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My Community

By Halina Peabody

There are many places I have lived in since 1939, when I was thrown out of my house and first had to relocate. This was in Poland and my mother, sister, and I were trying desperately to survive under the Soviet, and then German occupation. My community at that time were the other frightened people who were also trying to find a safe place. After the Germans occupied us, being Jewish, we had only one destination and that was a concentration camp and death.

A few of us did survive to tell the tale, and my mother managed to save my sister and me, which she did by getting false papers identifying us as Catholics. We lived day to day, hoping not to give ourselves away. At the end of the war, we were able to leave Poland and immigrate to England, where we started our new lives. I was 13 and the most important thing for us was to get into school and try to learn the language and get used to the new culture.

It was not an easy proposition, but I found a way to ease my difficulties. It was the game of table tennis. Tennis was what I really wanted, but England had been ravaged during the war and it was not available to me. Table tennis was everywhere: in school, in places of work, and, it turned out, within a very short distance of my house there was a Maccabi Youth Club, which gave me a nice community. In those days, table tennis was not yet an Olympic sport, but it was very popular among young people and I took to it very happily.

The boys were much better than the girls and they taught me a lot. We had ladies’ and men’s teams and played other clubs all around England. My life was work during the day and table tennis in the evenings. I credit table tennis with helping me to acclimate to the English culture, improve my English, and have a community.

And then there was another bonus, perhaps the most important one in my life. In 1948, Israel was created. I knew that we had family there because my father’s sister immigrated to Israel, then called Palestine, in the 1930s. So I was doubly excited when I learned that they created the Maccabiah Games in Israel, which included table tennis. Our team in London was very good and, in 1953, I was invited with two male athletes to take part in representing England in Israel. I couldn’t have hoped for a better gift than visiting Israel, meeting my family and some friends who had settled there after the war. My whole life changed then, even though I returned to England after that visit. I also went to the next Maccabiah Games in 1957, and that time decided to settle in Israel.

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