The inspiring Aliyah story of two sisters (now both of blessed memory).
Doreen Guinsberg and her sister Lyn Durlacker were very well known and respected members of the Haifa Anglo community – they were affectionately referred to as the ‘Ginsberg Gals’. They lived together, traveled together and did everything together. Doreen was 95 years old when she contributed this article. The Anglo-list mourns her passing on the 17th September 2013 just one week before her 99 birthday. Originally from South Africa their Aliyah stories are amazing and incredible.
As I entered her very modest ground floor apartment in Ahuzza, Haifa, I immediately noticed an antique book-stand filled with lots of interesting old leather bound books. A large collection of nature scenes, watercolors and pastels cover the walls. On the coffee table are a selection of paperbacks on Aliyah, Israel and Zionism. As I talk with her I discover that Doreen is an ardent Zionist and has been ever since she first decided to come to Palestine in 1932 at the age of 18.
She starts to reminisce about her past, and constantly apologizes for the gaps in her memory. “Now was it 1937 or 1938?” she asks. I laugh to myself as I am unable to remember what happened yesterday!
Her caregiver brings us tea and cake and we settle down to some serious talking. She tells me about her childhood, growing up on a farm in a small town in the Orange Free State Province in South Africa. The Orange Free State is mainly a farming and agricultural region. The average town in the Free State has only a couple of hundred people and the “big” city in the area is Bloemfontein. The region was quite well populated with Jewish farmers and shopkeepers in those days. It was on her family’s farm that her strong love for the land grew.
Doreen’s mother was one of the founders of the Women’s Zionist League in South Africa, which later became affiliated to WIZO. Zionist leaders, important and influential people were always visiting their home and Doreen heard many stories of Palestine and the Zionist dream around the dinner table. Her mother organized groups and fund raising projects with the aim of getting young people to understand the meaning of Zionism. Fan Rafel, Felix Landau, Philip Gluckman and Nettie Davidoff are some of those that were involved in these groups. “It’s all written down, I must find the article” she says.
Doreen couldn’t decide whether to follow a career in agriculture or in architecture. Then, one evening Joseph Baratz – the founder of the first kibbutz in Israel, Degania and Avraham Hartsfeld, a leader of the Labor Zionist movement, shlichim in South Africa at the time, were dinner guests at her home. She heard them talking about Palestine and Zionism and the conversation made a huge impact on this young girl. In the morning she told her parents she was going to live in Palestine.
Joseph Baratz contacted Ada Fishman; the founding principal of Ayanot Girl’s Agricultural School in Nes Tziona and arranged for Doreen to be enrolled there. A young girl, and alone, she boarded a ship in Lourenco Marques (now Maputo) in Mozambique and sailed via Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, Mombasa and then onto Aden in Yemen. Whilst in Yemen together with a group of fellow Jewish passengers, they went to visit the Jewish community in Aden. The Rabbi, leaders and the community welcomed them. “Later these Jews made Aliyah in Operation Magic Carpet. Those were exciting times” she says. As she remembers her eyes light up and she smiles. They sailed through the Suez Canal to Katarah in Egypt and then boarded a train to Al-Arish in the Sinai and traveled through the desert. “We followed in the footsteps of Moses. It’s all written down, I must find the article” Doreen says again. The train finally arrived in Tel Aviv.
We must remember that Doreen was only 18 at the time. She traveled alone on the Indian Ocean and arrived in Palestine without family or support. I keep thinking how brave and determined she must have been. She got off the train in Tel Aviv and went to a friend on Rechov Geula for a few days. She decided to tour the country before commencing her studies which included a visit to Kibbutz Degania and her friend, Mr. Joseph Baratz. She began a 2 year study period at Ayanot Agricultural School, and while she loved it, she did not cope very well with the hard physical work. Her mother convinced her to leave and so Doreen decided to pursue a career in architecture – her second love. She was interned with an architect in Tel Aviv, and worked part-time for him in the afternoons. “I learned everything except Hebrew” she said. “Thank goodness I had the opportunity to eat at the Mitbach Hapoalim (Worker’s Kitchen) and for just a couple of piasters (part of the currency of Palestine under the British Mandate) I could get a hot meal every day. I might not have survived otherwise” she says. Erich Mendelsohn, the famous International Style architect saw her work and invited her to work part-time on the plans for the Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. The sad part was that as soon as the project was over, she no longer had a job. Doreen had to deal with being unemployed many times in her life, for the same reason.
She decided to tour the Jezreel Valley with a friend, working at the newly established kibbutzim along the way. She wanted to join Kibbutz Degania but was refused as the kibbutz was filled to capacity with Zionist youth, arriving in the country at the time.
She says “This story has nothing to do with your article but I must tell you anyway. I had to catch a train from Degania, and as I arrived on the platform the train pulled out of the station. The train driver saw me running for the train – no problem – he stopped the train and let me board.” We laugh together.
Her older sister Lynn z”l wrote to her at the time and asked Doreen to meet her in Genoa, Italy. They had a wonderful time together and Doreen went back with Lynn to South Africa until she returned to Israel again in 1948. While in South Africa, she worked as a free-lance designer, designing the interiors of cinemas and other projects. She continues to tell me more work related stories. Each one is delightful but I want to hear about her Aliyah.
On her return to Israel, she took up a position with the Women’s Zionist Council as the liaison officer in charge of Jewish communities in Southern Africa. In this capacity she actively spread the word about Israel and Zionism and was inspired by the enthusiasm of the Zionist Regional Committees.
The Women’s Zionist Council arranged for Doreen to accompany the last group of illegal immigrants aboard the Atzmaut ship from Cyprus. Prior to their departure she participated in a ceremony closing the last immigrant camp in Famagusta (Turkish Cyprus) thus marking the end of the Aliyah Bet. She describes the boat trip to Haifa as “the most exciting time” of her life. I can only agree.
The Women’s Zionist Council welcomed these new olim with refreshments while they were being “processed” to go to the Shaar Haliyah Immigrant Center at the southern entrance to Haifa. “The new olim experienced many difficulties and hardships in those days” Doreen says. “Schools and kindergartens had to be set up – in fact everything. They came to nothing with nothing.”
In 1958, her mother joined her in Israel. At this time, while living in Tel Aviv, she took up a position with the Head of Design at the Haifa Technion and had to commute three times a week. Doreen finally relocated to Haifa and rented an apartment in the French Carmel. She had a series of part-time jobs and faced unemployment regularly when the projects she was working on, came to an end. This was a very difficult situation, she explains, as she was taking care of her mother as well.
Again at a crossroads in her life, Doreen’s mom suggested she take a holiday and off she went to Ashkelon. The Mayor of Ashkelon, an ex-South African too, told her to contact Eliza Tago. Eliza had started the first vocational training school in Beer Sheva. Eliza offered Doreen a position as a lecturer there. Doreen’s mom was living alone in Haifa and so Doreen commuted from her hostel outside Beer Sheva to Haifa on a weekly basis. “I still hadn’t learnt much Hebrew, but my colleagues taught me all the technical terms on the train commute” she said.
Later, she was offered to teach drafting at the WIZO Vocational School in Haifa and she jumped at the opportunity and worked there until her retirement.
Her sister Lynn retired and came to live in Israel. She bought a Morris Minor and drove it alone from Zambia, through Central Africa to Mombasa where she boarded a boat to Eilat. Doreen and her mother met her in Eilat. “It was very exciting” she said.
Lynn and Doreen bought a caravan and parked it permanently in Switzerland. Every summer they would travel the continent, with their caravan, spending 3 or 4 months in a country of their choice. They visited; Italy, France, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Austria, England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Sweden and Finland together. You can read all about it in their published book Life with Bondo: Our Cottage on Wheels.
Doreen loves to paint nature scenes and has had many exhibitions in Switzerland and in Haifa. She donated 35 of her paintings to WIZO in Switzerland.
Sadly, Lynn passed away last year. Doreen misses her terribly. She has been trying to sell the fully equipped caravan ever since. “It would be very difficult to make a trip on my own” she says.
When I ask her for her Aliyah advice, she says; “Your motive for coming to Israel should be based on Zionism. There are many difficulties here, and being a Zionist helps you get through them.” She still struggles with bureaucracy and learning Hebrew helps with that. Although she speaks Hebrew, she still cannot read too well and asks for help where necessary.
“Have realistic expectations. It will be harder to get a job if you don’t have the proper qualifications. Learn Hebrew thoroughly, that must be your first priority. Understand that you will have to lower your standard of living and if possible try to buy your own apartment. There is a lack of immigrants who came here out of choice and we have seen a decline in ideology. You have to be brave and you have to be determined.”
Before I leave, we arrange to meet again soon and she promises to tell me all about Lynn. “It’s all written down” she says again “I must find the article.”
When I first interviewed Doreen Guinsberg she promised to tell me the about her sister, Lynn – she had to find an article!
When we finally met up again, she said: “What should I tell you about today; more about myself, about Lynn or the early days of Haifa?” I am anxious to hear about Lynn’s incredible journey to Israel, so I encourage her to tell me.
“Let me read you the article I found – she really was an amazing woman.” Her voice quivers and her eyes well up. “It’s been a year already since she has gone, and only recently I found these papers. I did not know that she had written it all down.”
I promised Doreen that I would not edit Lynn’s story in any way and publish it in its original form…
Traveling to Israel up the Great Rift
By: Lynn Guinsberg Durlacker
I set off (in 1963) from the Copperbelt in Zambia (then Northern Rhodesia) with Jambo, my car, a Morris Minor Traveller, for our journey of some 3,000 kilometers to Mombasa (Kenya) from where we would board a freighter bound for Eilat. Jambo was loaded with most of my worldly possessions inside and on the roof, the latter tied none too securely, and my large radio-gram sitting on the seat next to me. As petrol (gas) pumps are few and far between I had to carry petrol as well and, of course, some spare parts.
The rainy season had already begun – dirt roads all the way and it was necessary for me to cover about 300 kilometers a day between suitable night-stops, as I had limited time reach Mombasa to catch the last sailing of an Asian freighter, chartered by Israel.
For the first one hundred kilometers I travelled in a southerly direction to meet up with the Great North Road at Kapiri Mphosi (near Lusaka). The first night I reached the Mkushi River Lodge, which I knew from previous visits – an area of spectacular scenery with gorges and waterfalls.
The next day the road ran parallel to the Muchinga Mountain range on my right, not visible because several kilometers depth of forest lie between the road and the range. Beyond the Muchinga (mountains) is the Luangwa Valley, a western arm of the Great Rift, but inaccessible over the range. Recently I had spent twelve glorious days in the Luangwa Valley Game Reserve which teemed with game, especially elephant.
When I reached a turn-off to the left between two game reserves, I decided to deviate and visit the Livingstone Memorial – but I found that the road was merely a track which began to peter out as I proceeded, so I decided to turn back. On the way my roof carrier with the baggage fell off and scattered beside the track. Fortunately, after a short while, some locals appeared and kindly lifted the carrier and boxes back – but for the rest of my journey, the carrier was held on with a rope which was fastened through the windows which I had to release in order to lock the car at night.
When I reached Mpika (in the north of Zambia) for the night, it was raining. Next morning the road was wet and slippery. Suddenly Jambo skidded and turned 180 degrees to face the way I had come. It was then time to attach the chains to the back wheels. They were too big and therefore rather loose. Some miles further on, Jambo slipped off the road into a ditch and stuck in the mud. I collected branches to place under the wheels, but to no avail. They just whizzed round throwing up mud while the chains beat against the mudguards.
After some time a car appeared – one can travel for miles without meeting any vehicle. The occupants pushed Jambo out of the ditch, being a pair of big strong men. They told me that there was a mission station a few miles ahead where I could find a night’s hospitality. I was grateful for that as I had had enough for one day.
As the road surfaces were very bad for most of the journey I had to concentrate on the road and was therefore unable to keep an eye out for game in the bush through which I passed.
Near some cleared agricultural land I met some local farmers and asked why there were not already plowing for the new season’s crops. They explained that the ground was too hard to work before the rains commence in earnest.
In the area of the border crossing at Tunduna (Tanzania – previously Tanganyika and Zanzibar) I travelled through forest along a ridge overlooking the Great Rift looking down on the vast valley below.
Eya, so near to Lake Nyasa (Lake Malawi), I so want to deviate to that country, but my time was too limited.
Travelling on dry roads sometime they were so badly corrugated that it was necessary to drive on the wrong side against the corrugation, which I knew from experience to be less rough. At one point, while driving on the wrong side a huge lorry suddenly loomed round a bend so I had to swerve as quickly as possible. In the attempt Jambo mounted a rock on the side of the road. Fortunately some locals appeared and help lift Jambo off the rock. On examining underneath, I found that the rock had dented the sump. What luck that the rock was smooth and did not actually pierce the sump. I was then many kilometers from anywhere.
When I reached the Merogoro area (west of Dar es Salaam) I was in Masai territory. I tried to photograph an interesting group of Masai women carrying loads, but they ran away refusing to be photographed, so I only got the backs of the fleeing women. I was a little more successful taking a quick picture of a Masai man while I tried to speak to him – in no common language. But they were curious.
I reached Tanga on the coast (most northerly seaport city of Tanzania) with its coconut palm groves and colorful tropical vegetation where I stayed over-night, then took the coast road to Mombasa – but that road was not really along the coast, only known as the Coast Road, but inland through sisal plantations as far as the eye could see. After some delay in Mombasa (Kenya), Jambo and I boarded our ship.
After nearly a month en route I was met by my mother, my sister Doreen and a gentleman friend who had watched the ship sailing up the Gulf (of Aden) to Eilat in the early morning mist. As I was the first olah ever to arrive in Eilat by sea with car and personal possessions, the customs were rather flummoxed as to what to do with me. To salve their consciences they made me unpack everything. Suddenly the friend spotted my revolver which he surreptitiously grabbed and put in his pocket – not knowing that it was only a toy pistol!
When we reached Beer Sheva we were met by the press who had got wind of my arrival.
Jambo, (Swahili for Shalom) now 35 years old, is still with me – how could I have parted from her and come by air?