Hero to speak at Closter shul
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Hero to speak at Closter shul

Paul Kaye, who will speak at Temple Emanu-el in Closter on March 19, tells people to "get active" and "be heard" and that everyone "can make a difference." Kaye was a former officer on the Jewish refugee ships Hatikvah and Galila; one of Israel’s first Navy Seals; and his life story reads like a Zionist adventure novel. He has earned the right to give such advice.


Paul Kaye, bottom left, captained two ships that took refugees from Europe to Palestine, and served as an Israeli Navy Seal during the country’s War of Independence.

After completing his World War II service in the U.S. Navy, Kaye was recruited by the Zionist Haganah to serve as an officer on the ship Hatikvah in 1947. His mission: Transport 1,500 survivors from Italy to Israel on a ship built to hold only about ’00 to 300 people. "We boarded 750 one night, 751 the next," he recalls.

He says that he will always remember his first meeting with the Jewish refugees, who he calls "my people."

"Everyone hugged me and kissed me, crying [in Yiddish] ‘we’re going to Eretz Yisrael, we’re going to our homeland,’" he said. "This taught me that we have hope. Like the name of the ship [Hatikvah]."

But the Hatikvah was ultimately stopped by the British, and Kaye and the ship’s other 1,500 passengers were detained in a prison camp in Cyprus. Kaye managed to escape the camp during a prisoner transfer and subsequently joined the underground in France.

He returned to New York in 1948 and was given control of a ship called the SS Director, which he sailed to France, and then to Israel, under the Israeli flag. In France, the ship was renamed the Galila.

After docking in Israel later that year, he joined the Israeli Navy as part of its new Seal unit, and fought in Israel’s War of Independence.

Kaye said that he learned from the survivors "how to go through adversity and survive in life."

Between 1994 and ‘000, he accompanied thousands of teenagers on trips from Rome to Israel, re-enacting the events surrounding the sailing — and capture — of Jewish refugee ships, though he says that "the program began to slow up when the Intifada began," with parents less willing to let their children participate.

Kaye says American Jews can continue to help the state of Israel by becoming active members of the Jewish community. He has been on the board of his synagogue in Long Island for many years and both he and his wife have been synagogue presidents.

"You’ve got to be a temple member and be active," he says. "You need to write to your local newspapers when they run something [inaccurate] about Israel, join organizations, and — most important — visit Israel."

He particularly enjoys speaking with high school and college students, spreading the message that "by doing, rather than just speaking or listening," one can help change the world.

For information about his 9:45 a.m. talk, call the synagogue at (’01) 750-9997.

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