wire over the windows, as a safeguard against terrorism

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Evacuating the Old City of Jerusalem, 1936

The White Paper was approved by the House of Commons on 23 May 1939, and limited Jewish immigration to 75,000 over five years. Further immigration would be determined by the Arabs. Jews weren’t allowed to buy land from Arabs anymore, and Britain would only allow a Jewish state with Arab approval.

The British didn’t consider a binational state. They foresaw an Arab state which included a Jewish national home within ten years.

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Women’s protest by King David Hotel, Jerusalem, 22 May 1939

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Haganah HQ demonstration, Jerusalem, 1939

Though all self-respecting Zionists immediately rejected this piece of filth, it was heartily accepted by major scumbag and terrorist Hajj Amin el-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and an ally of Hitler. For several months, protests and attacks on government property reigned, and a general strike was called on 18 May.

The White Paper led to a very sharp uptick in illegal immigration, since these people desperately needed to leave occupied Europe, and there was no other way to get to Palestine. There were only 34,000 legal immigration certificates left by December 1942, when the Shoah became public knowledge (albeit buried in tiny print in the back pages and dismissed as Polish and Jewish propaganda trying to drum up sympathy).

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Women’s demonstration, 18 May 1939, King George Street, Jerusalem

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Youth demonstration, 18 May 1939, Zion Circle, Jerusalem

After the war, the vile Ernest Bevin (Labour Foreign Minister), nicknamed Bergen-Bevin, continued the policy of severely restricting immigration. Many survivors wanted to go to Palestine, the only place where they’d be fully, truly accepted and understood. Instead of being allowed to go to their homeland, these survivors were forced to remain in Europe, a continent which represented a blood-soaked graveyard.

Many of the ships attempting to bypass the British blockade were pirated, and the survivors attacked mercilessly. Some were killed during the resulting assaults and skirmishes. Other ships were sunk. Those who survived were forced into detention camps on Cyprus.

Even after Israel declared her independence in May 1948, the British forced many military-aged men to remain on Cyprus. Their wives and children usually chose to stay with them.

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Demonstration by Atlit detention camp in Palestine

Machal and Le Meurice

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Machal is an acronym of Mitnadvey Chutz L’Aretz, Volunteers from Outside the Land. During Israel’s 1948–49 War of Independence, about 4,000 volunteers from around the world (some Gentiles) came to the newborn state’s assistance. Right after Israel declared its independence, she was attacked by Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the Arab Liberation Army. All hands were needed on deck.

Most Machalniks were WWII Army vets from the U.S. and U.K., but many also came from other countries. A total of 58 countries provided volunteers. The majority of Machalniks served in Israel’s fledgling Air Force, since they had a lot of experience with flying planes during WWII, and were able to purchase used planes for relatively cheap.

In all, 123 were killed in action, 119 men and four women. Possibly the most famous Machalnik who was killed in action was American Mickey Marcus. Another important Machalnik was Milton Rubenfeld, father of Paul Rubens (whom I as an Eighties kid will always think of as Pee-wee Herman). Many returned to their countries of origin, but some stayed in Israel. Some of the founders of El Al airline were Machalniks.

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My character Imre Goldmark leaves his studies at the University of Montpellier to fight as a volunteer after his girlfriend Csilla and her friends leave for Israel in 1948. Imre is a hopeless intellectual, romantic, and dreamer, but he wants to prove his manliness to Csilla by fighting on the front lines. Csilla has no idea he’s in Israel, let alone in uniform, until she hears him screaming her name in hospital, in the throes of the worst pain of his life.

Csilla, who doesn’t know the true extent of his wounding, vows to take care of him and nurse him back to health. However, before Imre can be discharged and released to her care, his mother and professors intervene and have him taken back to France against his will. It’s a long, twisted road to happily ever after for these two.

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French Machalniks

Le Meurice is a gorgeous 5-star hotel in the First Arrondissement of Paris, opposite the famous Tuileries Garden, on the Rue de Rivoli. The Louvre is a short walk away. Its 160 rooms and suites are decorated in the style of King Louis XVI.

The first Hôtel Meurice opened in Calais in 1777, and the Parisian branch opened in 1815, at 223 Rue Saint-Honoré. In 1835, it moved to its present location, in a new, beautiful, luxurious building, with all the same amenities and perks.

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Copyright Axou

In 1891, electric lights were added, and in 1905–07, the Hôtel Métropole on Rue de Castiglione was added and the building underwent a thorough rebuilding under the direction of famous architect Henri Paul Nénot. Modern, tiled bathrooms were added; Louis XVI style was introduced; telephones and electric butler bells were added; reinforced concrete was added for privacy; public rooms were relocated; a wrought iron canopy was put over the lobby; a grand salon and new restaurant were added; and the lift was a copy of Marie Antoinette’s sedan chair.

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Hotel restaurant, Copyright Janine Cheung, Source Flickr

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Copyright Langmuir family, Source Flickr

From September 1940–August 1944, the occupying Nazis used the hotel as their headquarters. During that final month, General Dietrich von Choltitz, the military governor of Paris, stayed there. He was under orders to destroy Paris, but he disobeyed Hitler and surrendered to Free French forces. Supposedly, Hitler screamed “Is Paris burning?” to him over a Le Meurice telephone.

Many famous guests have stayed by Le Meurice, such as Salvador Dalí, King Alfonso XIII of Spain, FDR, the Shah, Rudyard Kipling, Plácido Domingo, Ginger Rogers, Yul Brynner, Mata Hari, and Elizabeth Taylor.

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Copyright Langmuir family, Source Flickr

The cheapest lodgings, the Superior Room, starts at 830 Euros a night, and the priciest option, the Belle Étoile Suite, starts at 14,500 a night. Other options include the Presidential Apartment, Executive Junior Suite, Deluxe Junior Suite, Superior Junior Suite, Prestige Suite, and Superior Suite. It’s a very child- and pet-friendly hotel, and has an amazingly beautiful restaurant, with fine dining.

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Copyright Langmuir family, Source Flickr

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Hotel restaurant, Copyright Janine Cheung, Source Flickr

My characters spend a thrilling week by Le Meurice in December 1945, financed by Marie’s dear friend Wolfram Engel. They run into one another by the depot, as Marie and her friends have just arrived from Florence, and Wolfram has just arrived from Lyon. Without a wife and children, Wolfram has a lot of disposable income.

Staying by Le Meurice is a dream come true for these young survivors, a complete turnaround in their fortune in less than a year.

Lower Galilee

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(Seeing as I wasn’t on my own timetable on any of my Israel trips to date, not all these photos are mine.)

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The Lower Galilee is in Northern Israel, bordered on the east by the Sea of Galilee (a.k.a. Lake Kineret), on the south by the Yizre’el (Jezreel) Valley, on the west by the Zvulun (Zebulon) Valley, and on the north by Upper Galilee. It’s less mountainous than the upper region, hence the “Lower” designation.

Important cities and natural landmarks include Tiberias (Tveriyah), Tzipori, Mount Gilboa, Mount Tavor, Gan Hashlocha, Mount Arbel, and, of course, Nazareth (Natzrat).

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Lower Galilee is very green, quiet, and peaceful, an ideal place for someone of any of Israel’s five major faiths to make a home and raise a family. In general, people get along well and don’t cliquishly segregate themselves. It’s rather like Haifa in that regard.

A good percentage of Israel’s farm produce comes from Lower Galilee.

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The early chalutzim (pioneers) worked so hard, and often lost their lives, draining malaria-infested swamps, transforming the desert into habitable land, creating oases, fighting off Arab raiders, dealing with loneliness, hunger, and disease, building farms and houses, planting orange and palm trees.

Many belonged to Kibbutz Kvutzot Kineret, and are buried in Kineret Cemetery. They were part of the Second Wave of aliyah (1904–14).

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Many were disowned by their families and had shiva sat for them because they refused to immigrate to America, or left their families in the shtetl. Many committed suicide, either due to contracting malaria and other swamp diseases, or because they couldn’t take it.

Some left the community, but they had nowhere else to go. Kibbutz life made them very tough, strong, brave, and self-sufficient, particularly the women, who were vastly outnumbered by the men and had to deal with a lot more. You don’t want to mess with a woman from Kineret.

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The above grave is extremely unusual for a Jewish cemetery, and there’s a killer story behind it.

For decades, Natan’s grave was buried under dirt and vegetation, after his friends made this tombstone to give clues to his story. A young woman found it purely by chance while excavating, when her digging instrument hit the rock. The official story was that he killed himself because of malaria, like the mosquito and sword illustrate, but the dates don’t add up.

He died seven months after the malaria epidemic in his year of death, and it makes no sense for a suicide’s grave to be shamefully hidden away when so many other suicides’ graves weren’t. In addition, why didn’t he kill himself when he had malaria?

Around this time, there were 5–7 Devil worshippers on the kibbutz, and when this was discovered, they were thrown out. Seven months later, he contracted malaria and took his own life.

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Sachne, a beautiful natural pool by Gan Hashlocha

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Church of the Transfiguration, Mount Tavor, Copyright AMPERIO

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Gate of Winds, Mount Tavor, Copyright Avishai Teicher via the PikiWiki – Israel free image collection project

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Tzipori Crusader tower, Copyright Bukvoed

Tiberias (a whole topic unto itself!) is one of Judaism’s Four Holy Cities (the others being Jerusalem, Hebron, and Tzfat). The great Maimonides is buried there, and there are many Roman ruins and therapeutic hot springs. In modern times, it has a boardwalk and lots of boutiques.

A museum run by Kibbutz Nof Ginosar (which also runs a 3-star hotel) is dedicated to a 2,000-year-old boat which was discovered in the lake. Some Christians immediately declared it was Jesus’s boat, though it’s not as though there’s a name on it, or only one Jewish fisherman lived there at that time!

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Most of my characters settle on a kibbutz by Lake Kineret after coming to Israel, though as they grow older, they move to other parts of the country. Only Csilla and Imre (now Ilana and Imri) stay by the Galilee.