It’s not often that you get a history lesson and a story of hope and perseverance from your air conditioning installation guy.
But when you live in Israel, that’s par for the course.
Last night, our air conditioning specialist, Eliyahu, was over to give us a quote and we got to talking. He mentioned that his parents arrived in Israel separately on their own as young adults – his mom from New York and his father from San Antonio.
“San Antonio?” Josh said. “How did that happen?”
And so began his story.
It turns out that Eliyahu’s grandfather was from Chechia. While his great-grandparents were on a business trip to New York, Eliyahu’s grandfather was born, giving him automatic United States citizenship. The great grandfather died, leaving his great grandmother alone with her baby. She returned to Chechia, remarried and had many more children. As the Holocaust unfolded, the boy’s accidental birth in America saved his life. They sent their 16 year old boy to the States, after a two year fight to get him out, since he was the only one who could escape.
The entire family perished in the Holocaust.
And so, this 16 year old boy arrived in New York, where his relatives wanted little to do with him. “We have other relatives in San Antonio” they said, and shipped him off again.
Eliyahu’s grandfather graduated from high school and enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps. in World War II. He found himself in Germany, fighting the Nazis.
|WWII Wings of Glory P-51 Mustang|
And when the war ended, he asked for a pass to travel to Slovakia to search for his family.
His discoveries were devastating.
Along the way, he had many adventures (crashing the Jeep he was given from the army, ending up in jail for selling wares to Russian soldiers, and more). He met a Jewish girl in Slovakia whose family had been hidden during the war (that was another entire story we didn't hear last night) and he worked for her father when they were married.
He eventually made his way back to America, where they began to build their family in San Antonio.
Years later, one of their kids, Eliyahu’s father, decided to come to Israel. And he met Eliyahu’s mother, who had come to Israel on her own one week before the outbreak of the ’67 war. She was living in Massuot Yitzhak (one of the original Gush Etzion communities destroyed in 1948, but then rebuilt along the coast) and recounts seeing the planes flying overhead when they attacked Sinai.
|The very early days of Massuot Yitzhak (1947)|
Eliyahu’s parents met after the war, settled into life and raised their family. Later, all of Eliyahu’s grandparents followed his parents to Israel. Today Eliyahu lives in Bat Ayin, a few short meters away from the original site of Massuot Yitzchak.
|Bat Ayin today|
As he finished his story, we sat there spellbound. I asked him if he had this written down. “No,” he said, “but when my grandfather ran from the Nazis to America, they actually stamped his passport with a Nazi insignia. Can you imagine? So his American passport had a Nazi insignia on it and he gave that to a museum in Texas before he died.”
Eliyahu went home. The hour was very late. And I sat there marveling that only in Israel do you invite your air conditioning guy over for a quote – and get a spellbinding story of survival, hope, perseverance and the Jewish experience.
A story for the history books.
And one that is still being written, with the grandson planting roots in Gush Etzion and living out the dreams of his people…and ours.