Machal and Le Meurice



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.


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.


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.


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.


Hotel restaurant, Copyright Janine Cheung, Source Flickr


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.


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.


Copyright Langmuir family, Source Flickr


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


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


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).


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.


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).


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.


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.


Sachne, a beautiful natural pool by Gan Hashlocha


Church of the Transfiguration, Mount Tavor, Copyright AMPERIO


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


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!




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.

L’Hôtel de la Duchesse-Anne and Hashomer Hatzair



L’Hôtel de la Duchesse-Anne was a luxury hotel in Nantes, France, the city’s finest hotel for many years. The main façade is on Rue de Henri IV, and overlooks Place Duchesse-Anne (a city square) and the gorgeous Medieval Château des Ducs de Bretagne. It miraculously escaped the brutal bombardments during WWII. Much of the city was reduced to rubble, just like Budapest, but the grand hotel wasn’t among the destroyed buildings.

The hotel was founded in 1874, and in the 1930s, architect Ferdinand Ménard made some modifications to the building. Among these modifications was adding an Art Deco façade.


Sadly, the roof of this beautiful historic hotel was destroyed by fire on 17 June 2004, and a legal battle over its fate ensued. It’s fallen into great disrepair and degradation, and planned demolition work slated for October 2015 wasn’t carried out. If the building is rehabilitated, it’ll probably be for luxury apartments, not a new hotel.

In December 1945, my characters spend a week by the Duchesse-Anne, while native Nantaise Marie Sternglass searches for word about her family. Sweet little Marie is finally pushed to her breaking point and has a bit of a mental breakdown when she finds strangers living in her old house and refusing to acknowledge her claim to the house or anything inside. She’s also deeply hurt by the cold, indifferent reception she gets from many people she considered friends just a few years ago.


Hashomer Hatzair of Slonim, Poland, 1934, Courtesy Talma Lahav, Daughter of Bilha Podberevsky

Hashomer Hatzair (The Young Guard) is a Socialist–Zionist youth movement founded in Galicia in 1913. In the British Mandate of Palestine (i.e., pre-State Israel), this was also the name of the group’s political party. It was formed by the merger of Hashomer (The Guard), a Zionist scouting group, and Tz’irei Tzion (The Youth of Zion), a group studying Jewish history, Socialism, and Zionism.

The first members of the group made aliyah (moved to Israel) in 1919, and founded four kibbutzim. On 1 April 1927, these kibbutzim joined to form Kibbutz Artzi (Nationwide Kibbutz). As of 1998, they had 85 kibbutzim and 28,000 members.

Initially, it was strongly based on the principles of the Scout Movement (e.g., camping, hiking, self-reliance), and the German Wandervogel movement (which emphasised the creativity and independence of youth).


Hashomer Hatzair of Pultusk, Poland, 30 May 1931

The group’s political party in pre-State Israel sought a binational solution, with full equality between Jewish and Arab Israelis. In 1936, they formed an urban political party, the Socialist League of Palestine (not to be confused with their Hashomer Hatzair Workers Party, founded in 1946). Hashomer Hatzair was the only political party in pre-State Israel to support Arab rights, accept Arab members as equals, and call for a binational state.

There were 70,000 members of the youth movement by 1939, mostly in Eastern Europe. During WWII, they fought against Nazi occupation and were involved in resistance and rescue efforts. After the war, they were among the first to start smuggling survivors into Israel. They also were active in the Haganah (underground army) and Palmach (shock troops) during the bitter fight to get the British to leave. Many of their kibbutzim were in the front lines during the War of Independence, and bore the brunt of Arab attacks. Kibbutz Yad Mordechai (named for the heroic leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising) and Kibbutz Negba blocked the Egyptians’ path to Tel-Aviv.


Members of Kibbutz Gan Shmuel, Greater Tel-Aviv, ca. 1943, Source Gan-Shmuel archive via the PikiWiki – Israel free image collection project

My characters from Abony, Hungary, join Hashomer Hatzair in 1943, and receive training in farming, weapons, Hebrew, history, and other useful skills. They all desire to move to Israel and start new lives there, but many of them aren’t destined to live that long. For the select survivors, their passion to make aliyah becomes even more important.

My 2017 A to Z themes revealed

Continuing my tradition of themes related to my writing, this year I’m featuring places and things from my WIP, The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, and its sequels (each following a different group of characters), Sweet Miracles and Rebuilding the RemnantsBranches in turn begins with three of the characters from The Natural Splash of a Living Being escaping a death march, while Splash continues without them.

Branches is set in locales including Abony, Budapest, Florence, Paris, Béziers, Montpellier, and NantesSweet Miracles follows the characters who immigrate to Newark in November 1948 (the name taken from the mousery and rabbitry one of the couples starts), and Remnants follows the characters who immigrate to Israel after the British are finally gone.

You’ll learn about topics like:

Dohány Utca Synagogue, the Great Synagogue of Budapest and one of the largest in the world, which Eichmann used as his headquarters during the Nazi occupation.

Jewish Newark, which is now sadly just a fading memory. In the mid-twentieth century, Newark had the sixth-largest Jewish community in the U.S., with countless synagogues, schools, bakeries, cemeteries, and other communal institutions.

Machal, the all-volunteer fighting force from abroad which helped Israel to win its War of Independence.

La Samaritaine, a historic department store in Paris.

Hashomer Hatzair, a Socialist–Zionist youth group which supported a binational state. (Contrary to what many people on the modern-day Left believe, it’s very possible to be both a Socialist and Zionist without any conflicts!)

Vailsburg, a Newark neighborhood which now has a much different character than it did at mid-century. It includes a former movie palace which today serves as a church.

Košice, Slovakia, the hometown of my character Artur Sklar and Slovakia’s next-largest city. It was also the first European settlement to get a coat of arms.

Ospedale di Santa Maria Nuova, Florence’s oldest hospital, founded by the father of Dante’s love Beatrice.

Basilica di Santa Croce, an impressive complex that’s so more than just a church. It contains Dante’s empty tomb, waiting for Ravenna to return his bones already.

Neology, a uniquely Hungarian denomination that’s akin to Liberal Modern Orthodox Judaism.

Tempio Maggiore Israelitico di Firenze, the breathtaking Great Synagogue of Florence, which was saved from Nazi destruction in 1944 by brave members of the Italian Resistance. They managed to diffuse almost all of the explosives left by the retreating occupiers.

University of Montpellier, one of the oldest universities in the world, and home to the world’s oldest med school still in operation.

Pasarét, a Bauhaus neighborhood on the Buda side of Budapest.

Gellért Hill, a beautiful, storied hill on the Buda side, with lovely outlooks of the entire city.

Lower Galilee, a beautiful, peaceful region I hope to someday live in, far from the maddening rush of the big cities, and with wonderful interfaith relations. You’ll learn the story behind the most bizarre grave I’ve ever seen!

Several letters have two or three topics, but I kept everything within my usual average of 400–800 words. All non-public domain photographs are properly credited. Since I’ve been to the Lower Galilee, many of those photographs are my own work.


My names blog will feature (mostly) names from Greek mythology. Since the Greek alphabet doesn’t have certain letters, I found mythological names from other cultures for those days. In the interest of fairness, I always do both a female and male name on each day.

A primer on Hebraizing names

Going along with Wednesday’s post and the onomastic plans of some of the characters in my WIP (to be fully realized in the companion book which follows the characters who immigrate to Israel instead of the U.S.), I thought I’d do a post about the Hebraization of names. Future installments in this series will cover Italian, Breton, Irish, Armenian, Finnish, Yiddish, Greek, Swahili, Japanese, Arabic, Chinese, and Korean names. When I’m fairly sure there won’t be any further installments, I’ll turn this series into a book, with expanded name lists and commentaries.

This is the 29th installment in my “A Primer on ________________ Names” series.

Hebraizing a name obviously entails changing one’s given name into a Hebrew equivalent, or adopting a new name entirely. This practice began during the First Wave of Aliyah (1882–1903), and became widespread during the Second Wave (1904–14). It continued during the Third Wave (1919–23), Fourth Wave (1924–8), and Fifth Wave (1929–39). Many Shoah survivors who came to Israel after 1945 also were eager to change their names.


First Committee of the Hebrew Language, 1912. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, father of the modern Hebrew language, is on the far right in the front row.

Long story short, Hebrew began to be revived during the First Wave, and during the Second Wave, it broke out of the school and home settings to be used in public venues. This is the only language in all of history to be resurrected in this way. Sure there are plenty of folks who know languages like Latin, Sanskrit, and Ancient Greek, but those aren’t national languages, nor did they go from languages without any native speakers to languages with millions of native speakers.

Part of the resurrection of Hebrew included the adoption of empowered new names, and throwing off old names smacking of the shtetl and an oppressed people without their own homeland. Hebrew, not Yiddish, is our lingua franca, as sorry as I am that Yiddish has become an endangered language.

Mendele Mocher Sforim (Mendele the Book Peddler), né Sholem Yakov Abramovich, 1836–1917, one of the founders of modern Hebrew literature

The resurrection of Hebrew went hand-in-hand with the Hebraization of surnames. There were several styles of doing this:

Repurposing a forename. Say, if your belovèd grandpap was named David, you might change your surname to Davidi; if you felt great admiration for the Patriarch Jakob, you could change your surname to Ya’akov; if your mother Mirjam were murdered in the Shoah, you might become Bat Miriam; if you’d lost your belovèd brother Daniel to a pogrom, you could become Daniel.

Translating your birth surname into Hebrew, or giving it a Hebrew twist; e.g., Lebovitz could become Lev; Bergman translates into Harari; Abramowicz becomes Ben Avraham; Rozental is shortened to Rosen; Davidovics is shortened to Davidi; Berg is switched to Barak; Rosen becomes Vardi; Goldberg is Har-Paz.

Taking inspiration from flora and fauna or geography; e.g., Rotem (desert broom), Nitzan (flower bud), Yarden (Jordan), Hermoni, Eilat, Golani, Alon (oak tree), Kineret (the Hebrew name for the Sea of Galilee), Tomer (palm tree).

Words with great personal symbolism; e.g., Shachar (dawn), Amichai (my people are alive), Maor (light), Eyal (strength), Cherut (Freedom), Bat Or (daughter of light), Keshet (rainbow).

It was similar with forenames. Many people adopted names of Biblical and historical figures they admired, took names from their family trees, and chose names with meanings they loved. Other names preserved part of the birth name’s sound; e.g., Adrián becomes Adriel, Aranka becomes Ariella, Csilla becomes Ilana, Móric becomes Mordechai.

First known Hebrew translation of Shakespeare, 1818, Solomon Löwisohn, “Are at this hour asleep!… Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” monologue from Henry IV

Though Hebraization was all but legally mandatory for many decades (so much so many Sephardic and Mizrachic children were given new surnames in school, without their parents’ knowledge), not everyone supported it. Many people were proud of their surnames and the long histories or famous bearers they represented, such as Sasson, Rothschild, Einstein, Abrabanel, LaPaz, Sasportas, and Saadia.

Others retained names denoting membership in the priestly or Levitical castes, like Kahan, Katz, Levine, Levinsohn, Azoulai, and Kaganovits. A number of Sephardic surnames were Hebrew to begin with. Still others couldn’t bear the thought of erasing their birth names as though they’d never been, effectively severing their entire family history and starting over with an alien identity.

Today, the trend towards Hebraization has not only significantly slowed, but also been reversed. Many new immigrants in recent decades have kept their original names, and many people with long roots in Israel have taken back ancestral names to feel closer to their particular ethnic origins.

Would you change your name (in part or full) if you moved to a country with another language? Do you agree or disagree with how many immigrants in the past (to Israel, the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France, Australia, etc.) changed their names to try to better blend in with the host culture? Are there any altered names in your own family tree?