Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

29 Adar II 5760 - April 5, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
PROJECT: Winter Clothing, 1948
by Ayala Rottenberg and Yehudit Golan Published in Hebrew by Feldheim

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 Israel.

"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.]


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