Joe Aboudi (seen at lower left at the Alliance Israelite Universelle school in Aleppo) recounted growing up in Syria and fighting for Israel, in a 2010 interview.
“In Aleppo we had shlichim, which were messengers that came from Palestine in the 1940s that start teaching us about being a Zionist,” he said. ” Every time the Boy Scouts had a party in the school, we always sang ‘Hatikvah.’ I got so emotional that I wanted to go to Palestine and fight to create the state. So, I went to the bus station. I bought ticket to Lebanon, hoping I find somebody to smuggle me to Palestine. I was 14.”
Aboudi and his family lived in a part of the city called Jamiliyeh. His grandfather and great grandfather were both rabbis in Aleppo.
“We had a beautiful community. We lived very comfortably. My memory, during the French period, the French Mandate, the Jews in Halab, they were very comfortable, they didn’t worry about anything, they were the businessmen. As a matter of fact, Friday afternoon, the commerce stopped for Shabbat. And the shuk – the Arabs displayed their vegetable and fruit so the Jews come and buy and take them for Shabbat.”
“Every Friday night we all go to the shul, the synagogue across the street, we come home, it was a festive, beautiful feeling, Shabbat feeling. Then the Shabbat morning we all go to shul, from childhood no matter how old we were, we start going to shul. And after we come back from shul, my father loved to sing Pizmonim, songs of Shabbat and holiday. It was beautiful.”
After running away a couple of times to go to Palestine, Aboudi’s father arranged for him to go with a group to Lebanon and then to a kibbutz in Palestine. His goal was to join the Haganah, a Zionist military defense organization. He joined a sailing group in Palestine, where he trained on boats, and in 1947 he became part of the Palyam, a marine branch of the Palmach, fighting for the state of Israel.
“My unit was ordered to take a convoy to Negev. The Egyptian army arrived, and they figured they’re going to finish us in no time with their cannons and airplanes. The first shell that came killed our commander. We decided we’ve got to do something. We lined up our guns. We said, “One, two, three,” and then the ten of us, the same minute, we shot. After maybe 10 minutes, we saw that the Egyptians disappeared. We were puzzled why they stopped. That night, we meet some Arabs. They say, ‘You don’t know what you did.’ ‘What did we do?’ ‘You killed the commanders of the Egyptian army.’ When you’re shooting ten at the same time, it sounds like a different kind of machine. We didn’t really have a machine gun. And then after that, we blew up the bridges that go to Jerusalem, to give them a hard time.”
“Nobody expected the Jews to survive more than three or four days. All the Arab nations surrounding Israel with tanks, airplanes, cannons, attacking us from every corner. It’s the biggest accomplishment of the history of the world. So that’s my biggest pride.”
These images of Joseph Aboudi chronicle his life in Syria and Israel, before he came to the United States.