Tag Archives: Israel Prize

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: Bracha Qafih

Rabbanit Qafih

Rabbanit Qafih

Bracha Qafih (1922-2013) was born in Yemen to a traditional Jewish family. To save a young orphan boy from being taken away by the Muslim authorities, she was married to him at the age of just 11. The boy grew up to be Rabbi Yosef Qafih, better known as Rabbi Kapach, one of the greatest Yeminite Jewish religious leaders, and a judge on Israel’s Rabbinical Supreme Court. Rabbanit Qafih had three kids by the time she was 18, and immigrated to Israel soon after with her family. Settling in Jerusalem, she opened up her own embroidery business, which grew quickly to employ over 50 women. Qafih then devoted her time to charity work. Each holiday, she would organize food packages for the impoverished of the city, distributing them from her own home with the help of student volunteers. Eventually, she ran a food bank that provided regular sustenance to over 5000 people, an endeavour she oversaw for over 50 years, often putting herself in personal debt. She also ran a gmach for wedding gowns, where poor families could borrow wedding dresses for free, and organized a summer camp for disadvantaged children. She made sure that orphans could have proper bar mitzvahs, and advised countless people in need, including prostitutes and drug addicts, many of which credit her with helping them overcome their challenges. Her inspiration was her grandfather, who took her with him to distribute food to the poor in Yemen from the time that she was just 6 years old. Rabbanit Qafih continued her charity work into her old age, despite her poor health. She was known to already be preparing meals by four in the morning. Among many other decorations, in 1999, Rabbanit Qafih was awarded the Israel Prize for her immeasurable contributions to charity and Israeli society at large, where many affectionately referred to her as their grandmother.

Yom Kippur Begins Tonight! Gmar Chatima Tova to Everyone

Words of the Week

It’s not charity. It’s my responsibility.
– Rabbanit Bracha Qafih