In first person… Instead of hiding Jewishness, I took pride

A mounted Jewish policeman riding his horse through Jerusalem's Damascus Gate — what a heartwarming sight for a former refugee who had to flee from Nazi-occupied Austria all the way to Shanghai. I was with a group of former fellow Shanghai ghetto-dwellers and we were celebrating our reunion in 1988 by traveling to Israel.

Some unforgettable memories stand out in my mind: Praying at the Western Wall, visiting Theodor Herzl's grave, Jerusalem's ancient streets and fortifications.

We took a bus tour along the Dead Sea, where some brave souls dared to float in the salt-rich water, followed by a cable car ride up to the fortress at Masada. At each significant location knowledgeable guides were on hand to enlighten us.

What a contrast between antique Jerusalem and progressive Tel Aviv — super-modern buildings, sidewalk cafes and the beach — unforgettable!

During the entire weeklong visit, I felt so proud to be Jewish, instead of trying to hide it as I had to back in the Old Country.

That feeling actually began when we boarded an El Al jet in New York, and it seemed as if we were in Israel already. Jewish flight attendants in their smart uniforms, bearded men davening in the aisles, and landing at Ben-Gurion Airport being greeted by a big welcome sign. A truly unforgettable experience.