Yossi Ron, the last remnant of his family, embodies the Jewish story of exile, destruction and rebirth.
Ron is one of the 47 orphans from Kfar Etzion, a town in the hills of Judea that was destroyed by the Arabs in Israel’s War of Independence, its defenders massacred by the marauding Arabs. Most of the children lost their fathers who stayed to fight; he lost his mother as well who also died defending their kibbutz.
At Rambam Mesivta in Lawrence last week, he told students the story of Kfar Etzion and described plans to refurbish its museum.
Ron was a child of Holocaust survivors, and in his story of birth, loss and survival, he is a living photograph of recent Jewish history, and an Israeli success story.
His father, Yechiel Rosenfeld, was from a Polish family of Bobover Chasidim who joined Bnei Akiva, a religious Zionist youth movement. His mother, Tziporah, was from Lodz. They met in a labor camp during the Holocaust and were later liberated by the Russians. Tziporah was 14, and Yechiel was 18 when they first met. Theirs was the first wedding in Lodz after the war. Tziporah was able to get a certificate in 1946 to enter what was then Palestine and went, already pregnant with Yossi, to Kfar Etzion. Yechiel attempted to join her as a Maapil (an illegal immigrant to then Palestine) but was captured by the British and sent to an internment camp in Cyprus. They were separated for 15 months. He was reunited with Tziporah and was finally able to see his new son.
The actual site of Kfar Etzion had been bought and built up three times by Jews, in 1927, 1934 and 1943 before the declaration of the State of Israel although the entire area is rich in the history of the Jewish people. The area includes Derech HaAvot, a road from Hebron to Mount Moriah - the Temple Mount, and the towns where Ruth gathered grain, David was a shepherd and the Maccabim and Bar Kochba’s fighters sheltered in caves. In 1927 the inhabitants left due to harsh conditions, the other two times the kibbutzim and farmland were attacked by Arabs and destroyed. The last one is Ron’s story.
When the UN voted for the partition plan, dividing the land into Jewish and Arab areas on Nov. 29, 1947, the Jews celebrated, even in the Gush Etzion area despite its being relegated to the Arab zone. The Jewish residents decided to stay to defend the southern approach to Jerusalem but endured increasing attacks from the surrounding hostile Arab villages. A month later, the mothers and children were evacuated but Tziporah did not want to be separated again from her husband. She decided to stay and fight, but with great sadness, sent her year old son Yossi with the mothers and children to Jerusalem. The defenders of Kfar Etzion fought valiantly against far superior forces of the Arab and Jordanian Legions.
When the Jews realized that they were defeated, they surrendered only to be massacred; just four remained alive. An Arab threw a hand grenade into a bunker where the wounded were staying, killing them all. In total, 240 died in the battle for Gush Etzion.
Members of three kibbutzim in the area were taken prisoner by the Arab Legion to Transjordan and were held for nine months. The bodies lay unburied for 18 months until Rabbi Shlomo Goren was permitted by the Jordanian Legion to collect the bones and bury them, the first graves on Har Herzl in Jerusalem.
Both of Ron’s parents were killed in the massacre in Kfar Etzion on May 13, 1948. His father was 24 and his mother was 20. The Knesset later declared the day of that battle as Israel’s Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron. The State of Israel was proclaimed the next day, Friday, May 14, 1948, the fifth of Iyar 5708.
Ron was adopted by one of the widows of Kfar Etzion. “I never felt abandoned,” he said. He was number 40 of the 47 children rescued from Kfar Etzion. They stuck together over the years, in summer camps and gatherings. He said they were like his siblings. Number 12 from the group was Hanan Porat, a member of Knesset.
“My parents had a strong tradition and I feel that they are looking out for me,” he said. “I have a family. And I have (my parents’) push from my back.”
Ron rarely spoke of his past before, saying that he kept “his face to the future not the past.” After a book, “Children of Kfar Etzion,” was published eight years ago, people asked him questions and he began to respond. “I was talking all the time and found that it’s not bad to talk,” he said.
He has been to the U.S. many times on business and to see family, he has an aunt and other relatives here, but was invited now by the JNF (Jewish National Fund) as a guest speaker for a breakfast in Denver to raise funds to renovate and modernize the visitors’ center at Kfar Etzion.
Shani Simkowitz, the director of the Gush Etzion Foundation, noted that JNF has been involved in purchasing land in the area since 1928 and today owns 80 percent of the land in Gush Etzion and had a hand in establishing the areas in the Gush repeatedly. “JNF is partnering with us to renovate the visitors’ center in Kfar Etzion as a memorial to the brave women and men who fell in the final battle in 1948,” said Simkovitz.
Ron is still very close to Kfar Etzion and has many friends there. He hopes that one of his children will marry someone from Kfar Etzion.
Ron graduated the Technion with a B.S. in electronics and joined the Israeli Air Force (IAF), retiring after 21 years with the rank of Full Colonel. He married Esti in 1969 and moved to Elkana in 1977. (He couldn’t live in the Gush since he had to be near his work in the IAF.) They raised three girls and three boys; he named his oldest son Yechiel after his father and his oldest daughter Tzipora for his mother. Their daughter Tzipora was killed in a car accident at the same age that her grandmother was killed, 20.