Cattle for Israel – Part III

The Levinson livestock trips were known by the Israel Cattle Breeder’s Association as “Operation Cattle and Draught Animals for Israel.” Living near the Mennonite community in Denbigh, Virginia, and being acquainted with the service of Mennonite seagoing cowboys for UNRRA, it was to the Mennonites the Levinson brothers appealed to find their cattle tenders for this operation.

Mennonite seagoing cowboys to Israel, June 1951. Photo courtesy of Virgil Stoltzfus.

A February 1959 letter from the Israel Cattle Breeder’s Association to Melvin Gingerich of the Mennonite Research Foundation praises the work of these young Mennonites:

As you may know, altogether some 15 ships with 12,000 cows, heifers, and calves and some 5,000 horses and mules have been bought and shipped to Israel in the years 1950/1953.

Having been in charge together with Mr. Ben Levinson of Williamsburg, Virginia, I must say that the help, eagerness and devotion of these boys was so high; that I’m sure was a big factor in the success of my mission.

I take this occasion to express on behalf of the Members of this Association our thanks to all that took part in the Operation.

I’m sorry that I can’t give you a list of the participants, but Mr. Ben Levinson might have those lists in his files, all I can say is that at least 100 boys of your church have taken part in this Operation, and they are all very fine cowmen.

May I add that the Operation as a whole has been very successful, the milk production in Israel since has gone up from 180 million pounds to 440 million, and the average per cow yearly production went up from 8,000 pounds to 11,000.

Yours very truly,
L.E. Shmaragd, Secretary

As to the value of these trips, Fred Gingerich called it “a wonderful broadening experience.” Bob Eshleman notes, “It increased my self confidence and self worth.” For Jim Rhodes, it was his first exposure to hunger. “I saw children in Turkey chasing each other and fighting over cast aside apple cores and other food scraps,” he says. And for Kenton Brubaker, it was an “introduction to the situation in Palestine. I witnessed the destruction of Arab homes in Haifa, the tension in Jerusalem. It gave me a base of contrast for two more recent visits to Israel and Bethlehem.” And several of these cowboys cited seeing the Holy Lands and the opportunity to walk where Jesus had walked.

Virgil Stoltzfus caring for heifers en route to Israel, June 1951. Photo courtesy of Virgil Stoltzfus.

War ruins in Haifa. Photo courtesy of Virgil Stoltzfus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Israel Cattle Breeder’s Letter from Melvin Gingerich files, Mennonite Church USA Archives. Edited.

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Cattle for Israel – Part II

The S. S. Columbia Heights was one of two main ships used for the Israel program. Photo credit: Virgil Stoltzfus.

For Israel cowboys Jim Rhodes and Bob Eshleman, a first stop in Iskenderun, Turkey, in September 1952 resulted in a near military arrest. The pair rented bicycles to tour the countryside while some of their ship’s cargo was unloaded. A couple of miles outside the city, while passing what looked like a phone booth, a Turkish armed guard stepped out. The guard motioned with his gun for the pair to dismount and follow him.

“He didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Turkish,” says Rhodes. “We were taken over a hill to a Quonset hut type of building. He escorted us inside and with his rifle motioned for us to sit down.”

“It was scary!” says Eshleman.

Some time later, an official came out of an office. “He asked us in perfect English who we were, where we were from, and what we were doing,” says Rhodes. “After that, his questions continued – about baseball! He finally said he believed us, since only American boys would know that much about the National League and the pennant races.” Their interrogator kindly informed them they were trespassing in a military zone, in an area being prepared for a NATO air base. The boys were treated to a tour of the site and a good meal in the mess hall before being transported back into the city.

Their host told the boys the base was hiring civilian help and offered them jobs operating earth moving equipment. “American boys who grew up around tractors could learn to run the equipment,” he told them.

“The pay would have been quite good,” Rhodes says, “but we declined. Instead of facing a firing squad, we were treated quite well.”

After the 1,070 sheep and 256 goats on board were unloaded, the S. S. Columbia Heights took the boys on to Haifa where 317 mules, 20 cows, and 20 bulls were delivered and where they had the opportunity to tour the Holy Lands.

“Our worst detail was unloading the manure and bedding from our hold,” says Eshleman. “In the lower holds, the ammonia nearly overcame us.”

“All the manure was to be dumped overboard in the Mediterranean before heading out into the Atlantic,” Rhodes says. “We were told it enhanced the nutrients in the water which benefited the fishing industry.”

J. Harold Buckwalter’s crew on the S. S. Pass Christian Victory was given a different explanation. “The cleaning was done by hand, with pitch forks and shovel. It was loaded into canvas slings and hoisted by boom and dumped over the side of the vessel. The job must be completed before we entered the Atlantic so the booms could be secured and hatches covered. We were only several days into the Atlantic when we understood why everything had to be secured.” Buckwalter also recalls, “We were given putty knives and steel brushes to clean every corner and square inch of the area.”

On another trip of the S. S. Columbia Heights, cowboy Theron Schlabach notes that for his crew, “once the manure was out we would take up the heavy planks that served as the floorboards of the pens, lean them up against the framework, and scrub every square inch of floorboard and superstructure thoroughly with steel brushes and lye-water. The lye burned our skin. But we worked diligently.”

That diligence did not go unnoticed, as we will see in the next post.