Tag Archives: IDF

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: Sivan Rahav-Meir

Israel’s Favourite News Anchor – and Rebbetzin

Sivan Rahav (b. 1981) was born in Herzliya to a secular family. She knew she wanted to be a journalist from childhood, and would already interview her friends in second grade. By 8, she earned herself a “children’s press” card, and by 14 was interviewing the likes of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. Meanwhile, Rahav used her journalistic skills to dig into her roots, and soon returned to Orthodox observance. After finishing high school early, she completed her degree in political science from Tel-Aviv University in just two years, then served in the IDF as a military reporter. During this time, she met her future husband, a fellow Orthodox IDF reporter, Yedidya Meir. The two still work on their biggest stories together – Yedidya hosting a show on Radio Kol Chai and writing for the B’Sheva newspaper, and Sivan hosting a show on Galei Tzahal (Army Radio), writing for Yediot Ahronot (Israel’s largest newspaper), and hosting Channel 2’s prime-time television news hour. During her last maternity leave (after giving birth to her fifth child), she realized she was tired of the negativity and politics of news, and decided to devote more time to spreading positive, spiritual Jewish wisdom. She started giving weekly Torah classes in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, which now draw over 1000 people in packed venues. A master of social media, her Torah thoughts regularly reach over a million listeners through Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, and YouTube. Rahav-Meir also published a bestselling book on the weekly parasha, translated into English last year. In addition to recently being voted Israel’s favourite female news personality, she has become one of Israel’s most successful kiruv speakers, and a tremendous role model for all baalei teshuva. Rahav-Meir is making waves in the world of Israeli journalism, too, and helping to stem the long-standing anti-religious bias of the secular Israeli media. “For secular reporters,” she says, “Judaism was always a problem. But I wanted to talk about it as a solution.”

Words of the Week

The media is seeking instances where religion is excessive, extreme… I think the media doesn’t cover the real things that are happening. Take selichot, for example: Every year 100,000 people come to the Kotel for the last night of selichot. The Kotel plaza is full [but it’s not covered in the news], yet when an old band comes to sing in Ramat Gan’s park and draws 1,000 or 10,000 people, the media will livestream the event and the reporters will be there…
– Sivan Rahav-Meir