Tag Archives: IDF

Jews of the Week: Zalman Shazar and Reuven Rivlin

Two Israeli Presidents

Reuven Rivlin (b. 1939) was born in Jerusalem to a family descended from the great Vilna Gaon, that made aliyah in 1809. His father was a Hebrew University professor who first translated the Koran into Hebrew. Not surprisingly, Rivlin speaks Arabic fluently. That made him a key asset during those years when he served in the IDF Intelligence Corps. In the Six-Day War, Rivlin fought with the Jerusalem Brigade. He later studied law at Hebrew University, and served on Jerusalem’s City Council. In 1988, he was elected chairman of Likud and took his first seat in the Knesset. In 2003, he became Knesset Speaker, a position he held until 2014, when he was elected Israel’s tenth president. In that election, he had the support of Arab MKs, despite the fact that he has always been very right-wing, heavily criticized the withdrawal from Gaza, declared that “West Bank settlements are as Israeli as Tel Aviv”, and continues to push for a one-state solution. Nonetheless, he has been praised for building bridges in Israel, and being an eloquent spokesperson on the state’s behalf. Rivlin is a vegetarian and a big supporter of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team, which he once managed decades ago. Earlier this month, his term as Israel’s president came to an end, and he has been replaced by (former Jew of the Week) Isaac Herzog.

Schneur Zalman Rubashov (1889-1974) was born in the Belorussian town of Mir, near Minsk, to a deeply religious Chabad family, and was named after Chabad’s founder, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. From a young age, he was drawn to Zionism and was also a member of Jewish self-defence organizations in Eastern Europe. He regularly wrote articles for a number of Yiddish publications. After being released from the Russian army in 1924, he made aliyah and settled in Tel-Aviv, changing his last name to “Shazar” (an acronym of his full name). There he worked for the Histadrut (Israel’s national trade union) and also as a journalist. In 1947, Shazar was part of the Jewish delegation to the UN during the critical Partition Plan vote. He was elected to the first Knesset in 1949 and became the new state’s Minister of Education. In 1963, Shazar was elected Israel’s third president. He wrote a goodwill message that was taken by the Apollo 11 crew to the moon, where it still rests. On it he wrote: “From the President of Israel in Jerusalem with hope for ‘abundance of peace so long as the moon endures’ (Psalms 72:7).” Shazar was a devoted member of the “Chein Circle” for Hasidic study in Jerusalem, often hosting the group in his presidential residence. He became a student of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and later helped him produce his renowned translation and commentary of the Talmud. Shazar kept a regular correspondence with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and often visited him in Brooklyn. He co-founded Kfar Chabad in Israel. Shazar passed away shortly after completing his second term as Israel’s president. Today, his portrait appears on the Israeli 200 shekel note.

Words of the Week

I have no doubt, and my positions are known, that the status of Judaism according to halachah is what has kept us going for 3,800 years.
– Reuven Rivlin

President Shazar toasts the Lubavitcher Rebbe at Chabad headquarters (770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn)

Jew of the Week: Shlomo Gur

The Man Who Helped Save Countless Israeli Lives

Shlomo Gerzovsky (1913-1997) was born in Uman, Ukraine. When the Communist Revolution began, the family fled to Romania, and eventually made its way to the Holy Land. Gerzovsky, now with the Hebraized last name “Gur”, started studying at the Mikveh Israel Agricultural School. In 1936, the Arab Revolt began, with Arab mobs attacking both British nationals and Jewish residents. In response, Gur was among the co-developers of the Homa u’Migdal (“Wall and Tower”) system, a method of building settlements with pre-fabricated protective walls and a watchtower—quickly assembled, sometimes overnight. Gur co-founded the first such settlement, Kibbutz Tel Amal, then helped to establish a whopping 56 others. All settlements were built legally according to existing Ottoman law, on land purchased by the JNF. They served as safe havens for Jews during the violent Arab pogroms, and ensured that Jewish life in the Holy Land would continue to flourish. In 1945, Gur travelled to the US to further his scientific studies. He returned in 1947 to fight alongside the Haganah, and was placed in charge of overseeing weaponry. Soon after, he established and directed Israel’s new Science Corps (heil hamadah), the focus of which was developing new weapons to protect the State of Israel. Together with Itzhak Bentov, they built Israel’s first rockets. The Science Corps later became RAFAEL, which developed the Iron Dome and David’s Sling, currently saving countless lives in Israel. In his later years, Gur moved to Tel Aviv and worked in the high-tech sector. He also oversaw the construction of several important building projects, including the Hadassah Medical Center, the Knesset, and Tel Aviv’s city hall.

Shavuot Begins Sunday Night – Chag Sameach!

Words of the Week

The power of resistance which has enabled the Jewish people to survive for thousands of years has been based to a large extent on traditions of mutual helpfulness. In these years of affliction our readiness to help one another is being put to an especially severe test. May we stand this test as well as did our fathers before us.

Albert Einstein

Jew of the Week: Meir Har-Zion

Israel’s Real-Life Rambo

Meir Har-Zion (1934-2014) was born in the new town of Herzliya in 1934. His mother’s side hailed from Sephardic-Turkish heritage, while his father’s side came from Romania and Russia. He spent his early years on a number of different kibbutzim and moshavim. He loved hiking and exploring the Holy Land, together with his younger sister, and the two youths were once arrested by Syrian authorities when they wandered a little too far. It happened again in 1951, and it took negotiations mediated by the UN to secure their release. Two years later, Har-Zion was a co-founder of Unit 101, Israel’s first special forces commando team. While sometimes brutal, the operations of Unit 101 were essential in securing Israel’s borders and maintaining its defenses in the early years. They also made it clear that the new IDF is a force to be reckoned with, and that Israel would respond forcefully if provoked. In 1954, Har-Zion joined the 890th Paratroopers, led by Ariel Sharon. The following year, Har-Zion’s beloved sister and her boyfriend were abducted by Bedouin Arabs, tortured, and murdered. Despite being ordered to restrain himself, Har-Zion vowed revenge. He took three fellow soldiers and infiltrated the Bedouin town, capturing six men, killing five of them, and sending the sixth back to relay what happened. Har-Zion was heavily condemned for his actions, and temporarily imprisoned. Still, David Ben-Gurion described the act as “the kind of ritual revenge the Bedouins understood perfectly.” In one 1956 paratrooper mission, Har-Zion was nearly killed by being shot in the throat and arm. He survived, though forced to retire due to his injuries. He was awarded the Medal of Courage. During the Six-Day War, Har-Zion was called up again and, despite having just one arm, participated in the liberation of Jerusalem. He played a key role, hunting down a Jordanian sniper that was holding up the Israeli advance, and killing him with a grenade. In the Yom Kippur War, Har-Zion volunteered again to battle for the country’s survival, and fought deep in Syrian territory, even managing to save the lives of several soldiers. Har-Zion lived out the rest of his life on a farm that he named after his sister. He married, had four children, and wrote memoirs and political commentary. Moshe Dayan described Har-Zion as “the best soldier ever to emerge in the IDF”.

Words of the Week

It is manifestly right that the Jews should have a National Home where some of them may be reunited. And where else could that be but in this land of Palestine, with which for more than 3,000 years they have been intimately and profoundly associated?
– Winston Churchill