One day in early March 1954, Uri Herscher, just 12 at the time, ran away from his parents. His father, Joseph, a cabinetmaker, and mother, Lucy, a laundress, were having trouble making ends meet living in Israel. Together with Uri and his younger brother, Eli, they were meant to leave from Haifa the next morning to travel to the United States. There, the family would find a new home in San Jose, Calif., a thriving middle-class community with very few Jews, where Joseph’s sister had already set down roots.
But young Uri didn’t want to leave. In his short life, he had watched the creation of the Jewish state realize a long-held dream for the Jewish people, and especially those who had escaped the Shoah like his German-refugee parents. He felt tied to the land, and because of the loss in the Holocaust of all his grandparents and many other family members, he looked forward to joining the Israel Defense Forces and ensuring his country’s future.
America meant nothing to the young sabra.
Eventually, however, the boy was found, and he dutifully boarded the cargo ship and set out on 19 days of traveling rough seas to the United States. Young Uri even celebrated his bar mitzvah onboard the rocking vessel — immediately feeding his celebratory chocolate cake to the fishes. It was only when the boat arrived in New York’s harbor at dawn on March 24, 1954, that the waters finally calmed, and with that calm came a new beginning and a vision that has defined Uri Herscher’s life: The captain woke everyone aboard to see the welcoming figure of the Statue of Liberty.