I recently had the pleasure of touring a wonderful family around our great Province. During our chats, I discovered they were Jewish so shared a ‘little known’ story with them. I want to share it with you also. The following was written by Michael Steinitz in 1998 about a tiny community in Cape Breton called Dingwall…Enjoy!
I was doing what my family enjoyed calling my “streetwalker thing”. Halifax has never had much of a problem with terrorists, but like most Israeli towns it [the Israeli town I was located in] had instituted a “Civil Guard”, which some wags also called the “Old Crocks Brigade”, or worse. This involved members of the citizenry who would once each month voluntarily undertake armed nighttime street patrols in groups of two, under the supervision of the chronically undermanned police. The rate of terrorist attacks was too small to show a measurable difference, but the rate of nighttime burglaries had shown a satisfying decrease – if one ignored the almost equal increase in the rate of daytime burglaries. Among other benefits I got to spend long hours in conversation – with my partner and on the walkie-talkie (known in Hebrew as HaMotorola) to the police. At least my fluency improved, if not the delicacy of my language.
My partner that night was an old sea-dog. He had retired from the Israeli Navy at about 65, after a life at sea – at first in the merchant marine, and then in the Israeli Defence Forces.
His first question was essentially “where’re ya from kid?”, to which I dutifully replied “Nova Scotia” in my best Hebrew, swallowing what little remained of my professional dignity after my daily encounter with the admittedly bright, but sometimes disconcertingly abrupt and direct Israeli students I was teaching.
“I’ll bet I know a place in Nova Scotia you’ve never been”, he then continued.
Feeling my pride at stake, I replied “try me!”
“Dingwall!” he said.
“My favourite place”, I replied honestly, having spent several weekends in this wonderful spot every summer with my wife and children since arriving in Nova Scotia in 1973 from points west. It is an idyllically situated little village a few miles off the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton, with mountains descending straight into the sea, sandy beaches, the rough North Atlantic, almost no people, and our very favourite motel, which had only four spotless cottages. “But how did you ever get there?” I asked, and thereby hangs the following tale.
In 1948 Israel was invaded by six Arab armies and found itself with very few arms and fewer friends. Among the desperate needs was the need for vehicles, especially Jeeps. But no-one would sell the newborn country any Jeeps, for fear of angering the Arab states. Finally, Canada agreed to sell Israel 48 used World-War Two surplus Jeeps, but under very strict conditions: no-one must know of the sale. No-one must even be able to see the delivery taking place. Thus the delivery would not be permitted to take place in Halifax, or even Sydney in cape Breton, as the risk of someone seeing it taking place would be too great. It would be Dingwall, Nova Scotia or nothing. Take it or leave it, and, of course, as beggars can’t be choosers, Israel took it.
My partner was then the captain of a small freighter, and it fell upon him to pick up the Jeeps. He was told that he must enter Dingwall harbour through a narrow space in the stone breakwaters, at night, without lights, and that he must be at sea before first light in the morning.
“Do you know what ‘meshuggah’ is?” he asked rhetorically. “Meshuggah is someone who takes a big ship into Dingwall harbour at night without lights – that’s a meshuggah!” But he got his load of Jeeps, he was at sea before morning, “hightailing it for the Med”, as he put it, and Dingwall had played its part in the history of Israel. It may have been very important.
Postscript: I recently heard from a friend of a friend that “Of course I know about those Jeeps – those were the Jeeps that Moshe Dayan used to take the town of Ramle, in one of the decisive battles of the War of Independence!”