Tag Archives: Russian Jews

Jew of the Week: Rafi Eitan

The Spy Who Caught Eichmann And Obtained Israel’s Uranium

Rafi Eitan

Rafael Eitan (1926-2019) was born in a kibbutz to Jewish-Russian immigrants that settled in the Holy Land three years earlier. He studied at an agricultural school, as well as at the London School of Economics. His first foray into the military came at just age 12 when he joined the Haganah to defend his kibbutz from Arab attacks. Upon graduating from high school, Eitan was promoted to the Palmach, the Haganah’s special forces. He was part of a team that worked tirelessly to bring Jewish refugees and Holocaust survivors to Israel. In 1946, he participated in the raid on the Atlit detention centre, where the British held many “illegal” Jewish immigrants. In one famous mission, Eitan was tasked with destroying the British radar system on Mount Carmel, which they used to track ships carrying Jews. Eitan reached the radar undetected by climbing through sewer systems (earning him the nickname “Rafi the Stinker”) and successfully blew it up. He was later injured in a mine explosion and lost most of his hearing. Eitan was further wounded in Israel’s Independence War. Following this, he became an intelligence officer, first for Shin Bet, and then for Mossad. During this time, he planned, coordinated, and perfectly executed Operation Finale, the mission to capture Adolf Eichmann, then hiding in Argentina. Following this, Eitan was a secret agent in Europe, where his team captured weapons shipments from Germany to Egypt. In what is certainly his most infamous mission, Eitan visited the US Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation in 1968 disguised as a chemist. Shortly after, it was found that the lab was missing as much as 272 kilograms of highly enriched uranium. Despite many investigations, no evidence was found, and no charges could be laid, though many believe that Eitan secured the uranium for Israel’s nuclear program. (The incident is referred to as the “Apollo Affair”.) Eitan retired in 1972 and started a business raising tropical fish. He was asked by the Israeli government to return to work in 1978 to head a counter-terrorism group. During this time he helped plan Operation Opera in which Israel destroyed Saddam Hussein’s Osirak nuclear reactor. Meanwhile, Eitan worked closely with MI6 counter-terror, and helped them find and eliminate a number of high-profile IRA terrorists. (In response to this, the IRA put out a contract to have Eitan assassinated!) One of the counter-terrorism intelligence agents in Eitan’s portfolio was Jonathan Pollard, who was later exposed and arrested. Eitan was criticized for abandoning Pollard, and resigned over the incident (though he maintains he had an escape plan for Pollard that the spy didn’t follow). Eitan later ran the Israel Chemicals Corporation until retiring at age 67. Eitan wasn’t done yet. He partnered with a few others to start a business in Cuba. The firm, BM Group, has grown to become an important developer in the country, and has built Havana’s World Trade Center and its Holocaust Memorial. After its success on agricultural projects in Cuba (winning it a medal from the Cuban government), BM has spread across Latin America. In 2006, Eitan was asked to run for Knesset under the Gil Pensioner’s party and, despite projections, won a whopping 7 seats. He served as a parliamentarian until 2009, at which point (being 83 years old) he retired for good. Eitan continued to advise his and other governments, and spent much of his time sculpting (he produced over 100 pieces). Sadly, the renowned spymaster passed away last week.

The 7 Prophetesses of Judaism

Words of the Week

It’s in the Muslim consciousness that the land first belonged to the Jews. It doesn’t matter if the Jews were exiled 500 years or 2000 years, the Holy Land, as mentioned in Quran belongs to Moses and his people, the Jews.
– Professor Khaleel Mohammed

Jews of the Week: the Genius of Rogatchov and Joseph Trumpeldor

An Unparalleled Genius and a Zionist Icon

Joseph Trumpeldor

Joseph Volfovich Trumpeldor (1880-1920) was born in Russia, the son of a cantonist (young Jews forcefully conscripted into the Russian army). He became a dentist, but in 1902 enlisted in the Russian army. Trumpeldor lost his left arm in one battle of the Russo-Japanese War, yet wanted to continue serving, reportedly saying “I still have another arm to give to the motherland.” He returned to the battlefield and was captured by the Japanese. Trumpeldor spent most of his captivity studying, learning more about Judaism, Jewish history, and the Zionist cause. He even started writing on Jewish topics and found fellow Jewish prisoners who dreamed of settling in the Promised Land. Upon his release, he received four medals, and was later made an officer, making him the most decorated Jew in the Russian army, and its first Jewish officer. Unable to return to the military, he became a lawyer. In 1911, Trumpeldor made aliyah and settled in Kibbutz Degania. With the outbreak of World War I, he went to Egypt to establish the Jewish Legion (which fought for Britain) alongside Ze’ev Jabotinsky. The legion, also known as the Zion Mule Corps, is considered the first entirely Jewish military unit in two thousand years, and a precursor to the IDF. It helped the British conquer the land of Israel from the Ottoman Turks. Trumpeldor was a key soldier in that effort, and was wounded in the Battle of Gallipoli. After the war, he returned to Russia to gather more young Jews to settle in Israel. In 1920, while working to build the new town of Tel Hai, a band of Arabs attacked the Jewish community. Trumpeldor was shot twice, and succumbed to his injuries. According to legend, his last words were “Never mind, it is good to die for our country.” Trumpeldor immediately became a symbol of Jewish strength, self-defense, and resilience, and an inspiration for a new generation of Zionists. The day of his death, the 11th of Adar (this coming Monday), is a minor holiday in Israel.

Rabbi Yosef Rosen, the Rogatchover Gaon

That same date is also the yahrzeit of Rabbi Yosef Rosen (1858-1936). He was born in the town of Rogatchov (in modern Belarus) to a Chabad family. By the age of 13, he was recognized as a genius and was sent to study with some of the great rabbis of the day in the town of Slutzk. At 31, he was appointed one of two chief rabbis of Dvinsk (in modern Latvia), and served in that role for nearly five decades, until his last days. Rabbi Rosen ensured the survival and flourishing of Jewish life under Russian Imperial, and then Communist, rule, often with great sacrifice to himself. Meanwhile, he published several important works of Jewish commentary and Jewish law. Some of his best writings were published only after his death, under the title Tzafnat Paneach, “Decipherer of Secrets”. Rabbi Rosen was known as the Rogatchover Gaon, the “Genius of Rogatchov”, and was famous for his unbelievable breadth of knowledge on just about any subject. After once meeting him for a lengthy discussion, the renowned poet Bialik said that “from the mind of the Rogatchover could be carved out two Einsteins” and that he is “a great spiritual national treasure.” Rabbi Rosen had many students, including Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who also received his rabbinic ordination from the Gaon. The Rebbe once said that Rabbi Rosen was able to simplify all of Judaism into ten ideas, and quoted him as saying: “Were I a little bit smarter, it would be only one idea!”

Did You Know These Famous People Converted to Judaism?

Words of the Week

Love and work are the two things you have to do in life.
– Sigmund Freud