|Our Kansas City Family’s Illegal Zionist Saga|
by Jan Jaben-Eilon
Not long after Israel's War of Independence was launched, a high-school friend of my father's returned to Kansas City from a visit to Israel. With great enthusiasm, he drafted my father, grandparents, and other relatives in a frantic attempt to help the fledgling State of Israel. Just three years after the end of World War II, weapons could be found throughout the community as soldiers who returned home from war often brought with them rifles and other weaponry. My family was determined to gather as many arms as possible and ship them to assist Israel.
I grew up on these stories, but only second-hand. Both my father Larry and my Zadie Philip died when I was about ten-years-old. But I still heard these stories over and over again, usually from my father's younger brother, my Uncle Sonny, who was 15 at the time.
"I remember coming home the day of the UN voted approval of statehood for Israel," recounts Sonny Jaben of the November 1947 partition vote. "My father was crying. He was so proud that the State of Israel was becoming a reality. He was a staunch Zionist and after his journey, being injured in World War I, escaping from Poland, the difficulties in starting a new life in America and everything else that he had lived through, he was driven to ensure that Israel must survive."
Sonny remembers cases of US Army surplus bayonets still packed in Cosmoline, a heavy grease that was commonly used on firearms, hand tools and machine tools to prevent rusting. The weapons had never been used. (According to Wikipedia, during World War II, U.S. Coast Artillerymen were known as 'Cosmoliners' because they were responsible for greasing down the guns. Cosmoline was also used to coat weapons for long sea voyages, as it prevented rust even in salty conditions). This was perfect, since these armaments would be shipped to Israel.
What I didn't learn from my uncle I gleaned from the photos of my family members, apparently taken by my father. The family lore – backed by the photos – is of my family collecting the weapons and taking them into the dark, dank basement of my grandparents' house and secretly boxing up the weapons. It was illegal for Americans to send armaments to Israel, so they wrote on the outside of the boxes "farm implements."
They were so proud that they took photos in the basement of family members posing around the boxed they packed.
After being packed, the boxes were lifted onto a pick-up truck which transported them down to the venerable Kansas City railroad station. "I remember going with them to the Railway Express depot located beneath Union Station to ship the armaments by rail," says Sonny Jaben.
Surrounded by family, the author's grandparents (seated).
During one of my trips back to my hometown, my uncle showed me the exact berth where my family delivered the precious weapons. According to the legend, the train carried the boxes to a farm in New Jersey and they were later shipped to Israel.
"I'm sure that my father and the others realized the potential repercussions had the arms been discovered," says Sonny. "Shipping arms to a foreign country must certainly have been a serious federal violation back then. I'm also sure, in retrospect, that they held their collective breaths until the shipment arrived in Israel," continued Sonny. "They knew the dangers but were not deterred by them. It must have seemed to them to be the chance of a lifetime to help Israel. That was the generation of strong Jaben men who saw what was to be done, and did it. I was too young, 15 at that time, to realize how serious a matter it all was. It seemed to me to be an adventure of sorts."
I was always quite proud of this example of my family's Zionism. Only years later, after I made Aliyah, my Israeli-born husband questioned my long-held belief that these weapons assisted the Haganah, the early form of today's Israel Defense Forces, to fight off the many Arab armies attacking Israel from all sides. He suggested that perhaps these weapons were shipped to the Irgun, the fringe fighting group often labeled as terrorists. I'll probably never know.
After the war, the family received a letter from the Government of Israel, thanking them for their contribution to the war efforts.
Source: American Veterans of Israel Spring 2014 Newsletter.