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A lifetime of service to Eretz Israel in peace and in war

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“At 11 am on Yom Kippur, the unit members of 208 Division received a call to report for duty. This was no drill.” (Photo: Supplied)

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Tall and well spoken, in an exclusive interview from Petach Tikvah, Moses Nissim (better known as Uncle Moses) tells us his story – he is an Indian Jew who fought in the Yom Kippur war of 1973. Listening to Uncle Moses recite his war story in an Indian accent is a very unique experience, as we are usually accustomed to the Israeli or other Western accents in such testimonies!

He was born in Mumbai – at the time called Bombay – in 1942. The Bene Israeli community (Mumbai Jews) are one of the oldest diaspora communities (they claim to be the oldest outside the Middle East, contested by the Malayali Jews in Kerala, also in India). Nissim has early memories of Indian independence and recalls the confusion surrounding identifying the assassin of independence activist Mahatma Gandhi in 1948.    

In high school, Nissim was appointed School Prefect and Barnes House Captain. It was considered the weakest house- but during his tenure, it succeeded in winning several Championship prizes. In 1959 he attended Christ Church High school Byculla, Bombay. At the annual prize giving ceremony, they called out his name for the subject ‘Religion’ (in an Anglican Christian school mind you). Jubilant, he went on stage to collect his trophy. He recalls gasps from the audience: the parents sat on 1 side and the kids on the other! All were shocked alike. 

The smiling Principal, McGowan (an Anglo-Indian) was standing by the chief guest, a bishop who handed the teenager the prize and boomed “I’m impressed that a Jew got the prize for religion” – Religion meant Christianity of course. 

Moses replied ‘Father, who was it who gave you your religion?” The priest rolled his head and chuckled “You’re correct my boy” 

After all, Jesus was a Jew!

Afterwards, the students asked “What did you say that made the Father laugh?” Today, we can all hear the rest of his story. 

Move to Israel and action in the Yom Kippur war 

Moses studied engineering and in 1965, moved to Israel. He has memories of the 1967 Six Day War and remembers seeing Russian POWs captured for helping the Syrians in the border while he was doing civilian work for the IDF. Moses was in the reserves at the time during the fateful event in 1973.

“At 11 am on Yom Kippur, the unit members of 208 Division received a call to report for duty. This was no drill.”

He talks fondly of Joseph Verona, a German Jewish friend:

“I drove Joseph (Yosi) Verona home, where I met his wife and children. They happened to be about the same age as my own kids. Unfortunately little did we realize then, that this would be the last time he’d see them. After a rendezvous at my place, we returned to base to equip for battle. At every stop, Yosi diligently hunted for spares to repair and recondition our military equipment and bring everything into operational condition. He was just outstanding, being an Egged Bus Driver by Profession; by the last stop, he had all our gun-battery equipment functioning. “

The first few days, fighting Egyptians was nerve-racking, for even though they were well trained fighters, they had never been exposed to actual fire and initially were unable to differentiate between outgoing and incoming shells in the darkness. The unit was soon responsible for protective cover via anti-aircraft from high-altitude locations, so the infantry in the valley below could advance unhindered. It was no easy task as anti-aircraft batteries were subject to enemy fire. They spent much of the time ‘shooting and scooting’ from one location to next and upon arrival at a new spot, dug foxholes for protective cover immediately. 

“Even today, I can assemble an anti-aircraft gun with my eyes closed,” the 79 year old shrugs. 

It was people like Yosi, scavenging and bulldozing that quickly brought our equipment into effective weapons systems in the field. Apart from soldier duty, Yosi would prepare a list of names and numbers for his wife, Hannah, to inform the wives of the husbands in his unit that they were okay. He describes Yosi as a “powerful morale booster and pillar of strength.”

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Turning the tide of battle 

On the 15th & 16th October: The ground forces in the valley below intended to use rolling bridges to cross the Suez Canal, a plan they’d later abandon. General Ariel Sharon had already crossed onto the other side with a small force in order to secure the bridgehead. Moses and Yossi belonged to his unit. Moses talks in awe and admiration of General Sharon, who he served under, has spoken to and holds in high regard. 

17th October: the IDF opted to use landing crafts and reached a spot near the Suez Canal known as the ‘Chinese Farm.’ It was aptly named by the Israeli Army because they found Japanese-made equipment and mistook the Japanese writing in the machinery instructions for Chinese script (an easy mistake).

He vividly remembers one incident: A well-built Ashkenazi tractor driver smoking a cigarette drove by them and they waved to each other. He looked at Moses with curiosity, he obviously hadn’t seen an Indian Jew before. Moses says that he never smoked, even though it was very common practice in the army back then. Before the advance, he said his prayers and psalms and asked Elohim to bring him back alive! 

While advancing, he saw through the binoculars as the Ashkenazi tractor driver who waved at him was blown to smithereens. The Israeli Air Force returned fire and the Chinese Farm was demolished, the end of that epic-named location. 

“Upon advancing towards the entrance we came under heavy Egyptian artillery fire from the direction of Ismailia. We sought cover and I remember a destroyed tank and Dovra craft. We received an aircraft alert and the gunners and spotters were asked to take our positions on our batteries.” 

Yosi went up to the gun emplacement first and normally the first one up assumes the position of the gunner to save time and the second person provisionally becomes the ‘spotter’. 

This time Yosi said “No Moses, I’ll retain my position as spotter.” No time to argue! Heavy fire from the Egyptians ensued. 

A photo of Yosi Verona z’l” at his grave in Tel Aviv. He made a fateful decision in the service of Israel and is always remembered. (Photo: Supplied)

The supreme sacrifice

“Suddenly there was a loud BOOM! 

“Something heavy hit me from behind. I called to Yosi  – NO REPLY. I heaved myself out of the gunner’s seat and looked towards Yosi – I saw something that is still firmly imprinted in my memory. The shrapnel of the artillery shell had knocked off his helmet and penetrated through it. 

“I called for help and Medical staff responded rapidly, provided field aid and immediately took Yosi to the field hospital, but he would not make it. I felt wet and initially thought it was minor bleeding, so I told my nearest comrade, Yemini, that I was injured. I personally could not view the intensity of damage on my back. But Yemini, on seeing the injury, fainted. So that was when I knew how serious it was.

“Another in my unit properly placed the bandage. Years later, surgeon Dr. Paul Brief told me that this action was what prevented fatal bleeding and saved my life. More than 41 years later, I located him just to tell him “Thank you for saving me”.

Moses rolls his eyes. “What can I say? Ariel Sharon was an outstanding general, I had the honor of serving under him: had the world not intervened we would’ve captured Cairo.”

He continued, his voice now transitioned into a more solemn tone. “But the victory came with great sacrifice! I contacted my wife, Beatrice and told her to inform Yosi’s wife, Hannah, of her husband’s sacrifice.”

Photos of Uncle Moses Nissim, as a young man and in the present day. (Photo: Supplied)

Legacy 

Moses continued to contribute to Israel and India in a positive way long after his life as a soldier. He was involved in the Israel Aircraft Industries Ltd (IAI) where he founded the Acoustic Department and also taught at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 

In 1993, Moses was appointed Director and given the task of establishing the Liaison Office of Israel Aircraft (later Aerospace) Industries in New Delhi, India. Over his four year tenure, sales to India went from zero to US$ 450 million.

He and his late wife Beatrice, were also involved at the Judah Hyam Synagogue in New Delhi where they refurbished and installed many items and made it a site a monumental religious site worth visiting. 

Moses Nissim and his late wife Beatrice are seen enjoying dinner in Paris in the late 1970’s. (Photo: Supplied)

In 1999, he got involved in history and initiated the project of Bene Israel genealogy and dedicated himself to creating an integrated family tree. There are over 68,650 names, 26,000 photographs and goes back to 1670.

Uncle Moses has literally created a new field “Ethnography” of identifying the time of exodus of a Jewish community into their diaspora, helping Indian Jews trace their lineage and reconnect with their roots. Indian Jews have fought in every war in Israel since some from the British Empire’s own Maratha regiment fought in the 1948 War of Independence (but that’s another story). 

No doubt, his transition from the high school prefect who won a prize for Christianity to fighting under General Sharon’s command and later work as a historian, shows that the ancient Indian diaspora community has made a significant impact in both modern Indian and Israeli history. 

Today, Uncle Moses sits back and enjoys his retirement. The former soldier/ engineer adds the tale of his service in the 1973 Yom Kippur War to the list of Indian Jews contributions in their 2000 year history in the diaspora and return to their ancient homeland in the Middle East. 

Avi Kumar is a historian of Sri Lankan descent who lives in New York.

He has a unique spin on current affairs.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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