One Family's Connection to the Holy Land

May 11, 2023Eve Panush

On May 9, 2023, I had one of the most moving experiences of my life, thanks to the 2023 WRJ Mission Trip to Israel. After we spent the day touring around Jerusalem, we visited the Machal Memorial at Khan Sha’ar HaGai, where I shared my father’s story. Nathan Krotinger was one of the non-Israeli volunteers who fought in the 1948 Israel War of Independence. Machal meaning “volunteers from outside the land” — was formed as a result of an appeal by David Ben-Gurion, the future Prime Minister of Israel. Ben-Gurion asked Jews from all over the world to come and help defend the nascent state. Over 4,500 volunteers from 58 countries responded to the call, including pilots, doctors, engineers, and soldiers. 

My father was a veteran of World War II and also worked in explosives testing laboratories in Birmingham, AL., and Rolla, MO., during the first part of World War II. In May 1948, as the independent State of Israel was declared, my father was en route to the Middle East on the USS Marine Carp. When the ship reached Beirut, “400 Lebanese soldiers were waiting for passengers at the port,” wrote historian Amit Naor in his article, “Captives in Lebanon: The Story of the ‘Marine Carp’.” “The Lebanese authorities did not want to allow Jewish men of military age to continue on to Israel.” As documented in an article by Naor, my father and 68 volunteers were taken by truck to the city of Baalbek, where they were imprisoned in an abandoned French military camp.

Thankfully, a family member was able to speak with then-U.S. President Harry S. Truman about the situation. Truman found a solution to the crisis by contacting his head of covert services. According to Naor, Truman said, “Either you free these people within two weeks, or you can look for another job.” After diplomatic negotiations, the volunteers were released six weeks later to go back to New York. But my father debarked in Italy instead and headed for the fledgling State of Israel. There, he helped establish munitions factories which were vital to the country’s defense. My father was interviewed and shares more about the Marine Carp incident here.

My mother joined my father in Israel, and they were married in Tel Aviv on March 7, 1949. Listen to her memories of Israel here. As pioneers living in the new state, my parents helped to establish the Moshav HaBonim farming settlement near Haifa which served as a model for other farming settlements, and continues to thrive today.

Thank you to the trip organizers and my sisters on the trip for letting me feel so close to my father's spirit. He passed away two years ago at the age of 97, and he always felt that the time he served in Israel was one of the most significant achievements of his life (besides his 2 daughters and 4 grandchildren). He lives again when I share his story. 

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