As managing editor, I get a lot of story pitches. It’s my job to figure out which ones to pursue for the publication and which just aren’t the right fit. I’ve found that some of the best pitches — which have turned into some of the best stories — come from community members who are truly invested in their subject matter.
When I got a call from Jerry Klinger last fall, I quickly realized I was speaking to someone who had a great story to tell. While I was familiar with the ship Exodus 1947, there was a lot I didn’t know, including that Baltimore has a memorial to the ship and, until last week, Israel did not.
That new Israeli memorial and the story of the Exodus is the subject of Susan C. Ingram’s cover story in this week’s JT.
As you’ll read, this memorial was not possible without Klinger, who nearly single-handedly saw that Israel had a proper tribute to “The Ship That Launched A Nation.” It was in 1947 that Jewish refugees fleeing the unsettling aftermath of World War II sailed to the future State of Israel, only to be attacked by the British and sent back to Europe to detention camps. Klinger sought to correct what he saw as a historic injustice — there were memorials in Baltimore, France, Italy and Germany but not in the country most central to this story.
He hit a lot of roadblocks when he first tried 10 years ago to get the ball rolling on a memorial. Years later, when he met a sculptor who shared the same passion for Exodus, the idea was reborn. Through the sculptor’s contacts, the memorial was to be placed at the Haifa port, where the ship first tried to dock in 1947. It was unveiled July 18.
Jews the world over owe a debt of gratitude to Klinger not only for putting a proper memorial in the proper place, but also for elevating the memory of a story so central to the birth of Israel and so emblematic of what Jews went through when they were fleeing Europe. As the Jewish community knows all too well, we need to preserve the stories of survivors before they are no longer around to tell them.
An estimated half-million people will walk by the new 9-foot bronze statue in the port each year, ensuring that this memorial will live up to its purpose, which is what drove Klinger to put it together in the first place.
“I don’t do it for the recognition,” he said. “I do it because this is a hole in our history, and it’s a duty, it’s an honor, it’s an obligation.”