Before setting off from New York City to the Land of Israel in 1926, the Yiddish novelist and essayist Miriam Karpilove dashed off a letter to the secretary of the I.L. Peretz Writers’ Union. Therein, she complained of the many things she had to do in preparation for leaving golus [diasporic exile], adding “I am my own [lady messiah] and, as you know, I have no white horse and, as you also know, the subway is on strike to boot.” Her visit to Mandate Palestine would last for two years, and form the basis of an unfinished novel, parts of which will soon be published. Jessica Kirzane excerpts her translation of the opening chapter, which depicts the characters’ arrival at the “Palestinian Ellis Island.”
We had to show a group of British government officers all of our documents so they could see that our coming here to Eretz Yisrael was kosher and we’d followed all the legal requirements they set out for us. These government officials sat at a long table in the middle of a large room. We had to stand. Stand and wait in line until someone looked over our papers and gave them to another official, who gave them to a third official, and so forth.
More than anything, they noticed the stamp on our papers with the word “settler.” They were surprised that American citizens with money had come to settle in Palestine: is it so bad in America, or so good in Eretz Yisrael, that the Jews would want to settle here? Especially during the present crisis? One of the officials asked my brother why he wanted to settle in Palestine, isn’t it good to be an American citizen?
“Oh, very good!” Jacob said. “But I think Palestine has more for us.”
“Remarkable, . . . ” he shrugged his shoulders and asked me what compelled me to settle in Palestine. I looked him straight in his squinty eyes and replied, “historical connections, you know . . .”.