Tag Archives: Israeli Air Force

Jew of the Week: Ezer Weizman

Ezer Weizman (1924-2005), the nephew of Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, was born in Tel Aviv and raised in Haifa. In his youth, he joined the Haifa Aviation Club and was flying planes by age 16. At 18, in the midst of World War II, he enlisted in the British Royal Air Force and served in Africa and India. After the war, Weizman lived in London and studied aeronautics. It was there that he joined the Zionist paramilitary group, Irgun. Weizman returned to Israel to fight in the Independence War. He was one of Israel’s very first fighter pilots, co-founded its air force, and participated in the first air force mission. He continued working for the army after the war, and in 1958 became the commander of the Israeli Air Force. He modernized the IAF, personally trained its pilots, and transformed it into the powerful and feared juggernaut that it is today. In 1967, Weizman was the IDF’s chief of military operations, and helped persuade the Israeli government to launch a preemptive strike against its aggressors. He directed the surprise attack on Arab air forces on the first day of the Six-Day War, totally destroying their air power and thus securing Israel’s lightning victory. (It has been said that the Six-Day War was won by the Israeli air force in the first six hours!) In 1969, Weizman – now a major general and deputy chief of staff – retired from the military and joined the Gahal political party (the precursor of Likud). He served as a Minister of Transportation and later as Defense Minister. He oversaw the development of Israel’s Lavi fighter jet, and the critical 1978 campaign in Lebanon (Operation Litani). Meanwhile, Weizman also became an important peace negotiator. He spoke Arabic fluently, and grew close to Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, who went so far as to call Weizman his “younger brother”. Not surprisingly, Weizman played a key role in Israel’s 1979 peace treaty with Egypt. He later founded his own party, Yachad, and sat on the Knesset between 1984 and 1992, serving as Minister for Arab Affairs and Minister of Science and Technology. A year after leaving the Knesset, Weizman was elected Israel’s seventh president. By this point, he had built a reputation as a dove, and worked hard to promote peace. He was credited with making the office of president more relevant in Israeli society, and was praised for his warmth and concern for all of Israel’s citizens, including Arabs and Druze. After being reelected to a second term, Weizman resigned as president in 2000, and passed away five years later. He has been voted the 9th greatest Israeli of all time.

Words of the Week

There are free men with the spirit of a slave, and slaves whose spirit is full of freedom. He who is true to his inner self is a free man, while he whose entire life is merely a stage for what is good and beautiful in the eyes of others, is a slave.
Rabbi Avraham Itzhak Kook

Jew of the Week: Lou Lenart

The Man Who Saved Tel-Aviv

Lou Lenart

Lou Lenart

Layos Lenovitz (1921-2015) was born in a rural Hungarian village, the son of farmers. While still a child, his family fled to America to escape persecution. They settled in Pennsylvania, and survived by selling home-made noodles. Growing up, Lenovitz was commonly a victim of anti-Semitic attacks, so he took up bodybuilding to protect himself. This led him to join the Marines at 17. Now going by the name Louis Lenart, he ended up in flight school and became a fighter pilot. During World War II, he served in the Pacific, and participated in a number of key battles, including the Battle of Okinawa – one of the war’s largest. Upon returning home (with the rank of Captain), Lenart learned that many of his relatives, including his grandmother, perished in the Holocaust. In response, he moved to Israel and volunteered with the Sherut Avir, the “air force” of the Haganah – which had no military planes at the time. Lenart helped to secretly smuggle four S-199 fighter planes from Czechoslovakia. Following its declaration of independence, Israel’s Arab neighbours immediately invaded. By the end of May 1948, the Egyptians were nearing Tel-Aviv with a force of 10,000. Lenart was called up to command Israel’s only four fighter planes to stop the Egyptian advance – the very first mission of the newly-created Israeli Air Force. The Egyptians thought Israel had no air force, and were shocked when they were being attacked from above. Thinking that Lenart’s four planes were just the first small foray of a larger attack, the Egyptians retreated in fear. Israel’s most populous city was spared from what could have been a devastating battle, and Lenart was nicknamed “the man who saved Tel-Aviv”. Following the war, Lenart played an important role in Operation Ezra and Nehemiah, which airlifted over 120,000 Iraqi Jewish refugees to safety in Israel. Outside of the military, Lenart was a pilot for El Al. Later in life, he moved to Los Angeles and helped to produce six Hollywood films while at the same time working as the general manager of the San Diego Clippers basketball team (before the team moved to LA). Lenart retired in Israel, where he spent the last years of his life. His story was featured in Nancy Spielberg’s award-winning 2014 film Above and Beyond, and the 2015 A Wing and a Prayer.

Words of the Week

It was the most important moment of my life, and I was born to be there at that precise moment in history… I survived World War II so I could lead this mission.
Lou Lenart, on his mission to save Tel-Aviv during the Independence War