Eliyahu-Yehuda Feynaro was born in 1932 in Panciu in Moldavia, Romania. He had a sister, Martha, who was two years older than him, and a younger brother and sister, Avraham and Esther. His parents, Samuel and Lea née Grossman, ran a general store in Panciu. The family maintained a traditional Jewish lifestyle. Difficulties making a living motivated the family to move to the neighboring town of Buhusi, where Leah had relatives and Samuel worked in a textile factory. Two years later, Samuel fell ill, and they moved to Piatra Naeamt, his hometown, where he revisited the occupation of his youth: shoemaking. After another two years, they returned to Buhusi where they spent the war years.
After the rise of the "Iron Guard" to power in Romania, the Jews of Buhusi were forced to pay large sums of money to the authorities, and their property was confiscated. The Jews were subjected to various restrictions: they were only allowed outdoors between the hours of 10 AM-6 PM, and were made to wear the Yellow Star on their clothes. Jews were seized for forced labor, including Samuel, who was assigned to a military shoe workshop in a camp north of Bucharest six months out of each year. Due to antisemitic persecution, the Feynaros had to move apartments constantly, until they rented a room in the home of a Jewish widow in the town. After the confiscation of the building housing the Jewish school in Buhusi which Eliyahu attended, studies were moved to the courtyard of the Rabbi's house. As well as studying, Eliyahu started working in order to contribute to the family's livelihood.
In the spring of 1944, the Red Army liberated Buhusi. Eliyahu joined the local branch of the Dror Habonim youth movement in Buhusi, the first Zionist youth movement to establish a presence there. It was followed by the establishment of branches of Beitar, Hashomer Hatzair and other movements. Eliyahu recalls:
Youth movements sprouted on the streets of Romania, and in our town too. A girl I knew asked me if I wanted to immigrate to Eretz Israel (Mandatory Palestine), and when I replied in the affirmative, she brought me to a large room decorated with Eretz Israel logos. This was a Zionist youth movement called "Dror Habonim", under the auspices of "Achdut Haavoda Poalei Zion". I brought more friends. The building was too small to accommodate everyone, and we moved to the women's section of the synagogue, which was empty year round. I was active in the movement, and I helped organize "Oneg Shabbat" evenings with performances, songs and dancing; it was fun.
In the summer of 1947, a telegram arrived at the movement headquarters, with a notification about the organization of a group of children for immigration to Eretz Israel via the Netherlands. Eliyahu decided to join the group. Initially, the children were gathered in Bucharest. Eliyahu recalls:
They gathered all the different youth movement members in a Jewish school called "Max Azrieli" which was closed for the summer holidays. We stayed there for about three weeks. The living conditions were not good. We were crowded together, and had to sleep on the floor, one blanket per 4-5 children. There were also little children there from Transnistria who were living with families, and some of them joined us. … We ate porridge with jam three times a day, and a tap in the courtyard provided drinking water. I didn’t feel well. I was trembling all over and I asked them to cover me with more blankets. The counsellor took me to a room where there were five sick children. They gave us a slice of bread with tea, and I stayed there for a week until they told us to pack as we were about to leave Romania.
Some three weeks later, the children arrived at "Ilania" children's village in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands. Eliyahu recalls:
We reached Apeldoorn on Yom Kippur Eve. We were welcomed very warmly. I was one of the first to arrive at the place, and they put us in a brightly lit hall with 15 bathtubs, a volunteer nurse next to each one. They replaced all our clothes.
They were very aware of the importance of teaching in Hebrew, and the teachers spoke to us only in Hebrew; when we didn't understand a single word, they used their hands. The village committee decided on a day of the week when it was forbidden to speak Romanian, outside school too. Even though my teacher was Romanian, she wasn't prepared to speak one word in her mother tongue. She tried to explain over and over, only in Hebrew. … The counsellors were also strict with us – one day a week in Hebrew. … In the evenings, we had youth movement activities, where we heard lectures, learned songs and played board games… When children argued, there was a boxing ring. It should be noted that arguments were few and far between, and ended in reconciliation. We also did different sports, and they organized athletics competitions. In the summer, we went on a trip over several days, culminating at the Zandvoort beach town.
In October 1948, 16-year-old Eliyahu boarded the "Negba" together with the other "Ilania" children, on their way to Israel. His parents, sisters and brother also immigrated to Israel.