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Being a war volunteer led to the experience of a lifetime

COLORADO SPRINGS — When the Yom Kippur War broke out in 1973, Colorado Springs’ Temple Shalom member Rosanne Miles Fahrenbruch was the costume designer for a theater production in Philadelphia. She had recently graduated from Nathaniel Hawthorne College in Antrim, New Hampshire, and had moved back to her childhood home in Levittown, Penn.

Rosanne Miles Fahrenbruch as a Yom Kippur War volunteer, left, and now

One day, a college friend called and asked if she would like to go to Israel. She replied, “What, are you crazy?”

Her friend explained about a volunteer organization to help the Israeli population deal with the Yom Kippur War, designed for people between the ages of 18 and 35 that required a commitment of at least six months. Only those who were Jewish and had already been to Israel were accepted, as it was assumed that they had some knowledge of Hebrew and Israeli culture.

The volunteers were needed to help Israel in her efforts to maintain her economy while a great proportion of the population was directly involved in protecting the country. Fahrenbruch answered, “When do we leave?”

After signing up and completing the registration process, Fahrenbruch had a mere 18 hours’ notice to pack, say goodbye to family and friends, and quit her job. She was allowed 44 pounds of luggage and $200 for a six-month stay.

The volunteers’ travel to Israel reads like a spy thriller:

Family members were not allowed to accompany their relatives into the airport. No one knew which airline or flight the volunteers were taking. All precautions were taken to ensure the safety of the group and the integrity of their mission, including a wait of an entire day at Kennedy airport in New York while security measures were planned. The group itself only found out their plans just before boarding the plane.

The volunteers were divided among several planes, with 75-100 people in a group; Fahrenbruch’s group took the Belgian Sabena Airlines to Brussels. At the airport in Belgium, they were kept together and away from reporters.

Fahrenbruch’s group then took a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt, Germany, and were kept under heavy guard by German police while enroute to their hotel. The next day, they flew to Tel Aviv.

The volunteers in Fahrenbruch’s group arrived in Israel in the middle of the night during a blackout. Flying into a pitch-black airport, she recalls, “was scary.”

They were put up for the first night at a youth hostel and shown a map of Israel the next morning with instructions to choose which kibbutz they wanted to work at.

Fahrenbruch demanded that she be placed with her college friend, who had arrived in Israel ahead of her, even though his destination was not on the list. The Israelis in charge did the necessary research to find her friend, and eventually a bus dropped her off “in the middle of nowhere” at Kibbutz Ramat HaKovesh, about 22 miles northeast of Tel Aviv, where she was instructed to walk down the road where she would find the kibbutz at the end.

Fahrenbruch, carrying her 44 pounds of belongings, began walking. After a while she discerned someone coming toward her. It was her friend.

The volunteers had been told horror stories about life on the kibbutz. None of these turned out to be true for Fahrenbruch. She was housed in a four-room shack, three to a room. There was a bathroom in the building and communal showers nearby.

At night, they still had to maintain a blackout. After a time, Fahrenbruch reports, they were moved to better quarters and the blackouts ceased.

The volunteers at Kibbutz Ramat HaKovesh, unlike at most other work programs in Israel, were welcomed with open arms and given “top” jobs, such as driving a delivery truck, milking cows, driving tractors, using a “cherry picker” or selecting roses for export.

During her six months at the kibbutz, Fahrenbruch worked in the dining room, laundry, kindergarten, chicken hatchery and pool. She recalls that the volunteers were allowed to change jobs if they did not like the ones they were assigned.

Fahrenbruch finally found a position she enjoyed in the kitchen, running the kelim — the dishwashing assembly line. She says that the 20 to 25 American volunteers had the highest status of anyone other than a kibbutznik. The members, almost all women and children, were appreciative of the volunteers, as they replaced people who were in the army. The kibbutzniks were aware that these people had given up jobs or school to come to Israel’s aid.

[dropcap]Fahrenbruch looks back fondly on her experience. She says that she learned about a new society, culture and way of life. “This is the way socialism can work,” she says.

She also learned that the dollar is “not the Alm-ghty.” She still had $80 of her $200 left when she returned home, most of her money having been spent on gifts. She met people from all over the world who had come to help Israel, and she treasures their stories.

Forty-five years later, Fahrenbruch returned to Israel with a group from Temple Shalom. She describes the culture shock she suffered when she came to an intersection in Tel Aviv and saw, all on the same corner, a black man preaching (in Hebrew) under a cross, Chabad showing Jewish men how to lay tefilin, a pride member in a bathtub and an Arab couple taking pictures. It was a far cry from her time on the kibbutz when cream for her coffee was added straight from the cow.

One last thought Fahrenbruch wanted to share: the Israelis she met in 1973-74 had many opinions, but one common theme: “American Jews are giving money, but we are giving blood at the cost of the world.”

Copyright © 2021 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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