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April 22, 1988 - Image 27

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-04-22

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When they speak of their lives in
Israel, it is with a mixture of sweetness
and pain. They do not attempt to gloss
over the days of hunger and thirst. They
remember the difficulties between
Arabs and Jews and the frustrations of
not being able to find work.
"But you know," Mrs. Remington
says, "now when I look back I
remember that Israel was a beautiful
country. A very beautiful country."



t 30 years old and a recent
veteran of World War II, Ben
Fingeroot had no plans to
return to battle.
But one day in 1948 the
phone rang and a voice at the other end
asked if he would go to Israel to fight
in the War of Independence. An
airplane mechanic in World War II,

Fingeroot was one of the many
members of the Detroit chapter of the
Jewish War Veterans tapped for service
• in Israel.
"I didn't hesitate a minute," he says.
"In fact, when I heard the war had
started, I felt I should be there." .
Fingeroot was first assigned to an
air base in Czechoslovakia made
available by the Soviet Union, then a
staunch supporter of the Jewish state.
Working in the small town of Zatec
just outside Prague, Fingeroot helped
dismantle Messerschmidts that would
be reassembled in Israel. The new coun-
try desperately needed military equip-
ment, but was faced with a U.S.
One month after arriving in
Czechoslovakia, Fingeroot left for
Israel. He was assigned to what had
been a British air base, located at Tel-
Nof. His main responsibility was to ser-
vice fighter planes. Usually, spare parts
for this were on hand, but Fingeroot
remembers once sending a mechanic to
Naples to secure - several engine
He also was responsible for helping
train several men on the electrical
systems of airplanes.
Fingeroot's unit was one of many
that comprised the rather fragmented
Israel Defense Forces. Other new units
included volunteers from such diverse
places as England, India, the Soviet
Union and South Africa, as well as sur-
vivors of Hitler's death camps.
Although not unified, the groups
shared an incredible spirit of
camaraderie and determination,
Fingeroot says.
He also admits they were very
uncertain whether Israel would be vic-
torious in its war with the Arab na-
tions. "Nobody knew what was going to
happen," he says. "I remember I look-
ed on a map and I thought 'There's no
way we can win the war? Israel was
such a small country."

Fingeroot's following the progress of
the war was made more difficult by the
fact that he spoke only Yiddish and
English. All news broadcasts were in
Hebrew, so he was forced to rely on
hearsay for all his information about
Israel's status in the war.
Even his roommate at the base was
Polish, and at first the two could not
communicate. But slowly the roommate
learned some English "and we became
very good friends even though we didn't
say much," Fingeroot says.
On their evenings off, the men from
the base would go into nearby Tel Aviv.
One of the first things Fingeroot did
when he arrived was to visit a local
milk bar, where he would devour eggs
and blintzes. The limited food available
at the base was made doubly difficult
for Fingeroot because he was a
Fingeroot says that life in Tel Aviv
continued quite normally despite the
war. He especially remembers the quiet
beaches that offered no hint of future
development. "There were no hotels
and no tourists," he says. "You could
stay there for hours, just watching the
When sirens sounded as Egyptian
planes passed overhead, Israelis would
non-chalantly head for buildings with
bomb shelters, he says.
Jerusalem was a very different
story. Fingeroot once traveled across
dirt roads to visit Israel's capital, where
the Arabs recently had destroyed the
entire sewage system.
"It was just awful," he says. "Peo-
ple would have to bring in water which
they used first for drinking, then for
washing. But nobody complained."
After a cease-fire was reached bet-
ween Israel and its Arab neighbors,
Fingeroot returned to his home in
Metropolitan Detroit.
His memories are carefully preserv-
ed in scrapbooks, their pages torn at the
edges. These contain such mementos as

U.S. RECOGNITION: The United States, under
President Harry S Truman, was the first nation
to recognize the State of Israel. In photo,
Ben-Gurion and Ambassador Abba Eban present
menorah to Truman.

Weizmann served in the
honorary post, 1949-1952.

HISTORIC MOMENT: Under a photo of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism,
David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, announces the creation of the state,
May 1948.



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