10 Things You Need to Know about… Joseph Trumpeldor

1.  He was born in the Caucusus region of Russia in 1880.

2.  As an adolescent he became a vegetarian and body-builder. He neither smoked nor drank.

3.  In response to the rampant anti-Semitism he saw around him, he developed a lifelong commitment to proving that Jews were neither weaklings nor cowards nor traitors.

4.  At the age of 24, he fought in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5), where he lost his left arm to a shrapnel wound. As soon as he’d healed, he returned to the fighting.  Taken prisoner by the Japanese at Port Arthur, he endured a year in captivity. After his release, he received four medals for his bravery and in 1906 became the first Jew ever to receive an officer’s commission in the Russian Imperial Army.

5.  In 1912, after earning a law degree from the University of St. Petersburg, he emigrated to Palestine, where he became an agricultural worker in the struggling Jewish settlements.

6.  When World War I broke out, he took the side of the British against the Turks, who ruled Palestine.  Though he wanted to fight in the British army, as a Jew and an alien he and his fellow Jews were permitted only to join as a corps of mule drivers. In this capacity, he fought in the disastrous and bloody military fiasco at Gallipoli.

7.  In 1916, the mules corps was disbanded. Trumpeldor went to London to continue advocating for an all-Jewish legion of fighting troops.  After the Tsar abdicated in 1917, Trumpeldor returned to Russia, where he devoted himself to establishing the Zionist organization Hehalutz, preparing young Jews to emigrate to Palestine.

8.  After the war ended, he returned to Palestine.  He found the Jews there divided and in disarray, arguing among themselves (what a surprise!).  He advocated “for a single workers’ union that would bring Jews together and act as a catalyst for rapid and effective absorption of immigrants.”

9.  In 1919, he went north to the settlement of Tel Hai, which was under attack from Arab nationalists.  In a skirmish on March 1, 1920, he sustained wounds to his stomach. That evening, after the Arabs had been bested, the doctor who dressed his wounds asked him how he was feeling. “Never mind,” he replied. “It is worth dying for our country.”

10.  He died that same night, not yet forty years old. Kiryat Shmona (City of Eight) is named for him and the seven others who died defending Tal Hai.

What you must be wondering: How did a one-armed man manage to wage war?  According to Shaul Avigor, who was JosephTrumpeldorwith Trumpeldor at Tel Hai, and who later fought with the Haganah, Trumpeldor would stabilize his gun between his knees, cock it one-handed, then remove it and shoot.

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