The Mind Of A Zionist Revolutionary – The Jewish Voice

Posted By on January 8, 2020

ZionistHistoryBookOfTheMonth for January 2020

By: Moshe Phillips

This Hebrew month, Tevet, marks the 24th anniversary of the death of Dr. Israel Eldad, Zionist philosopher, confidant of Menachem Begin, and co-leader with Yitzhak Shamir of a 1940s Zionist paramilitary organization that fought against the British army.

Dr. Eldads memoirs of Israels battle for independence titledThe First Tithe(Maaser Rishon) was published in English for the first time in 2008. The book is primarily about Eldads experiences as a leader in the Zionist underground LEHI (the Hebrew acronym for the Fighters For the Freedom of Israel, better known as the Stern Gang or Stern Group) but begins in Europe. The subtitle of the book is Memoirs and Edifying Discourses of the Hebrew War for Freedom.

Dr. Israel Eldad. Eldad originally published this volume of memoirs in Israel in Hebrew in 1950. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Eldad originally published this volume of memoirs in Israel in Hebrew in 1950. It went through five editions in Hebrew and was considered must reading for Israelis who wished to understand the years before the British were forced to abandon Mandatory Palestine. The memoir covers the period between 1938 and 1948, and the title is a reference to the 10 year history the books contains when so many Zionist fighters sacrificed so much for Jewish independence.

The final part of EldadsFirst Tithecontains his penetrating and contrarian look at the early history of the Israel Defense Forces. He covers the failure of Israeli army to capture Jerusalems Old City in 1948, the decision of the LEHI to disband and integrate into the IDF, and the brutal attack on the Irgun arms shipAltalenaby Palmach forces. Nineteen Jewish soldiers were killed at the hands of fellow Jews at that attack. TheAltalenaepisode is seldom recalled today and Eldads account is heart wrenching.

One of the interesting tales Eldad relates early in the memoir is the story of when at the Betar World Conference in Warsaw in 1938 Eldad publicly clashed with the great pre-World War Two Zionist leader Zev Jabotinsky during a debate following Menachem Begins proposal to call for an immediate armed revolt against the British Mandate. After leaving Warsaw subsequent to the citys fall to the Nazis, Eldad and his wife shared an apartment with Begin and his wife in Vilna. In his autobiographical bookWhite Nights, Begin recalls playing chess with Eldad when the Soviet NKVD came to arrest him. Here we get Eldads take on the same event.

In 1944, Eldad was seriously hurt while attempting to escape from British custody in Jerusalem. Eldad was finally freed after a dramatic prison break engineered by the LEHI. He was still wearing a cast on his back from the injuries he sustained during his first escape attempt. This story may be as close asFirst Tithecomes to the recollections of armed actions that the reader may expect to find in an underground army leaders memoir.

A far more important passage in the book is Eldads memories of celebrating Passover seder in a British prison camp for two consecutive years. The emotions the prisoners felt that as they yearned both for their personal freedom to be rejoicing at the holiday table with their families and their longing to be in free in a strong and independent Jewish State are brought to life. The story of the seders are interwoven with Eldads commentary on the Haggadah and how he related it to Zionist independence in front of both the prisoners and the British jailers as he led the seders.

Zev Golans translation brings Eldads distinctive voice to English successfully. No easy task. The English edition was been published by the Tel Aviv based Jabotinsky Institute and distributed through Geffen. This translation also includes a short biographical sketch of Eldad by the Golan. Golan knew Eldad personally and interviewed him many times, the connection shows throughout the volume.

Geula Cohen, the veteran Israeli politician and journalist who passed away last month, had a longtime association with Dr. Eldad. The two worked together on her underground radio station broadcasts for the LEHI. Eldad wrote much of what Cohen delivered on air. Later they collaborated on Eldads Zionist journalSullam, created after Israels independence.Sullamwas a full-throated critique of Israeli society and the young Jewish States government.

In Cohens bookWoman Of Violence(later known asThe Voice Of Valor) she wrote: it was Eldad who, in article, essay, and poem, chiseled on walls of stone the gospel of war. And these stones pierced hearts, coursed through veins, and emboldened men to fight.

Cohen was right. Eldad was one of a kind andFirst Tithereflects his uniqueness as well as his passion for Zionism and Israel.

Moshe Phillips is national director of Herut North Americas U.S. division anda candidate on the Herut slate in the 2020WorldZionistCongresss US elections; Herut is an international movement forZionistpride and education and is dedicated to the ideals ofpre-WorldWarTwoZionistleaderZeev Jabotinsky. Heruts website is

The Mind Of A Zionist Revolutionary - The Jewish Voice

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