Tag Archives: Entebbe

Jew of the Week: Motta Gur

Liberator of Jerusalem, Hero of Israel

Mordechai Gurban (1930-1995) was born in Jerusalem to parents who had both made aliyah in 1913. He joined the Haganah defence force shortly after his bar mitzvah, and went on to its special forces Palmach unit. With the formation of the IDF in 1948 he became a paratrooper, and by this point shortened his last name to “Gur”. After the war, he served in the special forces under the command of Ariel Sharon. In 1955, Gur led Operation Elkayam into Khan Yunis, destroying a key Egyptian military installation, routing their forces, and taking out 72 troops (compared to one Israeli fatality). This led a frightened Egypt to finally sign a ceasefire with Israel, and to stop supporting Palestinian fedayeen terrorists directly. Gur then headed to Paris to study at its prestigious military academy. He returned two years later to take over the helm of the Golani Brigade, transforming it into the IDF’s most illustrious unit. In 1967, Gur led the recapture of Jerusalem (the 55th anniversary of which is this Sunday, Yom Yerushalayim). His radio declaration that Har HaBayit beYadeinu! (“The Temple Mount is in our hands!”) was broadcast to jubilant Jews around the world (see video here). Gur ordered an Israeli flag put up on the Dome of the Rock. When Moshe Dayan saw it through his binoculars, he immediately radioed to take it down, shouting “Do you want to set the Middle East on fire?” Gur believed recapturing Jerusalem’s Old City was his life’s purpose, and even boldly told IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren back in 1961 that he would be the one to liberate it. Gur was promoted to Brigadier General after the war, and took up oversight of Gaza and the Sinai. Two years later, he was promoted to Major General and took over the Northern Front. In 1972, he was posted as military attaché in Washington, and only returned after the Yom Kippur War to ensure such a catastrophe would never happen again. He became Israel’s 10th Chief of Staff, rebuilding the military and reinvigorating it with renewed morale. In 1976, he planned and oversaw Operation Thunderbolt to save hostages in Entebbe. One of his last missions was a successful 1978 operation into Lebanon to wipe out terrorists. After retiring from the military, he first went to study for a year at Harvard, then went into politics and became a Member of Knesset in 1981. In 1984 he became Minister of Health, and in 1992 was appointed Deputy Minister of Defense by Yitzhak Rabin. Initially, he supported Rabin’s peace initiative but soon saw the negotiations went nowhere and believed the Palestinians used the Oslo Accords as a ruse. He came to oppose the peace process and, despite battling cancer, started planning a run for prime minister. Gur suddenly died shortly after at just 65 years old, which gave rise to an unfortunate conspiracy theory: The death was officially ruled a suicide, yet the accompanying note appeared forged, and the gunshot wound could not have been self-inflicted, leading many to believe he was deliberately silenced. (Rabin would be assassinated just a few months later, launching another conspiracy theory.) Whatever the case, Gur was undoubtedly one of the greatest soldiers and military heroes in Israel’s history. He had also published three popular children’s books and three military books. Today, there is an army base named after him, as well as a street and school in Modi’in.

Jerusalem: 4000 Years in 5 Minutes (Video)

Rabbi Sacks: What Jerusalem Means to Me

The Abandoned Crown of David: Reflections on Yom Yerushalayim

Words of the Week

Can you imagine what the reaction would have been in the Muslim world if a photograph of that had been published? I’m proud that we raised the flag, and I’m relieved that we took it down.
Arik Achmon, the IDF soldier who had put up the Israeli flag on the Dome of the Rock

Jew of the Week: Renata Reisfeld

The Renowned Chemist Who Survived the Holocaust—and Entebbe

Renata Sobel (b. 1930) was born in Chelm, Poland. Orphaned at a young age, she was raised by her grandparents. When the Nazis occupied Poland, the family managed to escape and spent the war years in the harsh conditions of Siberia. Young Renata was unable to receive a formal education. After the war, she was engaged to Eliezer Reisfeld—on the condition that he allow her to pursue an education. As a child, Renata was inspired by a biography of Marie Curie and wished to become a scientist, too. The young family made aliyah to Israel in 1950 and settled in Jerusalem. There, Renata Reisfeld took up studies at the Hebrew University. Despite having no knowledge of Hebrew or English, she was the first to complete the entrance exam into the prestigious chemistry program that had only 23 spots. Reisfeld earned her Ph.D, then went to Oregon State University for post-doctoral work. One of Reisfeld’s main areas of research has been photovoltaic cells, and she played a big role in helping to bring down the cost of solar panels to make renewable solar energy possible on a large scale. She is also an expert on nanotechnology and solid state lasers. By 1975, Reisfeld had become the head of the chemistry department at Hebrew University. The following year, she was invited to speak at a conference in Paris. Her flight from Tel-Aviv made a stop in Athens, where Palestinian and German hijackers took control of the plane and diverted it to Entebbe, Uganda. Because she was one of the few hostages that spoke English, she represented the group of 102 passengers, and spoke with Idi Amin. The dictator took a liking to her, and when she asked him to take the hostages out on a tour of Uganda, Amin agreed! Eventually, the hostages were rescued in a daring raid by Israeli commandoes (which took the life of Yoni Netanyahu, brother of Benjamin Netanyahu). All in all, Reisfeld has published a whopping 532 scientific papers, together with four books, and her work has been cited over 30,000 times, making her among the world’s most prolific and renowned chemists. She has been awarded multiple honorary doctorates and scientific medals from around the world. Although officially retired, and now in her 90s, Reisfeld is still coming up with new inventions, the most recent being her fluorescent-transparent glass.

Words of the Week

Sometimes things happen about which the leaders of the generation remain silent. This does not mean that nothing is to be done… On the contrary: when aware that you are able to do something about it, you are obligated to do so.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Jew of the Week: Kirk Douglas

In Memory of Hollywood’s Biggest Star

Kirk Douglas

Issur Danielovitch (1916-2020) was born in New York to a traditional Yiddish-speaking family of Jewish-Russian immigrants. Growing up in poverty, young Issur worked hard delivering newspapers and selling snacks to mill workers to help make a living. He studied at the local religious cheder, and was such a good student that everyone wanted him to become a rabbi. This frightened him, so he ended up moving to public school where he first got to act in plays. At this point, he went by the name Izzy Demsky (a last name he adopted from his uncle), and only changed his name to Kirk Douglas when he enlisted in the US Navy in 1941. Not long before that he graduated from St. Lawrence University, having convinced the dean to allow him to study for free since he had no money for tuition. While he tried to make it as an actor, Douglas also worked as a gardener, janitor, and professional wrestler. He eventually made it to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and received a scholarship there, too. Douglas served in the navy for three years working in anti-submarine combat and was honourably discharged after being injured. After the war, he got his first acting job doing commercials and soap operas over the radio. A friend got him his first film role in 1946, after which he was instantly recognized as a “natural film actor”. He got his first Oscar nomination just three years later. Douglas was Hollywood’s biggest star through the 1950s and 60s, and took the lead in classic films like Spartacus (at that point the most expensive film ever made), The Bad and the Beautiful, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and Ace in the Hole (ranked among the greatest movies of all time). His portrayal of Vincent van Gogh in Lust for Life was especially praised. (He actually stayed in character throughout the weeks of filming, even when off-set!) He also played Israeli Hershel Vilnofsky in Victory at Entebbe, the first film about the famous rescue operation. All in all, Douglas starred in nearly 100 films, acted on Broadway, and made appearances in numerous TV shows. He also wrote 11 books, had his own film production company, and directed a number of films, too. Outside of Hollywood, Douglas was a noted philanthropist. He was an American goodwill ambassador for decades, donated some $50 million over his life to schools, hospitals, synagogues, and charities, and promised to leave most of his remaining $80 million net worth to charity as well. After a helicopter crash in 1991, he sought new meaning in life and rediscovered Judaism. He would write in his autobiography that while he once “tried to forget” that he was Jewish (though he never broke a Yom Kippur fast), he later realized “that you don’t have to be a rabbi to be a Jew.” Douglas became more observant, and had a second bar mitzvah at the age of 83. He studied Torah weekly with Rabbi David Wolpe. Douglas was also actively engaged with Aish HaTorah of Los Angeles, and helped support the Aish World Center across from the Western Wall in Jerusalem (the building’s Kirk Douglas Theater is named after him, as is Jerusalem’s Douglas Garden). Among his many awards are the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the French Legion of Honour, the National Medal of Arts, the King David Award, two Golden Globes and, of course, an Oscar for lifetime achievement. Sadly, Kirk Douglas passed away earlier today, aged 103. He is remembered as a film genius (who memorized not only his own lines, but seemingly every word of the entire script), a dedicated philanthropist, and one of the greatest actors of all time.

Words of the Week

The Torah is the greatest screenplay ever written.
– Kirk Douglas

Kirk Douglas at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem, with Aish founder Rabbi Noah Weinberg on his left.