The Forgotten Weapons reference library has a lot of books in it, on a variety of topics. We have machine gun books, muzzleloader books, gunsmithing books, bayonet books, machining books, and more. But I think the one volume you would least expect to find in the collection is J.J. Goldberg and Elliot King’s Builders and Dreamers: Habonim Labor Zionist Youth in North America. Well, we have a copy for good reason – a short remembrance from David Glassman, recorded in 1985.
In the fall of 1947, David arrived in Brooklyn to lead a Habonim (to grossly oversimplify, the Habonim is like Jewish, Socialist Boy Scouts) group. He had been talked into taking the position by a friend in the movement. One day out of the blue, he received a phone call from Kieve Skidell, wanting to know if he had any drafting. He did, as a part of his Yale education. Upon learning this, Skidell insisted that he cancel all his planned activities and go to a small apartment on 114th Street in Manhattan.
Arriving there, he was introduced to Phil Alpert (a young mechanical engineer), Haim Slavin, and a pile of Johnson light machine gun parts (which he did not recognize at the time). He was told that each part had to be reverse engineered – measured and drafted – so they could be returned the next morning before anyone noticed they were missing from their proper home. David proceeded to work on this project for several days.
Thus began his involvement in procuring weapons for the Haganah (predecessor to the IDF), which would last another 18 months. The head of this operation was Haim Slavin, and the main project for his group was development of the Dror. The job was run from Haim’s apartment, which consisted of an office and a bedroom. A volunteer girl typed out purchase orders for tools and materials, all under fictitious company names. Meanwhile David Glassman and Phil Alpert visited companies and individuals the group was buying from. Eventually, they were able to succeed in shipping both technical blueprints, machinery, and tooling for Dror manufacture to Israel to begin production.
In his essay, David also describes one series of events, in which he and his compatriots purchased 20 tons of surplus dynamite (ostensibly for mining). They trucked it to a Habonim camp outside Philadelphia and (after several harrowing events) recrated it in boxed labelled “Farm Machinery” and arranged transport on a freighter to Palestine. The plan only fell apart when one of the crates slipped and broke open during loading at the docks, leading to understandable consternation on the part of the stevedores.
If you have any contacts with any of the people involved in the Dror development effort (or procuring arms for the Haganah in general), we would be very interested to hear from you. This is a fascinating piece of history, about which there is not much written. Please send us an email, at email@example.com . Thanks!
Yep, we have some cool stuff coming up. We’ve gotten our hands on a couple gun-related goodies to review, and we’ll be giving away one of each in a contest when we do the reviews. So stay tuned if you’re the type of person who likes winning cool free stuff!
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