Gefen Publishing | Getting Better and Better

Seventy-three years after arriving in Israel as a young man, Murray Greenfield still insists that Israel is “a wonderful country” and believes that “controversy is the way to build a better society”

 Murray Greenfield
Herbert Bishko

When Murray Greenfield, 94, talks about Israel, he has the advantage of historical perspective. After all, he came to Israel in 1947 as a 20-year old American volunteer on one of the ten Aliyah Bet (clandestine immigration) ships that brought Holocaust survivors from Europe to Palestine. Most of the vessels were intercepted by the British navy and Greenfield was taken to an internment camp in Cyprus along with the refugees.

That early decision – to volunteer for a risky adventure in order to help fellow Jews – set the tone for the rest of his life. After settling in Israel, Greenfield founded one initiative after another to help other olim and to promote Israel and the message of Zionism. In the 1950s, he established the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) and later set up a one-stop duty free shop that catered to olim. In the early 1970s, Greenfield became involved with Soviet Jewry and published a Russian language magazine, and in the 80's he was active with the American Association for Ethiopian Jews (AAEJ). He also wrote a book titled ‘How to be an Oleh or Things the Jewish Agency Never Told You.’

Murray Greenfield in 1947 during Aliyah.
Murray Greenfield in 1947 during Aliyah BetGefen Publishing

As though these accomplishments weren’t enough, Murray and his late wife, Hana, owned an art gallery exhibiting and promoting Israeli artists, and, in 1981, opened Gefen Publishing House, which specializes in English-language books of Jewish interest. Their son, Ilan Greenfield, is Gefen’s current CEO. The publishing house recently printed a book that Murray Greenfield wrote, “The Jews’ Secret Fleet,” which tells the fascinating story of the unsung heroes of Aliyah Bet. The product of ten years of research, the book chronicles the 400 sailors and the stories of the ten American ships which carried more than half of all the “illegal immigrants” who reached Palestine in the years 1946-1948.

In the right direction

Today, Greenfield has 12 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren (and more on the way), and still likes to be as busy as possible. There are always family members and friends around. He finds the current pandemic to be a disturbing time, as there are no groups for him to speak to about Aliyah Bet. “It’s disconcerting. I can’t make plans. Some friends won’t visit,” he notes. One positive outcome, though, is that he has started attending Bible classes via Zoom and he is now preparing a Zoom lecture with the AACI.

Most of all, Murray likes to reminisce about his experience during Aliyah Bet. “The volunteer spirit still exists today,” he insists. “People [in Israel] do things not only for themselves. There is more positive goodness in society here than in other countries.” He is especially impressed with today’s younger generations. “Young people here are phenomenal. There are few draft dodgers,” he points out.

In general, Greenfield is very pleased with the way Israel had developed over the years. “Israel is going in the right direction. I believe we are good people. The place is growing; it’s getting better and better,” he asserts. That being said, he is fully aware of the friction within Israeli society but sees it in a positive light. “It’s wonderful to disagree! We should keep on having arguments. To me, it’s amazing that there are so many big ideas in this little country,” he pronounces, adding that, “Controversy will help build a better society. It’s a free country – there should be controversy.”

Gefen Publishing House

Founded in 1981 by Murray and Hana Greenfield, Gefen Publishing is the foremost English language publishing house in Israel. Over the years, it has published numerous works related to Jewish themes, including Murray’s “The Jews’ Secret Fleet” and Hana’s haunting memoir “Fragments of Memory.” Gefen published “The Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu,” “Miriam's Song” about Miriam Peretz, “Flags over the Warsaw Ghetto” by Moshe Arens and “The Jews of Lithuania” by Masha Greenbaum, as well as works by Natan Sharansky, Yosef Mendelevitz, Prof. Ben Zion Netanyahu, Lihi Lapid, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Prof. Aryeh Eldad, and many others. Soon to be published is the Hebrew edition of Alan Dershowitz's “Guilt By Accusation.”

“Our titles deal with an array of subjects, all of them connected to the Jewish people and Eretz Yisrael,” CEO Ilan Greenfield elaborates. Many deal with the Holocaust. “‘And Every Single One Was Someone’ by Phil Chernofsky has only one word in it – JEW – repeated six million times, on 1,250 pages, each one representing a person murdered during the Holocaust,” says Ilan. “Ambassador Ron Dermer presented this volume to President Obama when he came to speak at the Israeli Embassy in Washington D.C.,” Ilan reveals.

For more information: www.gefenpublishing.com