Tag Archives: Iran

Jews of the Week: Shushandukht and Bahram V

Gold Coins Depicting Iranian Shah Bahram V, often referred to as Bahramgur – “Bahram the Hunter”

Shushandukht (c. 380-430 CE) was born in Persia, the daughter of the Resh Galuta (Exilarch), a title reserved for the chief rabbi and official leader of the Jews in the diaspora during this time period. Little is known of her early life. She went on to marry the Sasanian king Yazdegerd I, and gave him two sons, Shapur IV and Bahram V (c. 406-438 CE). Yazdegerd and Shapur were assassinated, triggering a brief civil war that ended with Bahram successfully taking the throne. Bahram V went on to reign for nearly two decades as Iran’s Shah. In that time, he held off the advancing Eastern Roman Empire and conquered Armenia. Later, a massive invasion by the feared Huns nearly destroyed his empire. However, he caught the Huns unaware in a surprise night attack, decimating their force, and bringing peace to the entire region. Bahram presided over a period of great Persian wealth. Coins with Bahram’s portrait have been found across Asia. Not surprisingly, Bahram V became one of the most legendary kings in Asian history, and is an important figure not just in Iran, but in Uzbekistan, Pakistan, India, and even in Islamic literature (despite the fact that the Muslims tried pretty hard to erase pre-Islamic Iranian history). Bahram V is the hero of many ancient Persian legends. One of these was translated into English under the title The Three Princes of Serendip – giving rise to the word “serendipity”. In the famous Persian epic Shahnameh, he is the king that slays two lions with his bare hands. Meanwhile, his mother Shushandukht used her position to assist the Jews of Iran (where the vast majority of the world’s Jews lived at the time). She established large and prosperous Jewish neighbourhoods in Esfahan, Susa, Hamadan, and Shushtar. During this period, the Jewish Exilarch sat on the Shah’s court. Many scholars believe that the ‘Tomb of Esther and Mordechai’ in modern-day Iran is actually the tomb of Shushandukht.

Words of the Week

It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.
– Hippocrates

Tomb of Esther and Mordechai (or Shushandukht) in present-day Hamadan, Iran (Credit: Philippe Chavin)

Jew of the Week: Meir Dagan

Meir Dagan (Credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash 90)

Meir Dagan (Credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash 90)

Meir Huberman (1945-2016) was born on a train while his parents, Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivors, were fleeing to the Soviet Union. Five years later, they made aliyah to Israel and ultimately settled in Bat Yam, where Meir’s parents opened up a laundromat, and changed the family name to Dagan. Meir went on to study art at Tel Aviv University, and when conscripted to the IDF, joined the elite Paratroopers Brigade (which accepts just 1 in 5 applicants). A year following the completion of his mandatory service, he was called up to serve in the Six-Day War. As an officer, he commanded a paratrooper unit in the Sinai. Following the war, he stayed in the military and was soon tasked with leading a commando unit, Sayeret Rimon, operating undercover in the Palestinian territories. During one daring mission, Dagan tackled and disarmed a terrorist holding a live grenade, a feat that earned him a Medal of Courage. He was called to command a unit once more during the Yom Kippur War, successfully pushing across the Suez Canal. In 1982, the armored unit under his command was among the first to reach Beirut during the Lebanon War. Dagan retired from the military in 1995 with the top rank of Major General. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appointed him as National Security Adviser, and then Director-General of the Mossad. Unlike former Mossad heads who were weary of doing so, Dagan was praised for his aggressive tactics in assassinating terrorist leaders (most famously Imad Mughniyeh, the terror chief of Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad). Dagan essentially tripled Mossad’s activities, and a Knesset member has said that under his watch, the Mossad “has undergone a revolution in terms of organization, intelligence, and operations”. Dagan continued to head Mossad until the end of 2010, when he crossed paths with Netanyahu over plans to strike Iran, which Dagan opposed, saying “Israel should not hasten to attack Iran, doing so only when the sword is upon its neck.” (Instead, Dagan had sent countless cyberattacks to cripple Iran’s nuclear program, together with car bombs to assassinate its engineers.) After stepping down, Dagan became director of Israel’s Port Authority, as well as chairman of Gulliver Energy, an Israeli mining company. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with liver cancer. After chemotherapy failed, he received a liver transplant, but this, too, didn’t remove the cancer completely. Sadly, Dagan passed away last week. He was eulogized by President Rivlin as “one of the greatest of the brave, creative and devout warriors that the Jewish people ever had. His devotion to the State of Israel was absolute.”

Words of the Week

The issue of Iran armed with a nuclear capability is not an Israeli problem; it’s an international problem.
– Meir Dagan

This is a photograph of Meir Dagan’s grandfather right before being murdered by Nazis. The photo hung in Dagan’s office as a constant reminder of his important work.

Jew of the Week: Avigdor Ben-Gal

The Man Who Saved Israel

Avigdor Ben-Gal

Avigdor Ben-Gal

Janusz Ludwig (1936-2016) was born in Lodz, Poland. At the outbreak of World War II, his family managed to escape to the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, they were soon mired in Siberia, where Ludwig’s parents disappeared. Thankfully, Ludwig and his sister made it to Israel, together with a group of other Polish children (many of whom were orphans) by way of Iran. They settled in Tel-Aviv, and were raised by their cousin. In Israel, Ludwig adopted a new name: Avigdor Ben-Gal. Though he initially aspired to be a physician, Ben-Gal enjoyed his military service with the IDF, and decided to be a career military man. He saw his first action in Egypt during the 1956 Suez Crisis. Just over a decade later, he was an operations chief during the Six-Day Way. By 1973, Ben-Gal was commander of the 7th Armored Brigade. He sensed that a war would soon break out, but was ridiculed by most others within the political and military sphere. Nonetheless, he began preparing his own brigade for war. When the Yom Kippur War did indeed break out, Ben-Gal’s brigade was the only one ready for combat. They were able to miraculously defeat the Syrians in the Golan Heights despite being heavily outnumbered (700 Syrian tanks vs. 175 Israeli tanks). Ben-Gal’s skill and heroics turned back the Syrian invasion after just 3 days of combat. He then led a brave counter-offensive that brought the IDF within 20 miles of Damascus just 4 days later. At the war’s conclusion, Ben-Gal was credited with having “saved the State of Israel” by defense minister Moshe Dayan. In 1976, Ben-Gal helped to plan the rescue operation of Israeli hostages in Entebbe. A year later, he was put in charge of Israel’s Northern Command. After retiring from the military, Ben-Gal served on the board of Israel Aerospace Industries, the state-owned aviation manufacturer (and one of Israel’s largest employers). He was also on the board of Tahal – an¬†engineering and infrastructure company that is an important defense contractor – as well as the NSO Group, an Israeli tech start-up focusing on surveillance and security. Sadly, Ben-Gal passed away last Saturday.

Words of the Week

I will always stand with Israel. I can’t tolerate people who criticize Israel without walking in their shoes. I hate the lies they spread and their lack of knowledge. I’m proud to stand up for the Israelis.
РAdam Sandler