Category Archives: Writers & Scholars

Jews in the Wonderful World of Literature and Scholarship

Jew of the Week: Abba Kovner

“The Jewish Avenger”

Abel “Abba” Kovner (1918-1987) was born in what is today Belarus and grew up in Vilnius (then part of Poland). As a young man, he was a member of HaShomer HaTzair, the Zionist youth movement. When the Nazis invaded Vilnius in 1941, Kovner escaped to a convent, but soon returned to the Vilna Ghetto to organize a Jewish resistance. At the start of 1942, Kovner secretly published a manifesto inside the Ghetto to inspire the Jews to fight back, writing that it was better to die than “go like lambs to the slaughter”. Along with several other young men, Kovner formed the United Partisan Organization, possibly the first armed underground Jewish group in Nazi Europe. Before they could launch their first large-scale attack, the Vilna Ghetto was liquidated in 1943, forcing the group to flee to the surrounding forests. From there, they launched a guerrilla warfare campaign against the Nazis. The small group began calling themselves “the Avengers” (HaNokmim) and were successful enough to draw the attention of the Red Army. They would go on to coordinate with the Soviets to crush the Nazis in Eastern Europe. Once the fate of the Nazis was sealed towards the end of 1944, Kovner was among the founders of a new group, called Bricha (“Escape”), which worked to get Jewish refugees out of Europe and to the Holy Land. Over the next couple of years, they would successfully move 250,000 Holocaust survivors to Israel. Having seen first-hand the horrific devastation inflicted by the Nazis, Kovner yearned for revenge. He started yet another group, called Nakam (“Vengeance”), seeking to punish Germany for the Holocaust. “Plan B” was to poison the water supply in Allied prisoner-of-war camps where Nazi SS soldiers were kept. The far more controversial and shocking “Plan A” was to poison the water supplies of several major German cities in order to kill 6 million Germans, one for each Jew lost in the Holocaust. Thankfully, Plan A was soon abandoned, though Kovner was still arrested by the British and held in a Cairo prison for several months. He did aim to accomplish Plan B, and Nakam members infiltrated a POW camp bakery in April 1946, coating the loaves of bread with arsenic. Over two thousands German soldiers fell ill, though no deaths were reported. In December 1947, Kovner joined the Haganah and fought in Israel’s Independence War as a captain of the Givati Brigade. Following this, he lived out the remainder of his life in a kibbutz, working tirelessly to strengthen the nascent state. He also helped to design several Holocaust museums, and testified at the Eichmann trial. More famously, Kovner wrote a series of poetry books (in Hebrew and Yiddish) describing the struggles he faced during the Holocaust and in Israel’s early years. This made him one of the country’s most celebrated poets and writers. For this, he won the Israeli Prize for Literature in 1970. A heavy smoker, Kovner succumbed to tracheal cancer before his 70th birthday.

Words of the Week

It is perfectly clear that the Arab nations do not want to solve the Arab refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront against the United Nations, and as a weapon against Israel… Arab leaders don’t give a damn whether the refugees live or die.
— Sir Alexander Galloway, former head of UNRWA

Abba Kovner (Centre) and his Avengers.

Jew of the Week: Ruth Deech

Ruth Lynn Fraenkel (b. 1943) was born in London to Jewish-Polish refugees who fled the Nazis. She studied law at Oxford University’s prestigious St. Anne’s College, and there met her future husband John Deech. After getting her MA, she briefly taught law at Windsor University in Canada, then returned to St. Anne’s and taught there for two decades before being elected its principal in 1991. As a specialist in family law and bioethics, she also headed Oxford’s Health Authority, and eventually became the governor of the UK Department of Health’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). The HFEA regulates fertility treatments, in-vitro fertilization, and embryological research across the UK. As its governor, Deech made some difficult and controversial decisions, including one case where a woman was forbidden from having a baby with her dead husband’s frozen sperm. She also fought against the decision to allow birth certificates not to name a father, stating “I regret the downgrading of the father as a person of importance – the legislative dismissal of the contribution of half the population to the upbringing of the next generation” and that “Tolerance of both types of parenting has to be ensured.” In 2002, Deech was knighted as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. That same year she was appointed governor of the BBC. Following this role, she was made a life peer of the House of Lords, and given the title Baroness Deech of Cumnor. At the same time, she served as the chairman of the Bar Standards Board, which regulates lawyers across England and Wales, and sat on the Jewish Leadership Council. Deech remains one of the world’s most renowned academics and ethicists. Oxford University recently named one of its buildings after her, and she was once ranked on “The God List” of the fifty most influential “people of faith” in Britain. She also regularly stands up for the Jewish community, and for Israel – at Oxford, in the House of Lords, and on the international stage.

Baroness Ruth Deech Explains the Silliness of Israel Boycotts

What is Freedom?

Words of the Week

Someday, when history will be written, it will be said there was a Jewish woman who got the money to make the State possible.
– David Ben-Gurion on Golda Meir’s successful 1948 trip to the US to raise money for the nascent State of Israel. She raised $55 million, vital to Israel’s Independence War effort.