Tag Archives: Secret Agent

Jew of the Week: Avi Issacharoff

Creator of Hit TV Show Fauda

Avi Issacharoff (b. 1973) was born in Jerusalem to a 7th generation Bukharian-Israeli family. His ancestors were among the first settlers of the famed Bukharian Quarter of Jerusalem. Although his family had built the Issacharoff-Babayev Synagogue of Jerusalem, Issacharoff himself was raised in Givat Shaul and attended its Kurdi synagogue. There, he picked up Arabic and would go on to become fluent in the language. This allowed Issacharoff to serve in the prestigious IDF Unit 217, also known as Duvdevan (“Cherry”), the elite special forces of the Commando Brigade, famous for their undercover work in Arab territories. Following his service, Issacharoff studied at Ben-Gurion University, then got an MA from Tel Aviv University. His first big role was as a Middle East Affairs Correspondent for Israel Radio. In 2002, he won a Best Reporter Award for his coverage of the Second Intifada. Shortly after, he began writing his first book (together with Amos Harel), called The Seventh War: How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians. The award-winning book was translated into French and Arabic, and became a Middle Eastern bestseller. The two later wrote another award-winning and bestselling book about the 2006 Lebanon War. Meanwhile, Issacharoff moved over to work at Ha’aretz as its Palestinian and Arab Affairs Correspondent. In 2014, he and a cameraman were beaten by Palestinian rioters. After producing, writing, and directing a number of short documentaries, Issacharoff teamed up with actor Lior Raz (a fellow Duvdevan veteran) to create Fauda, a new television show about Israeli secret agents in Palestinian communities. The show – based on their own experiences – became a huge hit, and won six Ophir Awards (the Israeli Oscars). It was eventually picked up by Netflix and streamed in 190 countries. Last month, The New York Times called it the best international show of 2017. Its long-awaited second season is now on air, and a third is coming next year. Meanwhile, Issacharoff still writes regularly, now as the Middle East Analyst for The Times of Israel and Walla!, Israel’s largest news portal. He is also a lecturer at Tel Aviv University. In a recent interview, he said how he fondly remembers Pesach seders at his grandfather’s house, where everyone wore joma, the traditional Bukharian robes, and that one of his favourite pastimes to this day is cooking Bukharian food.

Words of the Week

They don’t speak enough about the Kurds, because we have never taken hostages, never hijacked a plane. But I am proud of this. We have only three advantages: our willingness to sacrifice our bodies, our high morale, and if those fail us, we always have the mountains. Because they are our only friends.
– Dr. Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, on why there is so much support for Palestinians, but none for Kurds

Jew of the Week: Yolande Harmor

Yolande Harmor

Yolande Harmor

Yolande Gabbai Harmor (1913-1959) was born in Alexandria, Egypt. She went to school in France and returned to Egypt at 17 to get married. Working as a journalist, she soon became a noted writer in Egypt, as well as a popular socialite and member of Egypt’s “high society”. Meanwhile, Harmor was also drawn to Cairo’s Zionist circles. In 1945, she was recruited by the Jewish Agency and became a secret agent, gathering intelligence about Egypt’s royalty and politicians. She was able to get close to people like the Grand Mufti of Cairo, members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and even Egypt’s King Farouk himself. Her intelligence reports included detailed accounts of Arab military plans and troop numbers, giving the nascent Israeli state critical information to win the War of Independence. In July of 1948, Harmor’s cover was blown and she was arrested. However, as a favourite of some of Egypt’s most powerful people (many of whom had fallen in love with her), she was dealt with fairly lightly. After a few months, it became apparent that Harmor had developed stomach cancer. She was released from prison and deported out of Egypt. Harmor moved to Paris, and served on Israel’s UN delegation, and then for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Throughout this time, she continued to use her sources in Egypt to secure key intelligence information. In 1951, Harmor finally settled in Israel. Unfortunately, her efforts for the State of Israel were soon forgotten. Saddened, and further weakened by the passing of her beloved second husband, Harmor succumbed to her cancer at the young age of 46. In recent years, her incredible story has come to light once again. The city of Jerusalem established ‘Yolande Harmor Square’ in 1997, and a documentary film about her life was released in 2010.

Words of the Week

The Jews have been objects of hatred in pagan, religious, and secular societies. Fascists have accused them of being Communists, and Communists have branded them capitalists. Jews who live in non-Jewish societies have been accused of having dual loyalties, while Jews who live in the Jewish state have been condemned as ‘racists’. Poor Jews are bullied, and rich Jews are resented. Jews have been branded as both rootless cosmopolitans and ethnic chauvinists. Jews who assimilate have been called a ‘fifth column’, while those who stay together spark hatred for remaining separate…
Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin, ‘Why The Jews?’

Jew of the Week: Krystyna Skarbek

The Original ‘Bond Girl’

Secret Agent Krystyna Skarbek - the inspiration for James Bond's Vesper Lynd

Secret Agent Krystyna Skarbek – the inspiration for James Bond’s Vesper Lynd

Maria Krystyna Janina Skarbek (1908-1952) was born in Poland to a Catholic father and a Jewish mother from a wealthy family. From a young age, Maria enjoyed horse-back riding, skiing, and extreme physical activities. At 22, her father died and her mother’s family wealth ran out. Skarbek got a job in a Fiat dealership but fell ill from the fumes. To regain her health, she returned to the slopes and spent the majority of her time skiing and hiking. With the outbreak of World War II, Skarbek fled to London and enlisted in the British Army. She found her way into the Secret Intelligence Service and was sent to Hungary for “espionage, reconnaissance and sabotage”. From there she re-entered Poland by hiking across the mountainous border. Skarbek first attempted to save her mother from the Nazis, but her mother refused to leave and was killed in a camp. Skarbek’s main work was to organize the transfer of vital intelligence reports out of Warsaw to the SIS. (One of these correctly revealed Germany’s planned invasion of the USSR, of critical importance to the Allied victory). She also assisted in smuggling weapons and exfiltrating key military personnel. Arrested by the Gestapo in 1941, Skarbek bit her own tongue until it bled, then pretended to have virulent tuberculosis and used the cover to escape her captivity. She made her way through the Balkans to Turkey, then to the SIS headquarters in Egypt. Upon arrival, she was suspected of being a counter-spy secretly working for the Germans! Thankfully, she cleared her name and returned to work. In 1944 she was posted in France under the name ‘Madame Pauline’. Here were some of her most infamous missions, including demolishing bridges and infiltrating a Nazi prison to save her commanding officer. After the war she was awarded with an Officer of the Order of the British Empire and France’s Croix de Guerre. However, she was dismissed from service with only a month’s salary and left alone in Cairo. She slowly rebuilt her life as Christine Granville. Sadly, in 1952 she was assassinated in a hotel room. Skarbek’s story inspired Vesper Lynd, the original ‘Bond Girl’ in Ian Fleming’s first 007 story Casino Royale. Many consider her Britain’s first female secret agent.

Words of the Week

God transforms spirituality into physicality; the Jew makes physical things spiritual.
– Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov