During the two years that I was running the Volunteers for Israel (Sarel) project in New York, my connection with The Jewish Press continued via articles that I would write about the campaign and publicity events that The Press would sponsor. I learned a lot about the power of creative journalism from Yehuda Schwartz, the newspaper’s dynamic managing editor, who was gung-ho on the project and gave the recruitment drive a tremendous push in America. When my savings ran out, Meir Indor spoke to a Betarnik friend of his in Israel, who spoke to a Betar buddy who was the Israeli shaliach running the Aliyah Department of the Jewish Agency in Manhattan, and I was offered a job at the Israel Aliyah Center, working in public relations. They figured that since I was sending so many people to Israel on the volunteer program, it would look better for them if I was doing it from their Park Avenue office – with the stipulation that I work on the ongoing volunteer drive only after my regular Sachnut hours. In addition to the Israelis who Indor sent over to help with the volunteer drive (like Baruch Marzal and Zangy who is now directing the Honenu organization), working out of the Jewish Agency, I met a lot of Israeli shalichim on their visits to America. In that manner, I got to know a lot of people even before I came on aliyah – especially a group of a dozen shalichim from the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva and Gush Emunim who came to America to recruit families for the settlements, including Rabbi Moshe Levinger, Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, Rabbi Benny Elon, Yaacov Sternberg, Yechiel Leiter, Yigal Kutai, and Era Rappaport, the “mayor” of Shilo.
One evening I went to visit Era in the house he was staying at in Queens. I discovered his wife, Orit, crying in the living room.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“Haven’t you heard?” she sobbed.
“There’s an arrest warrant out for Era in Israel,” she said. “The Shabak thinks that he’s part of the Jewish Underground.”
To take readers back in time, before the first Intifada, the Arabs were already making life hell for the settlers of Judea and Samaria, throwing stones and molotov cocktails at settler cars and firing at them like ducks in a shooting gallery. When the government of Israel did nothing to quell the unrest, a group of concerned and passionate settlers got together to protect their lives and families. Clandestinely, they planned a series of attacks on key Arab targets, and succeeded in planting a car bomb which blew the legs off the mayor of Shechem who had vowed to dance on Jewish graves in chasing the Jews out of the Land. The Shabak (Israeli Shin Bet Security Agency) believed that Era was involved in that attack. When a plan aimed at the Temple Mount was foiled, a dozen settlers, who became known as the “Jewish Underground,” were arrested in thrown into prison. Now the police were looking for Era Rappaport, who was attending to his dying mother in New York, and helping to bring families to Israel, and who couldn’t be extradited because of his American citizenship.
Once again, to make a long story short, Era showed up that night around two in the morning. He held a small note in his hand from Rabbi Moshe Tendler, who he had just visiting in Monsey. Rabbi Tendler had written the “chevre” of the Underground a sort of vague “haskama” saying that when someone comes to kill you, Jewish law allows you to rise up and kill him first.
“It isn’t much, but it’s all we have,” Era said.
“Why don’t I write it up into a serious letter?” I offered.
“That’s a good idea,” he said. “Tomorrow morning, we can take it to the The Jewish Press and get it printed.”
So I wrote a serious piece out of the three-sentence note, and we drove into Brooklyn first thing in the morning. Era also knew Rabbi Klass and Yehuda Schwartz very well, and the two newspaper chiefs, who were always ready to help Israel, welcomed us happily into their offices.
To tell the truth, I forget whether it was Rabbi Klass or Yehuda Schwartz who said it, but both of them agreed: