12 Things You Need to Know About… Menahem Begin

Warrior and peacemaker

1. Menahem Begin was born in Brest-Litovsk in 1913 to a mother who came from a line of rabbis and a father who was a timber merchant and ardent Zionist. He studied first in cheder and then in schools associated with the religious Zionist movement. In his teens he was sent to a Polish government school, where he gained a secular education; he studied law at the University of Warsaw, graduating in 1935.

2. From an early age, he was a member of the Zionist movement. A follower of Jabotinsky [see my post of 12/31/12], he joined the youth branch of the Betar movement, rising quickly to become head of Betar Czechoslovakia in 1936 and of all Poland – the largest branch, with 100,000 members – in 1938. In this capacity he traveled frequently to regional branches.

200px-Begin0013. He escaped Warsaw for Vilna three days after the Nazi invasion began in 1939. In 1940, he was arrested by the NKVD, tortured and sentenced to eight years in the gulag. In 1941, he was permitted release to join the Polish army, which in 1943 was evacuated to Palestine. There he was given a leave of absence to stay and fight. He joined the Irgun though he was voluble in his criticism of their leadership as being too cooperative with the British.

4. In 1944, he assumed leadership of the Irgun, proclaiming a revolt against the British – a move that was opposed by the Jewish Agency. When in 1946 he ordered the bombing of the King David Hotel, the British placed a bounty of ten thousand pounds on his head.

Menachem Begin5. After the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, the Irgun was disbanded. Begin founded the Herut (Freedom) party in opposition to the labor party, Mapai, and was elected to the first Knesset, with a nationalist agenda.

6. In 1977, after three decades of labor dominance, Begin became the sixth Prime Minister of Israel as a founding member of Likud, which was a consolidation of Herut and other parties.

SadatCarterBegin325__325x2447. As prime minister, he signed a peace treaty with Egypt and shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Anwar Sadat. Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula in the wake of the Camp David Accords. In exchange for recognition of Israel’s legitimacy, Begin gave up land. (Is it only a great warrior who can accomplish such ends? I hate to think so.)

8. During Begin’s term in office, impoverished towns and neighborhoods – occupied primarily by Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews – were upgraded; many of the measures he took moved the economy away from socialism and toward capitalism. With the prime minister’s blessing, many new settlements were built in the West Bank and Gaza, quadrupling the Jewish population there.

9. In June 1981, Begin authorized the bombing of a nuclear plant in Iraq; in 1982, the invasion of Lebanon to fight PLO strongholds – resulting in a protracted war that sucked at the life and soul of Israel’s self-identity.

10. His wife, Aliza, died in 1982, and he resigned from public life in 1983, spending the remainder of his life in seclusion. Begin died in 1992 and was buried on the Mount of Olives. An estimated 75,000 mourners turned out for his funeral.

10. His written works include The Revolt, about his days in the Irgun; and White Nights, about being a prisoner in the Soviet Union.

12. Visitors to Jerusalem may wish to visit the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. A museum of his life and legacy, it also awards an annual prize to a person or organization that has done important work for the benefit of the State of Israel and/or the Jewish people.

In Jerusalem, Sederot Menahem Begin runs from north to south just west of Hebrew University.

10 Things You Need to Know About…Stephen Wise

American reform rabbi and Zionist leader

1. Stephen Samuel Wise was born in Budapest in 1874 and brought to the United States at the age of 17 months. His maternal grandfather had created the Herend Porcelain Company. When Wise’s father tried to unionize the company, it is said that the grandfather gave the family one-way tickets to New York!

2. Young Stephen was the son and grandson of rabbis, and he wanted to be one as well. He graduated from Columbia at the age of 18 and was ordained the following year, 1893. He went on to serve as rabbi to a number of American congregations, pioneering interfaith cooperation, social service and civic leadership. He and his followers founded the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City in 1907.

3. He was a founder of the New York Federation of Zionist Societies and led in the formation of the national Federation of American Zionists in 1898. He served as secretary of the World Zionist Organization.

220px-Stephen_Samuel_Wise4. During the years 1916-19, he acted as intermediary to President Wilson on the Balfour Declaration and other matters and is said to have been instrumental in influencing Wilson to support the Balfour Declaration. At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, he spoke on behalf of Zionist aspirations.

5. He served as vice-president of the Zionist Organization of America, 1918-20, and as its president, 1936-38. He led in the organization of the American Jewish Congress, 1916-20, served as its vice-president, 1921-25, and as president or honorary president for another 24 years until his death.

6. During the 1920s and 30s, he was a friend of the Soviet Union, and for this he was known by the sobriquet “Red Rabbi.” In response to the rise of Nazism, he encouraged the formation of the World Jewish Congress and headed it until his death. In this role, he presented the Jewish cause to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to the State Department and to the general public.

7. He was co-founder of the NAACP and the ACLU and was prominent in other liberal American causes throughout his life.

wise8. More about his fight against Nazism: In 1933 he urged a Jewish boycott of Germany. In November 1942, he held a press conference in Washington, DC, announcing that the Nazis had a plan to exterminate European Jewry and had already killed two million Jews. He made this statement based on a message from Switzerland that he had received in August 1942. Did the story make any front pages? No.

9. He had his share of disapprobation. He was a close friend of Franklin D. Roosevelt and was criticized for spending too much of his time trying to protect the president’s good name. And he was said to have halted relief packages to Jews in Europe, fearing accusations of providing aid to the enemy.

10. He died in New York City in 1949 at the age of 75.

In Haifa, you’ll find Stephen Wise Street in Ramat Sha’ul, west of Tchernikovsky.

8 Things You Need to Know About… Benjamin de Tudela

Medieval Jewish traveler extraordinaire

1. Benjamin de Tudela visited Europe, Asia and Africa in the 12th century, writing vivid descriptions everywhere –  including his account of western Asia a hundred years before Marco Polo.

2. He was from the Navarrese town of Tudela in what is now Spain, where a street in the former Jewish quarter is named for him. Little is known of his early life, but it is clear that he gained a broad proficiency in languages.

3. His Travels of Tudela, also known as the Book of Travels, describes the Jewish communities of his day. It is considered a reliable source of information about the geography and ethnography of his time and is consulted for information about daily life.

4. His work, written in Hebrew, was translated into Latin and then other European languages. From the  Renaissance to the present, it has been a key primary source for scholars of medieval history.

travels of Tudela5. He started his travels sometime between 1159 and 1165 and ended around 1172 or ’73. Starting from the Iberian Peninsula, he went to France, Italy, Greece, Constantinople, Syria, Lebanon, the Land of Israel, northern Mesopotamia, Persia (Iraq and Iran), Arabia, Egypt and Northern Africa. Wherever he visited, he gave the demographic count of Jews, the names of their community leaders, their occupations and the activity of their merchants. Want to know about the intellectual life of Jewish Provence or the organization of synagogues in Egypt? Tudela is your man.

6. In all he visited over 300 cities, describing their landmarks, buildings, marketplaces and the customs of their citizens, both Jewish and gentile. He gives one of the earliest accurate accounts of the ancient site of Nineveh – near modern Mosul.

7. His style was concise and easy. Want to read it for yourself? You can do so online at Project Gutenberg. His work is still available in many languages: it’s a gold mine of information for Jewish and general history.

8. The 19th century writer Mendele Mocher Sforim wrote a kind of Jewish Don Quixote with a title inspired by Benjamin de Tudela – The Travels [or Wanderings] of Benjamin III.

Jerusalem TudelaLook for Binyamin miTudela Street in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood, just south of Magnes Circle.

 

 

Author’s note: OOPS! My brain was on summer vacation last week – post written, but not properly scheduled. My apologies.

12 Things You Need to Know About… David “Mickey” Marcus

Israel’s first general since Judah Maccabee

Mickey_Marcus_West_Point_Photo1. David Daniel Marcus was born in New York in 1901 to immigrant parents. He learned boxing for self-protection in the Brooklyn neighborhood where he went to school. He was admitted to West Point in 1920 and graduated in 1924 with an outstanding record.

2. After active service, Marcus attended law school. In the 1930s he served as federal attorney in New York and helped bring Lucky Luciano to justice. Mayor LaGuardia named him Commissioner of Corrections for New York City.

3. In 1940, he went back into the army. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he volunteered to fight in the war. He parachuted into Normandy, saw fighting service, and helped draw up the surrender terms for the Axis powers.

220px-MickeyMarcus4. The year was 1944: Marcus was in charge of planning how to sustain the lives of those in the areas to be liberated. He was responsible for the prisoners in the death camps; he entered the camps, coming face-to-face with the survivors and the dead. After the war, he was named chief of the War Crimes Division, planning for the Nurenberg trials. These experiences, as might be expected, turned him into a Zionist.

5. While the United Nations deliberated over the establishment of the State of Israel, Marcus was serving as a colonel in the US Army. He was wooed by Yitzhak Shamir to help pull together a ragtag set of citizen-soldiers into a fighting force. In January 1948, “Michael Stone” arrived in Tel Aviv, using the assumed name to satisfy the US authorities and to avoid problems with what remained of the British Mandatory authority.

6. He designed a command structure for the new army, wrote training manuals and identified weak positions. When, in May 1948, the new state was attacked by Arab armies, the new army of Israel was ready.

7. Marcus had prescribed hit-and-run tactics with the Egyptian army, a technique that worked well in the south. As commander of the Jerusalem front, he broke the siege of that city by building a new road – the “Burma Road” – to bring in supplies to the Jewish defenders; the Arab siege was broken just before the cease-fire took effect. Israel’s borders were kept virtually intact.

8. As a commander he inspired confidence in his men. David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister [see my blogpost of October 9, 2013], named him Lieutenant General, the first general in the army of Israel in nearly two thousand years.

9. He did not live to see the peace. Six hours before the cease-fire, he was killed by friendly fire.

Marcus gravestone10. Marcus was buried at West Point with a tombstone reading, “A Soldier for All Humanity.” A monument has been erected to his memory where he fell, now in Kiriat Telshe Stone near Abu Gosh.

11. A biography about him was written in 1962 by Ted Berkman, Cast a Giant Shadow. A movie of the same name came out in 1966.

12. Kibbutz Mishman David and the neighborhood Neve David in Tel Aviv are named for him, as is the Colonel David Marcus Memorial Playground in Brooklyn.

In Haifa you’ll find David Marcus Street in French Carmel, just east of Tchernichovsky Street.

10 Things You Need to Know About…Charles Lutz

Swiss diplomat who save Jewish lives

1. Charles “Carl” Lutz was born in Walzenhausen, Switzerland, in 1895. He studied in the United States and then elected to remain there for more than twenty years, working at the Swiss legation in Washington, DC and in various consular offices.

2. From the mid-thirties until early in the forties, he served in Palestine as Swiss consul. His photo files of those years are housed at Yad Vashem.

3. In January 1942, he arrived in Budapest as the Swiss vice-consul. Because of the war then raging, he also served the interests of the United States, Great Britain and twelve other countries that had cut off ties with Hungary.

220px-Carl_Lutz_portrait4. When the Germans occupied Hungary in March 1944, Lutz tried to stop deportations of Jews to the extermination camps.

5. Working alone and with Raoul Wallenberg (of the Swedish foreign ministry), the Red Cross and others, he issued passports and documents and organized rescue missions, providing safe houses for Jews. Here’s how it worked: Initially he issued four group certificates of aliyah for 1000 persons each – he could issue these because the British held the mandate in Palestine. Soon he “augmented” the certificates, so that each of the thousand persons could bring their families along with them. Almost 50,000 Jews were put out of harm’s way with Swiss letters of protection that safeguarded them until their departure for Palestine.

6. He allowed Zionist youth activists to work out of his office; in October 1944, they forged 100,000 more of these documents – but the plot was discovered, and Lutz was forced by the authorities to identify the false papers.

7. The Germans established a separate ghetto for the document holders. Lutz managed to procure additional buildings to house 3000 more Jews under his protection. Only a handful of them did not survive the war.

8. When, in November of 1944, Eichmann ordered a forced march of Budapest’s Jews to the Austrian border, Lutz –  among others – pulled as many Jews as he could out of the shuffling columns and returned them to Budapest. He is said to have jumped into the Danube to save a bleeding Jewish woman, bluffing his way with her past her firing squad and into his car.

Swiss stamp honoring Lutz

Swiss stamp honoring Lutz

9. When the Soviets invaded, he and his wife Gertrud (“Trudi”) fled Budapest and returned to Switzerland. In 1964, he and his wife were named to the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem.

10. Lutz was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize. He died in Bern in 1975. He is estimated to have saved the lives of 62,000 people.

In Haifa, Rehov Charles Lutz runs from the railway station to the northernmost point of the Bat Galim neighborhood.

10 Things You Need to Know About…Hanna Senesh

National heroine

1. Hanna Senesh (Szenes) was born in Budapest in July 1921 to a wealthy, distinguished, assimilated family. Her father was a well-known writer.

2. She, too, wished to write and, starting at age thirteen, kept a diary. She had a modern Hungarian education, but became attracted to Zionism when, in high school, she came into contact with anti-Semites.

Szenes-Hannah-23. In 1939, she went to study agriculture in Palestine. At the end of the two-year course, she joined a kibbutz at Caesarea. Working there in the kitchen and the laundry, she was less than satisfied, as reflected in her diary. During this time, she wrote poetry and a play about kibbutz life.

4. In 1943, the Jewish agency approached her about a clandestine military operation to offer aid to European Jewry. Her Hungarian background made her perfect for the project.

5. She joined the Palmach, studying first to be a wireless operator and then a paratrooper.

senesh parachuting6. In March 1944, she was dropped into Yugoslavia – one of more than thirty Jews parachuted in by the British Army to establish contact with Hungarian partisans and to aid the beleaguered Jewish populations. She crossed into Hungary in June, her entry delayed by the German invasion. Within hours, she was picked up by the Hungarian police, imprisoned in Budapest and tortured. Most of her fellow parachutists also were captured within days; only one managed to survive the war.

7. Her mother was arrested and brought to the same prison in an attempt to break her. To no avail: she would not give up the wireless codes that her enemy wanted. In November 1944 she was tried for treason and sentenced to death. Age twenty-three, she faced her firing squad.

szenes8. Her mother survived the war, and it was through her mother that her diaries were brought to public attention. In 1950, her remains were transferred to Israel and buried in the parachutists’ section on Mount Herzl. That same year, Kibbutz Yad Hannah was established, named in her memory.

9. In 1993, a Hungarian military court officially exonerated her.

Hanna S10. Here are four samples of her writing; some you may have seen set to music (please forgive the spacing in the poetry):

There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world even though they are no longer among the living. These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark. They light the way for humankind.

 

In my life’s chain of events nothing was accidental. Everything happened according to an inner need.

 

My God, my God, I pray that these things never end

The sand and the sea,

The rustle of the waters,

Lightning of the Heavens,

The prayers of Man.

 

Blessed is the heart with strength to stop its breath for honor’s sake

Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.

 

In Haifa, you’ll find Hanna Senesh Street south of the Municipal Theatre, running parallel to Sederot Wingate.

 

 

12 Things You Need to Know About…Shay Agnon

0630i2-preview.pngNobel Prize-winning author

1. Shmuel Yosef “Shai” Agnon was born Shmuel Yosef Halevi Czaczkes in a shtetl in Galicia, Austia-Hungary (now Ukraine) in 1888. His father, who worked in the fur trade, was a rabbi who aligned himself with the Chasidim; his mother came from a family of Mitnagdim, who opposed the Chasidic movement.

2. After early education in a cheder, he was schooled at home by his parents. From a young age, he wrote poems and stories in Hebrew and Yiddish. He learned German from his mother and read widely. For much of the rest of his life, he was an observant Jew.

3. In 1908 he left Europe and settled in Jaffa. That same year, he published the story “Agunot” (“Forsaken Wives”) using the surname Agnon, which he was ultimately to adopt officially (1924) – wouldn’t you, if you had his last name?

4. He moved to Germany in 1913, where he met Zalman Schocken, who took him under his wing, becoming his patron and supporting him so that he could write. He married there in 1920.

5. He collaborated with Martin Buber on a collection of Chasidic stories. His prose works were published regularly in Haaretz, in the weekly journal of Hapoel Hatsair and abroad. In 1924, his personal library in Germany burned down. Later that same year, he returned to Palestine, settling in Jerusalem. In 1929, his library was again destroyed by fire, this time in an anti-Jewish riot.

6. His place in Hebrew literature was assured when, in 1931, the Schocken publishing house published his novel The Bridal Canopy (Ha225px-Agnonchnasat Kalla) to great critical acclaim.

7. His work reflects the conflict between traditional Jewish life and language, and the modern world – on being of both worlds, but belonging fully to neither. The shtetl landscape is the background for many of his stories (notably A Simple Story); others focus on the Zionist movement and contain historical figures (notably Only Yesterday). He said his inspiration came “first and foremost [from] the sacred scriptures, and after that, the teachings of the medieval sages, and the spectacles of nature and animals of the earth.” At another time, he claimed that his primary influences were the Bible, German literature and European literature in general.

8. He employs a unique idiom, rife with terms from the traditional literature in favor of terms from modern Hebrew; critics have found in his language references to the Torah, Prophets, Mishnah, midrashic and rabbinic literature. The work is a challenge to translate, because it is full of allusions, wordplay, acrostic and anagrams. Nonetheless, he has been translated into no less than eighteen languages. He brought to literature a broadened conception of the narrator’s role.

9. These are his major works: The Bridal Canopy (1931), In the Heart of the Seas (1933), A Simple Story (1935), A Guest for the Night (1938), Betrothed (1943), Only Yesterday (1945), Edo and Enam (1950), To This Day (1952). After his death, his daughter continued to publish his work posthumously: Shira (1971), A City and the Fullness Thereof (1973), In Mr. Lublin’s Store (1974). In addition there are several collections of short stories and an edition of folk tales and rabbinic texts that he edited.

200px-50_NIS_Bill_Obverse_&_Reverse10. Agnon has had enormous influence on later writers, both in Israel and beyond. I, myself, used his work as source material for my novel Rivka’s War, to gather a sense of the daily life of pioneers in Eretz Yisrael. He won the Bialik Prize twice, and the Israel Prize twice, and in 1966 was awarded a Nobel Prize “for his profoundly characteristic narrative art with motifs from the life of the Jewish people.” His likeness, his works, and an excerpt from his Nobel acceptance speech are printed on the Israeli fifty-shekel bill. So great was his fame that in his later years the city police closed off his street to cars so that the noise would not disturb his writing!

11. His home, built 1931 in the Bauhaus style in the Talpiot section of Jerusalem, is now a museum, Beit Agnon. The synagogue in that area is named for him, as is a Jewish school in Ohio.

12. When he died in Israel in February 1970, a state funeral was held on the Mount of Olives.

In Jerusalem, Shay Agnon Street is the main drag in Givat HaPorezim. In Haifa, you’ll find Shay Agnon Street running parallel to Derech Stella Maris and Derech Allenby, between the two.