Excerpt from YUTKA  And the Voyage of the Parita

Chapter 1
Tel Aviv, August 1939

Yutka looked over her shoulder at the listing Parita lodged on a sandbar fifty meters from Tel Aviv beach. She raised her chin, but her knees gave way beneath her. Foamy saltwater streamed over her legs as she knelt on the warm, white sand. She’d survived forty-two days at sea with little food or water and achieved her goal to immigrate to Eretz Israel. Brushing the wet sand from her legs, however, her heart felt as if it would split in two. She had finally reached the Promised Land, while her family faced war in Poland.

As she scanned the gathering crowd, hoping her aunt and uncle would find her, she remembered Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s presentation to her Betar Youth Group nine months before, her ultimate motivation to immigrate to Eretz Israel. “Listen to my remarks at the twelfth hour,” Ze’ev Jabotinsky warned. His owlish eyes squinting behind round-framed spectacles, his chin jutting, his fist pounding the table. “For God’s sake, may each one save his life while there is still time. And time is short.”


Chapter 2
Poland, November 1938

Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s warning ricocheted in Yutka’s thoughts. She hurried past the family lumber yard where the scent of fresh-cut pine filled the bitterly cold breeze. Horses’ breath turned to silver clouds. Harnesses and chains clanked as she avoided horse-drawn wagons hauling lumber off to constructions sites across Poland. Yutka’s fur-lined boots stomped through fresh snowfall and her breath burst into clouds of vapor.

At home in the narrow entrance hall, seventeen-year-old Yutka took off her boots, unwrapped the blue wool scarf Mama had knitted for her and hung her matching cloche hat and long black wool coat on pegs. Warm air and the welcoming aroma of potatoes, onions and cabbage frying in goose fat met her at the door.

As always, Papa asked, “How was your meeting today, bubbala?”

“More bad news Papa. Rioters in Germany destroyed Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues. Ze’ev Jabotinsky says we should leave Poland while we still can.” Her voice became sharp and penetrating, “Papa, Jabotinsky is right,” she put her hand over her heart, “I feel it. He’s right. Hitler’s army will march into Poland, and they’ll burn our synagogues, steal everything, and take us to work camps… or worse. Poland isn’t safe for us.”

“Why should German soldiers bother us?” replied Mordechai. “My electric plant supplies power, and the country depends on my forest lands and lumber mill.” He waved his hand as if shooing a fly.

“Oh, Papa, they won’t hesitate to seize your businesses. Hitler is blaming Jews for all bad things that ever happened. He and his Nazi party want to eliminate all Jews.” Yutka paced back and forth in front of the fire in her soundless stocking feet. Static-charged black curls encircled her round face, escaping the deep waves she had pressed into place that morning. She looked wild and unhinged.

“While Jewish homes and shops were burning, the Germans herded thousands of Jews like cattle onto trains and deported them to German camps.” The pitch of her voice spiraled higher.

Despite her efforts to stay composed, her arms waved like a plover defending its nest, reinforcing the intensity of her passion. “The Gazeta Polska newspaper called the riot Kristallnacht because of all the broken glass in the streets. At the meeting today, our leaders showed us photographs of doctors, lawyers, and business owners, like you Papa, forced to scrub the sidewalks in Berlin, crawling in the broken glass on their hands and knees wearing their handsome suits and fedoras.”

“Yutka, these Betar meetings have ignited your Zionist’s passion since you were thirteen, but it is not like you to become hysterical. Come, sit by the fire with me before dinner.”

Yutka sat on the rug next to his rocking chair, facing the crackling fire with her arms around her shins, her chin resting on her bent knees. Her small hands mindlessly tugged at the top button of her dark navy blue Betar uniform. Papa rested his hand on the top of her head and gently patted to comfort her. She tried to speak softly, “This is different Papa, and I’m not hysterical. The Kristallnacht was terrifying. The same will happen to us if we don’t leave Poland….” She paused to breathe deeply and calm her voice. She knew how her papa would react to her next suggestion. She looked up at him, “At the meeting they said Betar Operatives have organized an Aliyah Bet. They’re chartering ships to take Jews to the Holy Land. Whatever the cost, our family should be on one of their boats.”

“You know how I feel about Aliyah Bet. How should illegal immigration be the right answer?” Mordechai barked. “We must cooperate with the British Mandate and the rules they have established in the Holy Land.”

“Papa, aren’t you a Zionist like Saba Fiebush?

“Of course. Diaspora Jews must return to the Land of Israel. I hope to go one day myself and join my brother Srulik, but…” deep creases formed between his bushy brows, “breaking the law is not our way.”

“But Papa! Illegal immigration is the only answer,” she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, still struggling to keep her voice calm. “They told us the British Empire needs to buy Arab oil. And since Arabs don’t welcome Jews to the Holy Land, the British set immigration limits to keep the Arabs satisfied. We can’t hope for an independent state in the Land of Israel if Arabs outnumber Jews.”

“Nonsense, there is no reason Arabs and Jews can’t live in Israel just as Catholics and Jews live together in Dobrzyń. We must follow the law. When I am ready, we will apply for immigration certificates.”

Exasperated, Yutka ignored his dismissive tone, “Papa, even if you applied today, it would take months or even years for the British to grant your immigration certificates. Uncle Srulik waited over a year and then immigrated illegally. We should immigrate to Eretz Israel and help Uncle Srulik develop the Moshavim on land Saba Fiebush left you.”

“Srulik and Zipporah were lucky. Authorities allowed them to stay in Palestine, but that was four years ago. The British are no longer so generous.”

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