Here is another excerpted translated chapter from the
historical diary-chronicle of a young girl-turning woman,
living in pre-State Tel Aviv, from the Hebrew book "Dapim
Shel Etmol" by Ayala Rottenberg.
We chose this seemingly irrelevant episode since it
highlights the concern and awareness that existed, even then,
for the halachic pitfall of Shaatnez. And the necessity of
attaching a Shaatnez-Free Label, a fact that is very relevant
today, where clothing gemachs abound, but people often have
to pay ten times the price of the gemach garment for testing -
- that could well be avoided, since it was already tested,
but has NO LABEL.
In our story, it applied to winter woolens. Now, in our
pre-Pesach season, it applies equally to spring linens. One
clothing center recently reported getting in a jacket that
stated its fibers as being 50% wool, 50% linen! The volunteer
who discovered it was so shocked that she ripped it apart
immediately. She should have sent it over to the Shaatnez
laboratory as a perfect specimen.
Another interesting aspect of this episode is that even
in the difficult times of austerity in Eretz Yisroel, people
found what to give to those who had less than they.
If they were lucky, the war refugees were let off on the
coast and sent to the Atlit detention camp where they waited
behind barbed wire fences for their turn to `enter the land,'
since the British refused to increase the monthly quota of
Jewish immigrants beyond some 1,500.
The Atlit camp was soon packed tight and it was necessary to
find another camp for the unfortunate refugees who continued
to pour in. A huge camp was set up on Cyprus, which also
filled up very rapidly.
The fall of 1948 had arrived. The Jews in the land staged
demonstrations against British immigration policy. The Etzel
and Lechi organizations did their best, in various ways, to
hinder the British and sabotage their policy of restriction
and abroad, diplomatic measures were also taken to fight it
and allow a greater number of Jews to enter the country. But
at this point, things were at a standstill.
Winter was approaching and various organizations were aware
that the detainees would suffer severely from the cold if
steps were not taken to provide for them.
Agudath Israel appointed young Ayala Rottenberg to be their
representative in the extraordinary chessed endeavor
called: "Project Winter Clothing."
She records her involvement in her diary:
"It was completely unintentionally and against my will that I
got dragged into this maelstrom of public effort. I
incidentally received an invitation for a meeting by the
Committee for the Cyprus Refugees, which was also attended by
representatives from the Jewish Agency, Wizo Women, Mizrachi
Women and Agudath Israel. Mr. Machlis, who had just returned
from a visit to Cyprus, reported the indescribable conditions
there. The people were threadbare and it was urgently
necessary to prepare sufficient clothing for the winter."
Ayala sat at the meeting without commenting. Later, she went
to seek the daas Torah of R' Meir Karelitz, brother of
the Chazon Ish, who served as the rabbi of Poalei Agudath
"If you can set up a separate storage and work area and
ascertain that the clothing be tested for shaatnez,
you can join this project, too."
Ayala had difficulty falling asleep the night after the
emergency meeting. In her imagination rose the figures of the
suffering refugees, as their plight had been captured by the
camera and printed in the newspapers. She resolved to get
involved and do what she could to help them.
Ayala calls a meeting of friends and acquaintances and
prepares to describe the problem and draw up a work plan. No
one shows up. She is on the verge of discouragement, but
finally manages to round up several volunteers who literally
go from door to door to collect clothing.
A few days later, the press invited all the volunteers from
the various organizations to a meeting. A brainstorm struck
Ayala and she asked the reporters to mention in their writeup
and plea for clothing donations a small comment that clothing
donated from religiously observant homes should bear a tag
indicating that the garment was free of shaatnez.
The press release appeared in all of the daily papers on the
following morning: "Davar", "Ha'aretz," the Shomer Hatzair
newspapers and even "Hatzofeh." All bore the additional
comment. Special divine Providence had given this issue full
coverage. In her diary, she wrote:
"It was a pronounced kiddush Hashem. I feel it was
Heaven that planted the idea in my head and gave it such
widespread publicity. This raised the issue among many
religious circles, and the problem of shaatnez was
presented to the public by the secular press and the radio,
as well. The seriousness with which it was discussed made the
ensuing intensive work and the responsibility thereof all
worthwhile, for this was an issue of principle."
The Committee for the Cyprus Immigrants, headed by Mr. Moshe
Brachman, issued a call to all the residents of the land. It
read, among other things:
"In round figures, the Yishuv [population] is requested to
produce 24,000 sets of complete winterwear for men, 14,000
for women and 12,000 for children and youth up to age 17.
"The main problem regarding women and children is shoes,
since the men can obtain army shoes.
"The religious circles have assumed a considerable brunt of
the mitzva of providing suitable clothing. Their
participation is very important from the additional aspect
that many of the refugees need not only clothing that is
warm, but that is also kosher.
"We hereby specially request that religious donors of
clothing attach a tag noting that the garment is free from
shaatnez so as to give the religious recipients both
material satisfaction and religious comfort. Our project will
surely be enriched by the blessed and hearty endorsement of
the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, R' Isser Yehuda Unterman, who
issued a plea to all the synagogues in the city to appeal to
the worshippers for suitable clothing..."
A month later, Ayala noted in her diary:
"My hands ache from tying up sacks of clothing. My feet are
weary from holding me up and when I close my eyes at night, I
see huge piles of clothing and endless rows of sacks. But I
feel very satisfied and glad. My goal has been achieved; the
project has been a success."
No wonder she was so exhausted -- it was she, and her
fellow volunteers, who not only sorted and bagged the
clothing, but even solicited them, going from door to door,
up and down stairs, shlepping bags upon bags. This in
addition to a full day's work at her office desk of the
Lieber chocolate factory, where she tried her utmost not to
show signs of fatigue or disorganization.
Ayala mobilized schoolgirls from the Bnos and Batya
organizations to help collect the clothing. Holocaust
survivors from Beit Hachalutzos for religious girls in Bnei
Brak, were also mobilized, after the administrator, Mrs.
Pesya Shereshevsky, had consulted with the Chazon Ish. He
ruled that the girls should not go collecting on their own,
but should go in pairs, one immigrant coupled with one Tel
Aviv Bais Yaakov girl.
When kindergarten children expressed a desire to be part of
this project, Ayala went to work creating a small exhibit of
a miniature house with little faces peeking from the window,
representing the children in the Diaspora. A small horse and
wagon was loaded with little bundles, while a ship anchored
on a paper sea was also filled with little sacks. The exhibit
was completed by small treats for the little donors.
Ayala did not want to take off from work -- she finished at
six -- to see their reaction. But the reports filled her with
joy and satisfaction. Fifty children had come bearing fifty
small bundles of children's clothing. She repacked them with
small notes and sweets -- to be sent off to the refugee
children in Cyprus.
[We recommend "Dapim Shel Etmol" as a fascinating book for
the womenfolk of the family, for Pesach reading.]