Date: 23/09/2021
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The Altalena

I would not have known that "Altalena" was the pen name of Vladimir Jabotinski, that the word means "swing" in Italian, or that it names a lodging in Florence; I would know that a ship of that name was at the center of the "Altalena Incident," in which Irgunists clashed with the nascent Israel Defense Force during Israel's War of Independence. Now I know why the ship was named Altalena. --from a reader

"Altalena..."

There's a book about the whole miserable episode, written by Eliyahu Lankin, who was, I think, possibly captain of the Altalena. Avraham Stern, of Lehi fame (the so-called "Stern Gang"), was killed by the Haganah during the Altalena incident. His widow later came to America, and married an art dealer, with a line in Henry Moores. One day, idly flaning up and down that famous avenue on a rare trip to New York, and stopping in every gallery just for the hell of it (I had no intention of getting into mischief or starting a slight rebellion off Madison), I walked into the Weintraub Gallery, and started to talk to the owner and his wife, and found out about her connection to the Altalena incident and to history. Amazing the things you can find out just by walking around, trying only to kill some time before, or possibly after, lunch.

I was wrong, I now realize, to have written that there was also a pensione in Florence called the "Altalena." No such pensione. It was called the "Annalena," and went from the Arno to the Porta Romana. Nothing to do with the "Altalena" or with Jabotinsky or anything else. However, I think the owners rescued people, by hiding them, during the war. The pensione no longer exists. My memory never ever used to let me down. Now it does.