Tag Archives: Tel Aviv University

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: Isaac Herzog

Isaac Herzog

Isaac Herzog

Yitzhak Herzog (b. 1960) was born in Tel Aviv to a father from Ireland and mother from Egypt. His grandfather was once the Chief Rabbi of Ireland, and the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel between 1936 and 1959. His uncle was the great Israeli politician Abba Eban. Meanwhile, Herzog’s father was an IDF general who also served as Israel’s sixth president between 1983 and 1993, as well as Israel’s Representative to the U.N. During his term in the latter position, the family lived in New York, where Isaac went to the Modern Orthodox Yeshivat Ramaz school (as did last week’s Jew of the Week, Ivanka Trump). Herzog also studied at Cornell, New York University, and Tel Aviv University. During his army service, he was an intelligence officer with Unit 8200, the IDF’s largest unit, often compared to the American NSA. Herzog continues to serve in the military as a reservist. After completing his education, he worked in his father’s law firm. His first foray into politics was as a secretary in Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s cabinet between 1999 and 2001. He then chaired Israel’s Anti-Drug Authority until 2003, when he won a seat in the Knesset and was appointed Minister of Housing and Building. Since then, he has held a number of other ministerial posts, including Minister of Tourism, Social Affairs, Diaspora, and Welfare & Social Services. In 2013, he was elected leader of the Labor Party and thus became Leader of the Opposition. One of his first moves was meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and announcing his support for a two-state solution. For yesterday’s elections, Herzog joined his party with Tzipi Livni’s ‘Hatnua’ to form the ‘Zionist Union’. Though hailed by many as being the clear favourite in the elections and unseating Netanyahu, the Zionist Union ended up winning only 24 seats to Likud’s impressive 30. Herzog has stated that he will not be part of the coalition government, and will continue as Leader of the Opposition.

Words of the Week

I don’t speak because I have the power to speak; I speak because I don’t have the power to remain silent.
– Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook

Jew of the Week: Ilan Ramon

An Inspiring Hero: Israel’s First Astronaut

Ilan Ramon

Ilan Ramon – Israel’s First Astronaut

Ilan Wolferman (1954-2003) was born in Ramat Gan, Israel to Holocaust survivors. At just 19 years of age, he distinguished himself in the Yom Kippur War as a brave soldier, receiving a military decoration for his service. A year later he graduated as a fighter pilot, and as customary, took on a new name, ‘Ramon’. By 1981 he was promoted to squadron commander and was the youngest pilot to participate in the covert Operation Opera – Israel’s successful hit on Iraq’s nuclear reactor. He would log over 4000 hours of flying time, 1000 of which were in an F-16. In the relative calm of the late 1980s, Ramon studied at Tel Aviv University and earned a science degree in electronics and computer engineering. Returning to the military, he became a colonel by 1994, and in 1997 was invited by NASA to serve as a payload specialist in its space shuttle program.

His mission finally came in 2003, when he spent nearly 16 days in space, working 24 hour shifts and performing over 80 successful experiments. He proudly declared that he was representing all Jews and all Israelis. Part of that meant that his space food was certified kosher, that he brought to space with him a Torah scroll and a mezuzah, and he even asked his rabbi how he should keep Shabbat in orbit, where sunrise comes every 90 minutes. Tragically, the Columbia space shuttle exploded upon re-entry into Earth, taking the life of Ramon and his fellow crewmates. Sadder still, Ramon’s son Asaf perished in a training flight in 2009. In an unbelievable miracle, 37 pages of Ilan Ramon’s diary somehow survived the crash, when virtually everything else completely disintegrated. Scientists stated there is no “rational explanation” to how this was possible. An inspiring hero, Ilan Ramon was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and his memory continues to be a shining beacon for Israel and the Jewish nation.

Words of the Week

Why [are mourners fed] lentils? Just as the lentil has no mouth, so is the mourner speechless…Just as the lentil is round, so mourning comes round to all the inhabitants of this world.
– Talmud, Bava Batra 16b