"On spring day in the mid-nineteen-fifties, five-year-old Abraham and his eight-year-old sister Judith wandered around the market place in the transit camp in Ramat Hasharon. They had recently arrived in Israel together with their family during the great emigration from Iraq and were looking for something to eat. Music blared from a truck that stood at the corner of the alley and they were attracted to sounds as if they were magic. The driver and his friend generously handed out candy to the children gathered around and encouraged them to hop on for a ride. The siblings responded willingly to the opportunity of an adventure, but when the truck ventured far away from camp they burst into tears. At the end of the long journey they arrived at Kibbutz Ayalon in the Western Galilee, where they met their new "parents.” They then realized they had no home to return to. Although more than sixty years have passed since this incident took place, Avraham Nissim cannot to conceal his agitation.
He tells me: "We did not know how to deal with the situation we found ourselves in as small children. My sister was quiet and gentle, and she did not dare object, but I rebelled. I forcefully forcefully to go home and angrily smashed all the windows around, but nothing helped." Avraham remembers that he used to wander along the trails of the kibbutz and look with longing eyes for his parents. He was confident that they would come fetch him and his sister. Many days had passed when one day he noticed his father approaching him. The encounter was thrilling and heart-breaking. Apparently, the worried family had been given a vague idea about the kibbutz their children were taken to, and the father began trudging each day to a different kibbutz, until he found the children. The kibbutz secretariat apologized for taking his children, but asked him to weigh the benefits the kibbutz offers his children versus the conditions in the transit camp. The father made one of the toughest decisions in his life."
By Aviva Danieli in Migvanim, Issue 26
And from another publication:
"Israel was always the big dream in our household in Baghdad, where I grew up as one of ten siblings. We ate, drank, and breathed the love of this country, and Father kept saying that it was our real place. When I was five years old my parents packed our home in a great rush and we all hurried to the synagogue with the other Jews. I remember a big mess, and crying and screaming. This is what our great escape from Iraq looked like. Father got off the plane, knelt down, and kissed the ground. I will never forget this image. Following his lead, we also knelt down. I can still feel the sand on my lips. At the gates to enter Israel we were sprayed with DDT. I remember that I could not breathe. I wanted to run. Our reception in the Holy Land was so difficult and traumatic for Father that he even tried to kill himself once.
We were the first family to reach the transit camp in Ramat Hasharon. We were welcomed by sand dunes, derelict tents and the howling of jackals. These were the austerity days of the ‘50s. We ran around barefoot, and had nothing to eat. We ate oranges we picked from orchards, and if the guard caught us, we were beaten. When I went with my mother to the market I was yelled at not speak Arabic. I did not know Hebrew, so I kept quiet.
One day, when my sister Judith was eight and a half and I was five and a half, we walked around the market to look for some food, and we heard music coming from a large vehicle parked there. We were curious and ran over there to see candy being distributed. We were so happy. The people invited us to get in the car, and we were sure this was a fun trip for the children of the transit camp. But the car kept driving, and I saw that we are going far away from the market. I said that I wanted to go home to Father and Mother, but they told us: “There is no more home, we're going to the kibbutz". I started to cry. My sister, a little girl herself, tried to protect me and reassure me, but I did not understand how it is possible that we were taken away from Mother and Father.”
When we arrived at the kibbutz they took us to a house, introduced us to a man and a woman and said to us: “From this day on these are your mother and father". I became hysteric, and ran away, and I went wild and broke all the windows in the house. I was so hurt. My sister was trying to be strong for me, but more than once I caught her crying when she thought I could not see. One day I was informed that my name is no longer to be Sabah (my Iraqi name) but Shahar. I said that I refused to be called Shahar – that my father was called Yitzhak (Isaac), and I would be Avraham (Abraham).
“For at least two and a half I wandered around the kibbutz, a little boy lost looking for my father. I used to run away from class and sit for hours at the bus stop and wait. Until this day, when I think of that little boy sitting alone at the bus station, I well up with tears.”
“One day, walking around as usual, I saw from a distance a familiar figure approaching me. I moved toward him and there was my father standing in front of me. We ran into each other’s arms and we hugged, weeping inconsolably. It turned out that once my father was informed we went into some car and were taken to a kibbutz. Each day he went to different kibbutz, until he found us.”
”After Father met my sister as well he went to talk with those responsible in the kibbutz and returned with some news. An official told us that even though they should not have taken us without informing the family, still we should stay so that we get a good education, clothing and food. We should say, the official said, so that we can make progress in school and achieve more in life. Father promised to visit us and asked my sister to look after me. I can imagine how hard it was for him, but he understood that with the conditions in the transit camp as they were, we would not get far in life.
The parting on that day was unbearable and I found it hard to adapt. I refused to call strangers “father” and “mother,” and I did not do well in school. I was dyslexic, but this of course was not diagnosed. In sixth grade, I returned to Ramat Hasharon. The family was still in the transit camp, and I was a kibbutz member. Homecoming was not easy. Over time father moved us to an apartment in a council house, and thanks to the legendary teacher Bat Sheva Shavit, who helped me with my reading, I became a good and well-liked student, and a goalkeeper for Hapoel Ramat Hasharon. Later I managed a large community center and did well for myself. Even now, when I see the green trees in the neighbourhood, I know they grew on the tears of my parents and their generation. Out of the painful wound of the kidnapping, I grew up to be a stronger person with ambition and aspirations, with the ability to love and give. A person should always cope and look at the big picture. And the pain? It just reminds us that we are human."
But the car kept driving, and I saw that were going farther and farther away from the market. I said that I wanted to go home to my mother and father, but they told us: “There is no more home, we're going to the kibbutz." They brought us into a house, introduced us to a man and a woman, and said: “From now on they are your mother and father."
Israel was always the big dream in our household in Baghdad, where I was born. My father got off the plane, knelt down, and kissed the ground. I will never forget that image. Following his lead, we also knelt down. I can still taste the sand on my lips. At the gate we were sprayed with DDT. I remember not being able to breathe—all I wanted to do was run away. Our reception to the Holy Land was so difficult and traumatic for my father, that he had even once tried to end his own life.