Then and Now

A Timeline

Moving from one generation to the next, we feel it is appropriate to reproduce - without any alteration whatsoever, despite the numerous, dramatic political and diplomatic changes - this letter to Yuval, our first grandson.  On this timeline, delving into archives, we also find one or two items published on days that mattered. In this context, the reader may wish to draw historical conclusions.

Written soon after he was born, the letter recalls another momentous moment, June 5th, 1967, when the Six Day War, which would change the face of Israel and the Middle East, broke out in the early morning hours.

This personal letter to Yuval, is now addressed to Betty and David's other grandchildren, Omri, Alon, Rony and Noam. Yaron, Yuval's father, is the Eppel's first born son. Michal, married to Shay is Yaron's sister and Noam's mother.



       Jordanian shells were falling on Jewish Jerusalem when I promised your father, who was a baby in our arms, that he would never have to fight a war.


       Looking back over the years, when he too has children and is an army officer, I wonder if it was really a promise, which I knew I could never keep, or hallucinatory wishful thinking when the killing began all over again?  Was it a forlorn hope?  Or a prayer. Or a call for help?


       Now that we have had time to distill these feelings, to taste and digest the repercussions, for better or worse, it may have been disillusionment at the inconceivable, when a political survivor, King Hussein of Jordan, committed the supreme act of folly from which none of us has recovered.


       Gamal Abdel Nasser, the president of Egypt, lied to him on the telephone - a call Israeli army intelligence intercepted - about the victory at hand, and he joined in the battle, certain he would win.  The shells he fired on Jewish Jerusalem that day were the tangible manifestation of his own deception and self-delusion.


       In the years to come the same Hussein would visit Jerusalem secretly and then openly, as a guest of Israeli leaders, and might have pondered that morning, when Nasser deceived him, he fooled himself, and he lost Jerusalem.


       Jerusalem, this tormented, beautiful city where you were born, this divided indivisible city, is the ideological and theological touchwood of conflict, the fulcrum of a perverted belief in God's and Allah's divine right to administer executive policies, keep the sewage flowing, keep the roads closed, keep the Jews in and keep the Arabs out.  Or the other way around, depending on which side of the fence you're on. 


       Your father grew up here, to serve in the army often and too often, in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Lebanon. So where, then, is my promise, so many years ago, and all the wishful thinking?  He met your mother, Tal, who also served as an officer in the army, and they returned to Jerusalem to continue a cycle that began when a dreamer and a practical man, your own great-great-great grandfather, Reb Baruch Eppel, came to rebuild this city in peace.


       It was from near his grave on the Mount of Olives, the most sacred Jewish place of burial, that the shelling began on June 5th 1967. There was so much disappointment, and yet there was also hope. I took your father in my arms and placed him in the safety of a long, windowless corridor.  A shell fell on our doorstep. A mature woman we had trusted panicked and left him alone.  But he was not alone.  And he never will be.  A young paratrooper, who could not, or would not, reach his base, took shelter in the basement with the women and children. Your grandmother, who is so courageous and has grown up with the brave, hung your father's diapers out to dry; little white flags defying any notion of surrender, and went out into the empty street, where a burnt-out, smouldering car lay abandoned, to buy powdered milk and comfort a distressed pharmacist.


       In the years to come, a great Arab peacemaker, Anwar Sadat, would share our belief that there must be no more war. When he made peace with Israel, he sent a message to your father who, at that moment, represented all the little children who must never fight again.  His photograph, which he dedicated to your father,

after he made peace with Menachim Begin, the Israeli peacemaker they said would never yield, is on my wall as I write.  Warriors can change.  Both men fought.  And both men laid down their arms.


       When you, Yuval, were born Israel signed a peace treaty with the Palestinians.  Omri's birth coincided with the general election in which a prime minister who tried to make peace, after another was assassinated speaking of and singing about peace, was defeated by a man who said he could make a better, safer peace.


     We, your grandparents believed in the peacemakers, and when we cast our votes that day it was for you, and for all the other children, Israeli and Arab, who must never fight again.  We believed in peace by mutual concession and sacrifice, both personal and national, as the only way to end 100 and more years of war, in words and deeds, which our family has fought, on the battlefield, on the doorsteps of synagogues, in books and pamphlets, and in Europe, where the Germans wanted to destroy us.


       This, then, is what I would like to tell you about a long, continuous thread stretching from Jerusalem 150 years ago, where Baruch Eppel built a great synagogue, the Hurva, to a place of worship in Edinburgh, where Yitzhak - Isaac -Eppel challenged the materialistic, rabbinical manipulation of the Jewish ethic, to a railway siding on Lake Kinneret where a young Israeli pioneer, Danny, your cousin, was killed fighting the Syrian army, and a tiny community of scattered homesteads high up in the mountains of France, where peasants saved your grandmother from the Germans.


       The thread connecting these events is part of our own family history. There is so much more.  And each episode is momentous in itself.  It is the essence of Jewish and Israeli history."  

And on another momentous day, in September 1942.


“Stalingrad still stands, but it position is increasingly precarious,” the world press reported as the Jews in France were being rounded up for deportation to the concentration camps. German disappointment at the slow rate of progress was shown by references to the difficulties the attacking forces had to face.  “Chief of these is the dogged and tenacious resistance of the Russians, who, in the German estimation, never know when they are beaten.” The upshot of the grim struggle for Stalingrad would be a turning point in the war. “For both sides the issue is vital.”

Recess in the House of Commons

At the same time, in September 1942, the British parliament would hear a statement from the Prime Minister – if Mr. Churchill considered it necessary. Whether or not they really knew what was being done to the Jews, no plans were made for a debate unless “unforeseen circumstances” arose. Issues on the agenda after the recess included a bill to prolong parliament and the coal situation – the possibility of rationing ahead of the cold winter months.


The British, worried about Vichy control of Madagascar, were confident after the stand at El Alamen in Egypt. “The Vichy Governor was given ample opportunity off bowing gracefully to superior force, but Laval probably insisted that things should be made as difficult as possible for the British.” It was in France’s interest to deny the use of the important strategic island to the Japanese.

In September 1942, as the trains were leaving for Auschwitz, the British were also worrying about India. The press reported that members of parliament expressed “varying” views on the complexities of Indian affairs. British and Indian politicians found difficulty in reaching a proper understanding “and still more difficulty in reaching an agreed solution,”


On September 12th 1942 – when the round-up of Jews got underway - the newspapers made no mention of the situation in France. The House of Commons adjourned – with no plans for a debate. The RAF bombers flew to their targets. Auschwitz and the railway tracks leading to it, were not on the list.