There were many heroes involved in the incredible effort to
secretly bring thousands of imperiled Jews from Europe after the war to the
Land of Israel despite the British blockade. More than 30 ships, transporting
close to 30,000 refugees, left from the shores of Italy, and the success of
this operation was due, in great part, to the efforts of one remarkable
Italian-Jewish woman, Ada Ascarelli Sereni. 

Ada Ascarelli was born on June 20, 1905, into a wealthy and
prominent Italian-Jewish family. After studying chemistry at the University of
Rome, she married Enzo Sereni, who was completing his PhD in philosophy. Life
moved quickly for the Serenis. Between 1927 and 1930 their daughter Hannah was
born; they moved to British Mandate Palestine; their second daughter, Hagar,
was born in Rehovot; they helped found Kibbutz Givat Brenner; and their son
Daniel was born.

Ada Sereni’s story could have followed a similar line as
that of other early Zionist pioneers, if events had not turned tragic. Enzo
helped organize and participated in a parachute troop and, in 1944, was dropped
behind enemy lines in Europe. He then disappeared and was eventually declared
missing. Ada became determined to find out what happened to her husband and
arranged to travel to Italy under the pretense of caring for the soldiers of
the Jewish Brigade. Sadly, it did not take long after arriving in Europe
for Ada to learn that Enzo had been captured, sent to Dachau and executed.

Having committed to two years with the Jewish Brigade, Ada stayed
on in Italy and also began working with Yehuda Arazi of Aliyah Bet, bringing
Jews to Palestine against British law. When Arazi left, Ada took over the monumental
tasks of acquiring ships, gathering and preparing refugees, staffing the ships, as well as smuggling weapons.

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