MY TRIP TO PALESTINE

by Herman Hirsch

Chicago, Illinois



June, 1925



A Jewish Ship to sail for Palestine! That news tugged at my never forgotten ambition to visit the Holy Land - the Land of our Fathers - and after many inquiries I at last got in communication with the American Palestine Line, and made arrangements to leave New York on the 12th day of March, 1925, to be a passenger on the Pilgrim Ship - "President Arthur."

On Sunday, March 8th, the South Side Hebrew Congregation and Sisters of the Aid gave a banquet in my honor at which they presented me with a beautiful wrist watch. The Chicago Hebrew Benevolent ASsociation participated at this banquet and presented me with a Kodak outfit and fountain pen, as did the Sabbath School, the children of which presented me with a gold fountain pen and pencil. Approximately one hundred fifty friends and relatives were present who inspired and made me the happiest of men. How can I thank them for the love and kindness they have showered upon me?

After bidding my relatives and friends good-bye, I left Chicago, Monday, March 9, and arrived in New York March 10. While in New York City my headquarters was the Commodore Hotel.

At 7:30 o'clock on the morning of Thursday, March 12th, I was the first passenger aboard the ship and was promptly assigned to my cabin. By noon the pier and the ship was so overcrowded with people that the police and officers had difficulty in clearing them. Then the band played and the great throng sang the National airs, and the President Arthur, with a last farewell, moved into the great ocean, with two hundred thirty-nine passengers.

On Friday, March 13, we dedicated the Torah. A procession was formed and with songs and music we marched all over the ship. A chapel was provided and fitted suitable for services, and decorated with flags and flowers. Rabbi Ashinsky from Pittsburgh officiated and after his spendid sermon there was much rejoicing and singing.

The weather, up to this time, had been ideal, but on March 14th a storm was encountered and unfavorable weather conditions continued. However, notwithstanding the weather, all passengert, young and old, were in the happiest of moods - dancing and singing much of the time.

The Captain, Officers, and a few of the passengers joined together in forming a Masonic Association. We had our pictures taken and made a collection for flowers which were to be presented at the opening of the University.>/p>

It was on the 24th day of March that one of the passengers - Mr. Jacob Drapekin of Chicago, who was making the trip to spend his last years in Palestine - died on the ship. After consultation with the Captain and Officers, Mr. Drapekin's last request was granted - to be buried in the Holy Land, and on Tuesday, March 31st, with his coffin draped in the American flag - it was placed on deck. The last rites were performed in Hebrew and English by Rabbi Ashinsky. The Captain also said a few words.

We arrived at Haifa on March 31st, and all was confusion on the ship. It seems that there was no system prepared for the departure of the passengers. The Arabs swarmed on the ship to take the baggage. I was almost the last to leave the ship.

A fleet of small boats rowed by Arabs received the passengers from the ship to deliver to the shore. The Arabs demanded one dollar from each passenger for this service. I paid the dollar, but others refused to do so for the reason that it was an outrage and the amount was exhorbitant. The result was that the Arabs refused to propell the boat further. Seeing the difficulty a tug boat was dispatched from the shore and we were pulled in. The next difficulty was in getting our baggage. I appealed to an Arab policeman who had to almost fight to get my baggage. The baggage was then taken to the custom house for inspection. Arrangements had been made by me previoiusly for passage on the special train to Jerusalem, but, while being detained in the Customs House, at which place I was unable to exchange my money, the train pulled out, leaving me, a stranger, in a strange city, surrounded by Arabs with whom I could not make myself understood. I at last succeeded in making myself understood that I wanted a Jewish hotel, and I was shown to Hotel Tel Aviv.

I remained at this hotel all night, happy in the thought that I was with my own people. Upon learning that my train - a special train for Jerusalem - was to leave six o'clock the following morning, I instructed my landlord to that effect with the request that he have a cab ready at 5:30 o'clock and my breakfast at 5:00. The cab did not arrive at the scheduled time, so, with the assistance of a boy, I started to walk to the station. When we had covered about one-half the distance the cab was in sight, however we walked the balance of the distance and arrived just in time to purchase my ticket and board the train.

Here I heaved a sigh of relief - for I was glad to be on the train that would take me to my goal - Jerusalem. April 1st - that date never to be forgotten by me, found the train, pulled by two engines, climbing the mountains of Judea. What a wild country! Nothing but mountains. Hardly any inhabitants. We finally arrived at the station in Jerusalem at 11:30 the same morning. I taxied to the Central Hotel where I had previously reserved a room. I met my Mr. Amdusky. I then made haste to see about the ticket for admission to the University. I was directed to the Zionists office, but there I found crowds clamoring to get in, officers refusing admission, doors being barred. Consequently I could not get my ticket, so I returned to the hotel. It was now after one o'clock. All the vehicles for conveyance of the passengers to the University were rapidly being filled. Action had to be taken at once, so with my chance to ride the distance of about a mile and a half in an automobile, I paid the exhorbitant price of $2.50 gladly.

Soldiers and police were guarding the entrances and the only admittance was by ticket. I approached a guard, a good natured Irishman, who sent a messenger bearing my card in search of Colonel Kish. The messenger returned stating he could not find Colonel Kish. Although it was against the rules, the guard permitted me to remain at the gate. Finally I sent my card in with the offer to donate $25.00 to the University if permitted entrance for the dedication services, The answer was "no." It was now after 2:30 o'clock. I beckoned to the inside guard and offered him five dollars for admittance. This had the desired effect and I passed in just in time to get a place of vantage.

I saw Lord Balfour, Sir Herbert Samuels, High Commissioner; Rabbi Kook and a number of notable Professors. They marched, displaying their rich regalia, and took seats on the platform which was decorated with flags, flowers, and bunting. The band played the National Airs. The people sang. Then Chief Rabbi Kook opened the ceremonies with prayer and a long sermon. There were attempts to shorten his speech but to no avail. Lord Balfour was the second speaker. All speakers spoke in Hebrew which language I do not understand. From a real warm day the weather suddenly changed and it became cool. From the exertion of my attempts to gain entrance to the services I had become overheated and with change of weather a chill took hold of me. Realising that it would be difficult to get a vehicle to carry me to the hotel at the end of the services on account of the multitude, I boarded a bus, the fare of which was twenty-five cents, and arrived at the hotel where I drank a cup of hot tea and took a good rest which I so badly needed.



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