Letter from Jerusalem, January 8, 1948
January 8, 1948
Dearest Mother, Dad and Naomi,
This is one letter I am sure will reach you because it is going via Boston with one of the American students who is leaving. I am told that a million eyes read our mail before it gets to you, part of the reason for the delays. Finally, I get an opportunity to write an uncensored letter and I can't think of a damn thing to say that will make any sense to you...aside from the fact that I am being rushed to finish this even before I've started.
I don't know how to tell you not to worry about me. I imagine that if our roles were reversed I'd be sick with worry. There's no sense telling you that American students are sitting on the sidelines and watching the procession of events without participating. The truth is that most of us are involved in some tafkid (assignment) or other, with lesser or greater degrees of danger. As far as I can tell, women have an equal status with men in the Haganah—but they are still given low-level duties. I suspect that if the battle were only against the British, we would be more involved. The British have a reputation for being a little more gentlemanly than the Arabs when confronted with women.
The only studying I'm doing at the moment is a first aid course which meets three times a week. Trying to talk in Anatomy is a semantic torture. I know where the extremities are and am learning how to treat them in case of emergency, but oh, to spell them in Hebrew!
The other volunteer activity that keeps us all busy is shmirah (guard duty). My neighbor Ami, it can now be told, was our local Haganah commander and it was he who gave me firsthand instruction on the arms we would be using. How to aim, fire and clean them—blindfolded. It seems I have a special knack with His Majesty's hardware. Now I'm passing on what I learned to the others. After a while, Ami was taken for more important things and replaced by Yehudah. So when I mention their names you will know who is who. With all this personal tutelage on the fine art of defending myself, I'd like to see a Manhattan masher start up with me now.
I was just interrupted by Yehudah, who popped in to invite me to a movie—as soon as he gets a night off, that is, which can be anywhere from tomorrow to a month. It's called planning ahead. This guy is something. He leaves me notes with sweet little nothings written on them in the most ungrammatical English, learned in His Majesty's Service, and expects me to correct them. On duty, he pops out from behind dark trees to test my quick reaction. Somehow, Naomi, he reminds me, of your shaliach friend D., a kind of “he-man”-little boy combination, only Y. is more polished and has the credentials of a third-generation Sabra.
Nary a night goes by when he doesn't pop in a dimpled face to coo good night at me and see if I'm all right. Once the head is past the partly open door and has been smilingly received, the rest of him wiggles in and sits itself down at the table. He reaches for the Bible—he is trying to improve my Hebrew—and opens to the chapter following the one we read the previous night. He reads, then explains. I ask questions, he answers. He finishes reading. Then I read from an old New Yorker magazine or an anthology of modern American poetry in an effort to improve his English. He listens, asks questions, I explain. I finish reading. He says good night. That, in short, is our romance—plus an occasional movie or a walk through the hills when we are on duty together.
He has nicknamed his tommy gun after me and loads it “with little twinklings from the laughter in my eyes.” Get that, willya? I am now near famous in the neighborhood in a very unflattering way because of him. Word is passed around that Zippy (or “Tzipke,” as the gun is called), will be getting a workout at such and such a time and place. Actually, it is an official code message for a clandestine Haganah action. The next day, I am asked in fun: “How was it?” All I can do is blush demurely because I participated in the activity in name only, though I'm told my namesake wasn't found wanting.
I guess all this sounds very ominous, but it is part of life here and a fascinating experience. Carmi and I were just commenting the other day on the fact that it's a helluva way to spend a year of study and certainly not what the ZOA had in mind when they granted us the scholarships. We decided, laughingly, that if we ever get back to studying they'll have to increase the tuition allowance. We won't settle for anything less than $1,500 because the cost of living—not to speak of staying alive—has increased considerably.
Like most of my letters, this is being written to the accompaniment of an unrelenting background of gunpowder explosion, like a sound track to a film. I am intently banging away at the typewriter, dunking cookies in tea and mashing out cigarettes, and every so often I stop short, wondering why it is suddenly quiet, why the shooting has stopped. What has happened? Mostly you don't bat an eyelash while the volley is going on, your ear muscles condition themselves to pick up the refrain and measure the distance. It's when it stops suddenly that you get concerned.
Have to finish. The courier is leaving. I almost wish I were going with this letter, but I'd hate to miss what's happening here.
Zipporah (Zippy) Porath's letter to her family describing day-to-day life in the Tzva Haganah LeYisrael (Israel Defense Forces).
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Letter from Jerusalem, January 8, 1948." (Viewed on July 24, 2014) <http://jwa.org/media/letter-from-jerusalem-january-8-1948>.