In May 1948, just after the State of Israel declared its independence, it was attacked on all fronts. My Uncle Meyer, who had made aliyah in 1945, knew that his family at home in Calcutta would be worried. "ALL SAFE SOUND," he telegraphed to his father.
Three simple words that carry so much power.
Though my grandfather was a deeply religious man, he was not happy that his son and his new wife, along with his daughter, my Aunt Ruby, and her new husband, had left Calcutta for the pioneering life in what was then Palestine. He did his best to dissuade them, but they were firm in their commitment to build the new land.
They were inspired by Habonim, the Zionist movement that had come to India in the 1930s from London and South Africa. Modeled on the Boy Scout and Girl Guide movements, Habonim literally means "the builders." Its symbol was a leveynah, a brick. Building was not just a physical task. It signified character-building, community-building, and nation-building.
Those are still our goals today, no matter where we live.
In this era, we are besieged not by armies, but by legions of unseen viral droplets, illness, fear and uncertainty. Our health care workers, grocery clerks and delivery people are our new heroes on the front lines. We all crave the comfort and knowledge that our loved ones are safe, and mourn those who have passed. Without physical connection, we have increased our outreach to one another through phone calls, emails, and texts.
STAY SAFE has become our new mantra. ALL SAFE SOUND. It's still our fervent wish today.
A Habonim gathering in the courtyard of the Maghen David Synagogue in Calcutta, with a pyramid of leveynim, bricks. My father is standing proudly front and center. The word Calcutta is imprinted in Hebrew on the left corner of the tablecloth.