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Exodus Passenger Makes Aliyah

October 26, 2008
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Frances escaped the Nazis in Russian-occupied territory as the lone member of her family to survive World War II. She was a member of a Zionist movement, even before her first famous attempt to immigrate to Israel, and joined the Exodus following the war. Under the British Mandate, Jewish people had, at one point, immigrated en masse to what would become modern Israel, but starting in 1939, a restrictive immigration limited the number of Jews who could immigrate legally. The Exodus was denied entry to Israel, and eventually, its passengers were put on other ships and sent back to Europe. Refusing to allow the ships to depart, the passengers endured the heat and even called a hunger strike in a French port before finally being sent to Germany, where they were made to disembark.

“It was a very traumatic experience,” said Frances of her feelings when they were sent away from Israel. Their story eventually became the basis for Leon Uris’ novel Exodus, which, in turn, inspired a movie by the same name, starring Paul Newman. Both Uris and Newman were American Jews, and it was to their country that Frances later moved at the age of 28. Then Frances and her husband, whom she met in Germany after the Exodus experience, built a home and raised their children there.

Despite her distance from the Land of Israel, the spirit that led her to board the Exodus endured. In fact, she passed it on. “My daughter [now Ilana Kraus] made aliyah because I brought her up in the Zionist spirit, in a Zionist home. I always sent them to Hebrew-speaking camps or Zionist camps,” said Frances. “My children got a very deep Jewish education.”

Frances also continued the Zionist vision in her own life, acting as a member of Zionist movements and organizations such as the Technion Israel Institute of Technology. And once her husband passed away, she decided it was time to take that final Zionist step. “At my age, my main reason [for making aliyah] was to be in my homeland that I was dreaming [about] for most of my life, and to be close to my daughter,” said Frances. “I was here in November [07], and I thought it would be conducive to live close to my grandchildren that I used to see at least once a year…I’m very happy to be here.”

Starting a New Life at 88

Though she had visited Israel many times before, she said of her arriving this time that “the feeling was different.” Having such a noteworthy story, Frances was surrounded by reporters, but now that the feverish pace is over, she has to settle down into daily life in the town of Ra’anana. Part of that daily life is visiting with family, which will soon include her grandson, who was scheduled to come to Israel as a high school exchange student this year.

Among the things she is looking forward to in Israel, is involvement in political and intellectual activities. Frances says that she “was very much involved [in the US], and I hope I’ll have the same outlets here.” Despite desiring that similarity, living in Israel is still a big change from the United States, especially in terms of the weather. She also said she wants to “further my Jewish feelings” in Israel.

While she was the oldest immigrant in her aliyah group at 88, Frances wasn’t the only one with a unique story: Two former Iranians, who had fled their country for the United States, also made the trip to live in Israel. It is that sense of security and protection, which only a home can offer, that Frances mentions as to why aliyah is important. “[Aliyah] is very important; we now have a homeland. If we would have had a home 65, 70 years ago, maybe there would be no Shoah [Holocaust], because Jews would have had a place to go.”

More than six decades after being told she had no homeland to call her own, Frances Greenberg finally has moved to Israel. And this time, she’s staying.

A Tale of Two Trips – Comparing Frances Greenberg’s two moves to Israel

Date of departure
First: July 11, 1947
Second: July 21, 2008
Mode of transport
First by ship: the Exodus
Second by plane: El Al
Number of fellow passengers
First: 4,514
Second: 209
Result of trip
First: Sent back to Europe
Second: Greeted by family and government members

Photo Credit: Photoby Nefesh B'Nefesh

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