By Yaakov Hagoel, Chairman of the World Zionist Organization

When talking about the Declaration of Independence, one usually focuses on its resounding opening sentences:

 “The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books“, or in one of the following paragraphs, which talk about the natural and historical right to the land, the call for peace with all the inhabitants of the land and the partnership in the fight against Nazi evil.

All this is good and important. The Declaration of Independence is truly a work of thought of precise wording, every word of which was examined and weighed by the heads of the Jewish population on the eve of the establishment of the State. But no less is the last part of the scroll, dedicated to signatories.

David Ben-Gurion at the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1948 (Photo: GPO)

Thirty-seven people were privileged to sign the founding document of the State, headed by David Ben-Gurion of course, and among them also Golda Meir, Moshe Sharret, Rabbi Yehuda Leib HaCohen Fishman Maimon and many others. Every time I look at the signature section, I come across David Remez‘s signature.

Why specifically  Remez’s signature? Because it is the most prominent of them all. Most of the signatories used a pen brought especially for the event by the People’s Administration that intended  uniformity for the signatures. Remez brought his own pen with him, a special and thick pen, and to this day  his signature stands out as the most prominent name among the signatories.

For me, the story of David Ramez’s signature – he has many accomplishments to his credit since the early days of the Yishuv, as a Knesset member and cabinet minister – is not just a historical anecdote. There is an important message, especially during  these days. Recently the Declaration of Independence has become a symbol of the national controversy that is burning within us. Some say it is all mine, and others say it is all mine. There are those who maintain  that the values that they support  are the correct balance between the different levels of government and the other side  which says that these values are actually the opposite.

But the truth is neither here nor there. The Declaration of Independence belongs to the entire Israeli public, and besides the thirty-seven actual signatures on it, there are millions more transparent signatures of every citizen. Everyone signed the scroll – each of us with his own special pen, values, stories and hopes. Over the years we learned to unite around the scroll, to add more and more signatures at the bottom, and today the Declaration of Independence is the place where all these signatures are gathered, and on the basis of which the Israeli partnership grows.

The Declaration of Independence must not be read as if it supports only one side of the political map. Such an appropriation will erase from it many signatures of Israelis, partners on the way. What we must do is the opposite: take out each and every one of us his special pen, re-sign the scroll, find our unique place within this founding text – and then take all these pens and continue to write, together, the great Israeli story.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


Walter Robinson was a giant of a man with a giant personality and giant visions who overcame giant challenges

By David E. Kaplan

Each person’s passing is customarily marked by a stone revealing name, dates, a biblical reference and messages from loved ones. For Walter Robinson, who passed away 2 August 2023 aged 99 in Herzliya Israel, there already exists a stone  – a mighty one that has windows, doors, balconies and patios for it is a stone not marking of a person’s passing but of a community’s celebration of life. That stone – more like a sparkling gem – is called Beth Protea, a retirement home perched in the city of Herzliya north of Tel Aviv in central Israel and it would not exist were it not for the grit and determination and always inspiring presence of Walter Robinson.

At Home in Israel. Named after South Africa’s national flower, the pride of the community in Israel, Beth Protea.

When Beth Protea was just an idea – an abstract conversational point “between men enjoying a scotch” as Beth Protea’s oral folklore records  – it was Walter who grabbed that idea like a ‘loose ball’ in rugby and ran with it. There were no shortages of “tackles” along that tumultuous run for touch but nothing was going to stop this Irishman, also South African but most of all, an Israeli and a feisty proud Jew. Armed with a multitude of talents, exuberant personality, a power of persuasion delivered in lyrical  Irish, and a team of merry men, all very able and ably plied “by copious amounts of whiskey,” as Walter put it to this writer in an interview many years ago, Beth Protea was transformed from an “good idea” to the pride of the Southern African community in Israel.

I remember as a much younger young man attending Beth Protea meetings where Walter would hold the floor. Waiting for the right moment to enter the verbal fray, with a loud authoritative but so pleasantly lyrical voice,  he would  present his argument, so well packaged and when the odds were stacked against him – as they frequently were – not hesitate to bring the full weight of G-d behind him as he so adeptly dived into the Torah portion of the week and selected that which served Beth Protea best. I have no doubt, with Walter’s hand, G-d had a hand too in ensuring the success of Beth Protea.

Walter Holding Forth. Always a pleasure to listen to, the founder of Beth Protea Walter Robinson addressing a gathering in the Gallery at Beth Protea.

Before getting the Beth Protea project off the ground, finding the funds proved the first of the proverbial ‘tackles’.  Walter related to this writer that “We held our first fundraising campaign back in 1985 in Haifa where there was quite a large resident Southern African community and after our presentation, you won’t believe the first question someone asked. “What are you guys planning to serve for lunch?” Can you believe it? That was the first question asked by this crowd of South Africans! We had no land to build on; we hadn’t raised a dime, and people wanted to know what we would be serving for lunch.”

Quick off the mark, Walter replied, “Well, if you don’t start donating, there will be no dining room in which to serve lunch!”  and nearly three decades later, it was Walter himself with his beloved Fanny, themselves residents at Beth Protea, who would be sitting in that dining room  and be asking:

 “What’s for lunch?”

It was only fitting that Walter would spend the final leg  of his life’s journey in the ‘The home that Walter built’. 

Inspirational Leader. Walter on being appointed in 2013, ‘Hon. Life President of Beth Protea’ being flanked by the then Chairman of Keren Beth Protea Colin Schachat (l) and then present Beth Protea chairman, Isaac Lipshitz.

Before Walter and Fanny arrived to settle in Israel, there had been  a group who were toying with the idea of a retirement home but  mainly to cater for parents who were left behind in South Africa. The concept found little traction until Walter’s arrival from Cape Town in 1981. Well-known and respected for his communal work back in his adopted South Africa, the ad hoc group roped him in and within a few months of his arrival in Israel, he was chairman of a steering committee. “They allowed me to unpack my suitcases first,” he bellowed with his boisterous Dublin guffaw. That Dublin accent was his inimitable trademark and  it was only fitting that at his funeral – which in the words of his children was “a celebration of his life” – began with the playing of a joyous Irish song that many, familiar with the lyrics, joined in. Tears gave way to smiles as the song touched on life, lasses, love, green landscapes and whisky. The music and its message resonated and encapsulated the adventurous life of a man’s journey, a journey that spanned five countries ending in Israel but beginning in Dublin, Ireland, where Walter qualified as a civil engineer at Dublin’s prestigious Trinity College.

It was while there during WWII that Walter nearly ended up in jail and was rightly proud of it!


The year was 1944 and Walter and his student chums – all fervent Zionists –  started a newspaper called the Dublin Jewish Youth Magazine(DJYM). One day, Walter opens the evening paper, and “I see this MP, Oliver Flanagan, questioning whether the directors of the DJYM have a license to publish and whether our articles had been submitted for censorship as required by wartime regulations. Both were serious offences, carrying prison sentences. Of course the answer to both was – NO. Bugger it, we just did what felt was right,” says Walter, delighting in his mischievous past. Flanagan was a notorious antisemite who in his maiden speech in the Irish Lower House the previous year, had urged the government “to rout the Jews out of the country.”

Well this antisemite was not about to “rout” Robinson.  Once it was brought to fulminating Flanagan’s attention that “The owner of the paper’s printers was a great friend of Prime Minister Eamon de Valera and so if the printer could not go to prison, neither could we,” the  harassment halted. Walter’s Zionism continued to soar, culminating nearly fifty years later in his finest communal achievement – the opening of Beth Protea in 1992.

Walter Honoured. Seen here on the occasion of Walter being appointed Hon. Life President of Beth Protea are two of his grandchildren and (l-r) Herman Musikanth clutching the whiskey, Fanny (centre) and Walter.

Much would happen in the intervening years. Walter would work all over the world, beginning in Ireland, then the Scottish Highlands for three years and then further afield in Pakistan working in the naval dockyards of Karachi, followed by many years in South Africa where he met and married Fanny. Fanny I too got to know well when she was editor of Telfed magazine, a position that I would later assume. Walter and Fanny married in South Africa in 1956, and after a spell in Ireland and a trip through Europe, they settled in Cape Town where Walter joined the family engineering business. Their three children, Gary, Brendon and Rena, were born there and educated at the Jewish day school, Herzlia School, where Walter was active on the board serving as vice-chairman and subsequently chairman. How poignant, as was pointed out by one of his children in a tribute at the funeral,  that from the school he immersed himself in Cape Town ‘Herzlia’ to the retirement home in the city of ‘Herzliya’ he immersed himself in Israel – covering the bookends of life’s journey – were  associated with Theodor Hertzl, whose line, “If you will it, it is no dream” pertained to Walter who transcended that other journey throughout his life –  from dreamer to doer

Living the Dream. Passionately supportive of Herzlia School in Cape Town, South Africa where he served as vice chair and chairman, Walter Robinson applied the inspirational words of Theodore Herzl at the entrance to the school to his monumental project in Herzliya, Israel – Beth Protea.

One of Walter’s other kids had it right when said in tribute “He made the impossible possible,” and to understand how, the words of one his good friends who worked very closely with Walter to get Beth Protea literally “off the ground” come to mind. At a special ceremony I attended conferring on Walter  ‘Honorary Life President of Beth Protea’ in 2013, Beth Protea’s “financial whiz” Herman Musikanth poignantly summed up Walter’s extraordinary leadership skills:

Walter led out front, completely absorbed and dedicated, causing all those around him to follow. It was the trust, the honesty of purpose and his personal efforts, generated through his leadership that created the support.” Quoting the words  of Albert Pike written in the early 1800s that “What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and this world is, and remains, immortal,” Herman concluded with – as I do now:

 “I believe that Beth Protea is probably as immortal as one can get.”

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


The story of a book, its journey and the people it enlightened

By Stephen Schulman

Some time ago, an interesting book came into my possession. English Home Teacher: Practical Lessons in English by Alexander Harkavy had reached me via a circuitous route and with an interesting history. My wife Yona‘s family: her father Meir and mother Tsila together with her mother’s mother and a brother, all Holocaust survivors, had come to Israel in 1949 while the eldest sister remained in Russia. Meir’s entire nuclear family had not survived. A few years later, her uncle and grandmother left for the United States to join her other uncle, also a Holocaust survivor, living there. In 1956, her aunt, Gesia, succeeded in leaving the Soviet Union and spent some years in the States staying with her brothers helping to look after their young children before finally settling in Israel and bringing the book with her.

Man of Words. The Russia-born writer, lexicographer and linguist Alexander Harkevy who after the antisemitic pogroms of 1880 in Russia, joined the Jewish Am Olam (Eternal People) back-to-the-land movement. Unlike Bilu, which directed its activities towards Palestine, Am Olam saw a Jewish future in the United States. In 1882 he emigrated to the US but rather than fulfilling back-to-the-land aspirations, he gravitated to the written word.

Aunt Gesia was fluent in Yiddish, Polish and Russian but the pressing need was to learn English. Caring for her nephews and nieces left little time for formal study. It was then that she acquired the English Home Teacher: Practical Lessons in English. A New Method for Home Instruction: that had been expressly written for Yiddish speakers to learn English.

The book’s author Alexander Harkavy was a most noteworthy gentleman, both talented and industrious. Born in 1863 in Novogrodek, Belorussia, the grandson of the town rabbi, he showed an early interest in languages acquiring knowledge of Hebrew, Russian, Syriac, German and Yiddish. Moving to Vilna at the age of fifteen, he wrote his first work in Yiddish and three years later after the pogroms of 1881, immigrated to the United States.

Beginnings in Belorussia. The town of Nowogródek in Belorussia where Alexander Harkavy was born in 1863. (Photo Shtetl Routes Teatr NN.PL)

Harkavy’s love of Yiddish together with his gift for languages soon crystallized into a vocation. Before making New York his permanent home in 1890, he had led a peripatetic life alternating between Europe and North America helping to found a Yiddish newspaper and a periodical. Once settled in the Big Apple, his literary output was prodigious. With many Jews from Eastern Europe arriving and not having time or opportunity to formally learn the new language, he published Der Englishe Learer (The English Teacher) 1891 and Der Englisher Brivnshteler (The English Letter Writer) 1892 in the “English self taught” genre expressly written for Yiddish speakers and that became immensely popular.

Posing with Peers. Representing the American organization HIAS during a visit to Europe in 1920, Alexander Harkavy (seated, center) posing at a table with fellow representatives from Jewish communal organisations

His talents were not confined to textbooks and in his prolific career, Harkavy translated Don Quixote into Yiddish, revised the King James English Bible, translated it into Yiddish for a dual language version and compiled and contributed to many Yiddish anthologies and publications. Amongst his many other activities, he taught U.S. history and politics for the New York Board of Education and Yiddish literature and grammar at the Teacher’s Seminary in New York. However, his lasting contributions were in lexicography where he compiled Yiddish-English and English-Yiddish dictionaries and the crowning achievement: the Yiddish-English-Hebrew Dictionary (1925) that played an important role in educating East European Jewish immigrants and is in use today.

Yidden Gems. It is partly due to Harkavy’s work that Yiddish today is regarded as a language. His Yiddish dictionaries show that its vocabulary is as ample as that of the average modern language, and that, if lacking in technical terms, it is richer in idiomatic and characteristic expressions.

The English Home Teacher: Practical Lessons in English first published in 1921 and reprinted in 1929 is both a fascinating and enigmatic book. The 272 pages contain 50 lessons each of which commences with a short passage in English, each word accompanied by its translation and a pronunciation guide. It is then followed by a grammatical exposition very often having no connection to the passage itself. Naturally, all the explanations and pronunciations are in Yiddish in Hebrew script.  

To put it mildly: didactically, the book is no great shakes. In fact, it would make the eyebrows of a modern and trained English teacher curl! There is no logically graded structure and progression, no revision or reinforcement. In the very first lesson, the neophyte English learner is served a heady brew of past simple active and passive and present perfect tenses plus comparison of adjectives! Moreover, as the pronunciation guide for each English word in the text is written in Yiddish, it would have been interesting to hear someone’s first attempts at enunciation. Nevertheless, it should be borne in mind that this book was written over a century ago when the science of language teaching had barely emerged from its swaddling clothes.

After four decades in the USA, Harkavy was well versed in the contemporary culture, fluent and well read in the vernacular. With his home in New York, he was thoroughly conversant with the current trends of American society. Moreover, he was also on intimate terms with the immigrant experience of his co-religionists and knew full well the basic English required in order to survive and make a living in this new and daunting land.

Well-traveled Book. Expressly written for Yiddish speakers to learn English, Alexander Harkavy’s ‘English Home Teacher’ found its way into the writer’s wife’s family and finally ended up in Israel.

Logic dictates that the English be modern, the passages be relevant and the vocabulary be practical and utilitarian to enable the user to interact and communicate with his/her surroundings. Therefore, it is most puzzling to read the contents of the introductory reading passage in each lesson where the writer has chosen to take the opposite tack. The majority of them are anecdotal, often piquant and pithy with a moral attached whilst others are homiletic. Furthermore, their contents are mainly drawn from early Victorian England with the corresponding vocabulary. It demands a great stretch of the imagination see how archaic terms such as: “a droll fellow, to dine, a duke, an incision, the latter, a witty idler, a tankard, a draught, taken counsel, took lodging, a roguish companion, whereupon” etc. etc. could be put to daily use or even understood in the Bronx.

What were Harkavy’s motives in choosing the texts?

Was he trying to show off and impress his readers with his erudition and grasp of English? This doesn’t seem likely as he was well known and highly regarded in the community and his learned reputation went before him.

Harkavy, having grown up in the world of Talmud studies, was familiar with the tradition of exegesis, wit, pilpulim (hair splitting argumentation and debating) and knew that many new immigrants from Eastern Europe had a similar background. Possibly, he chose the reading passages to appeal to their tastes for most of them are witty, humorous and thought provoking. The introductory passage to the third lesson begins:

A lunatic in an insane asylum was asked how he came there, and he answered: “The world said I was mad, I said the world was mad and they outvoted me.”

Much food for thought!

The English Home Teacher: Practical Lessons in English was first published in 1921, a year that boded ill for the millions of Jews wishing to flee the persecution, pogroms and mass murders of Eastern Europe and the Baltic states and seek a haven on safe shores. There had been a shift in American public opinion and sympathy for all those displaced and stateless had become a fear of being swamped by a wave of impoverished immigrants, feeble in body that would cause the growth of slums, expose workers to cut throat wage competition and endanger American standards of living. That same year, with the passing of the Emergency Quota Act, the United States had declared a moratorium on its immigration policies and had begun to drastically restrict the number of newcomers with Australia, Canada, South Africa and other countries following suit.

Food for Thought. The first lesson in Harkavy’s book – first published in 1921 – is about eating dinner.

With his finger on the pulse, Harkavy was no doubt painfully aware that the Jewish newcomers from Eastern Europe fitted the popular and biased stereotype of the unskilled and indigent immigrant with his/her broken or non-existent English. Maybe he felt that his book offering reading passages on a ‘high level’ would enable its students to acquire a more sophisticated vocabulary with better communication skills to dispel this negative image, ease integration and aid their entry into the work market.

In the archives of ANU (the Museum of the Jewish People) situated on the campus of the Tel Aviv University, there is a film of his visit to Novogrodek in the early 1930’s. The atmosphere was festive for here was a native son who had made good in the Goldene Medina returning as a celebrity to pay his respects to his birthplace. The feted guest was escorted around town and proudly shown the Jewish institutions: the mikveh (ritual bath), the synagogue, the yeshiva and the Talmud Torah with the little children studying diligently at their tables.

Covers a lot of Ground. The cover of Harkavy’s book that must have prepared so many Yiddish speaking immigrants from Eastern Europe to the USA.

The film is bittersweet and very sad and serves as yet another testimony to Jewish presence wiped out during the Holocaust. In 1941, the German army occupied the town and the 10,000 Jewish inhabitants – men, women and children – who comprised half of the town’s population, were ultimately murdered with the assistance of local collaborators. Harkavy was spared the agony of hearing this terrible news.

He had passed away in New York in 1939.

About the writer:

Stephen Schulman is a graduate of the South African Jewish socialist youth movement Habonim, who immigrated to Israel in 1969 and retired in 2012 after over 40 years of English teaching. He was for many years a senior examiner for the English matriculation and co-authored two English textbooks for the upper grades in high school. Now happily retired, he spends his time between his family, his hobbies and reading to try to catch up on his ignorance.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


Wounded veterans from the UK and Israel compete in Veterans games in Tel Aviv

By Rolene Marks

I am writing this article during quite a poignant week. If you are a keen observer of military history, the first days of June are hugely significant. This week, we commemorated 56 years since the start of the Six Day War in 1967 that changed the landscape of the Middle East. The 6th of June marks 41 years since the First Lebanon War “Operation Peace for Galilee” in 1982 and a day that changed the trajectory of the Second Word War as Allied forces troops landed on the Normandy beaches in France in 1944. D-Day. We salute the remarkable men and women of the armed forces.

Why is mentioning famous historical military operations relevant to the veterans games that this article is dedicated to? Because it is a reminder of the fighting and sacrifices made for our freedoms and democracy. We owe these brave soldiers a debt we can never repay. They fight with everything they have – and return bearing the wounds and scars of battle, some carried deep inside the recesses of their souls. We bear reminding of the enormous sacrifices made by our armed forces and whatever generation deployed to battle, they deserve our acknowledgement, respect and support.

Sporting Snapshot. Competing British and Israeli teams pose together at the Veteran Games in Tel Aviv. (Photo Tomer Appelbaum).

Last week, Beit Halochem Centres in Israel played host to the Veteran games, welcoming 60 wounded warriors from the United Kingdom and their families. Beit Halochem (House of the Warrior) is an extraordinary organization. The organization provides unique rehabilitation, sports and recreation centers serving disabled veterans and their families. Beit Halochem provides a place where the wounded undergo the various treatments, which they need for as long as they live. The centre emphasises sport as a rehabilitative tool along with a wide array of social and cultural programmes.

The four Beit Halochem Centres in Israel – including the state-of-the-art complex in Tel Aviv, played host to the warrior athletes and their families as they engaged in friendly competition in events that included swimming, shooting and CrossFit.

War to Tug-of-War. Families of wounded veterans join a spirited game of tug-of-war.

Ex-servicemen and women from across the UK armed forces who have lost limbs in combat and other veterans who are battling crippling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were selected to compete. PTSD is often endured in silence and sports have a therapeutic effect for many suffering from trauma. What made this competition particularly unique is that competitors did not have to reach a certain sporting standard to qualify. This means that no matter what their sporting level or experience, everyone could compete for medals.

This is the third year that this event took place, and presents a great opportunity not just for veterans to compete, but to bond with each other as well as take in the sights and sounds of Israel.

Grit and Determination. Ashley Hall in competition in the X-fit

The games were organized by Beit Halochem UK and the IDF Disabled Veterans Fund. Beit Halochem UK raises awareness and funds to help support Israel’s wounded veterans. Beit Halochem in Israel helps 51,000 wounded soldiers and victims of terror by offering them support for the rest of their lives.

 “Physical activity, camaraderie and the family all play a crucial role in the successful rehabilitation of injured soldiers and the Veteran Games put both front and centre,” said Veteran Games co-founders Andrew Wolfson and Spencer Gelding. “Medals are a great bonus, but our goal is to provide an environment for veterans to challenge themselves in a way that will provide lasting benefits, while building friendships with other heroes and their families with whom they have so much in common.”

Pulling their Weight. Once putting their lives on the line for their countries, wounded vets from the UK and Israel engage in friendly competition in Tel Aviv. 

These remarkable warriors are absolutely inspirational.

Ben Roberts, 42 a veteran from Essex who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan said, “I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and in 2010 was diagnosed with Combat Stress Insomnia. I took part in the games last year and they have inspired me, shown me that I have a purpose and I have worth and that there are people out there that are willing to support us and show us British veterans that we can achieve things even with mental health. The games for me personally were a major spiritual level as well and the energy was just amazing here and it has helped me through the year where we are today”

Cheered on by the Competition. A British athlete is cheered on by Israeli staff and athletes during the third Veterans Games in Tel Aviv on May 29, 2023. (Courtesy Beit HaLohem UK)

Organizers ensured that families were front and centre and they stood on the sidelines and cheered as their loved ones tested their mettle in friendly competition. Family members often struggle when an injured veteran returns back home and the role they play in their loved one’s recovery is crucial. To keep children entertained, a soccer camp is simultaneously held. Nothing builds bonds quite like sports!

Sight to Behold. Craig Lundberg receiving a swimming medal in the visually impaired category

Craig Lundberg 37, was completely blinded after being hit by two rocket-propelled grenades that are usually used for targeting helicopters or armored vehicles while on his second tour of Iraq in 2007. “It feels amazing to have my family along that they can see no matter what life throws at you, you can focus and get around it. I am really honored to be here and I competed in CrossFit and swimming and won a silver medal. It wasn’t expected because there was some great competition. For the lifting of weights and running, my son stood at one end my partner at the other and called to me so I could hear and get from point A to point B so it was a real family event. It is massively important that they are involved. Every day the family live with the sacrifice of living with a blind partner which isn’t the easiest sometimes, so to have them here giving support has been top notch.”

Opening Ceremony. A veteran of Afghanistan, cabinet minister for Veterans Affairs, Johnny Mercer MP addressing the opening ceremony of the Veteran Games.

Accompanying the UK delegation was Minister for Veteran’s Affairs, Johnny Mercer. MP Mercer served in the Royal Artillery and retired in December 2013 with the rank of captain.  “We traditionally look at Israel and certainly the certainly the wealth of data you have accumulated over years of experience. I’m trying to make the UK the best country in the world to be a veteran and to do that we need to work with our friends and partners to understand what they’re doing that works really well, so that we can replicate that in the UK.” Mercer added that “it’s amazing to be out here in Israel. There’s nothing quite like an Israeli welcome, seeing the Veteran Games and using the power of sports as a vehicle for recovery. It’s extraordinary.”

Brother-in Arms. From different countries, these veterans share a bond understanding and camaraderie.

The games were timed to coincide with half-term (semester) vacation in the United Kingdom and the group had the chance to visit historical sites in Jerusalem, experience the healing powers of the Dead Sea and enjoy culinary and even graffiti tours in Tel Aviv.

Top Training. Veterans are seen ahead of the Veteran Games in Israel. (photo credit: Courtesy of The Veteran Games)

The bonds forged between these exceptional warriors from the United Kingdom and Israel will last a lifetime.

We could not be more proud to salute them. 

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


A personal recollection from Israel’s victorious war 56 years ago

By Lennie Lurie

Approaching June 5, the anniversary of the 1967 Six Day War,  I’m always reminded of  a miracle – a personal miracle – that occurred within the much larger miracle of securing the Jewish homeland.

This June 5, 2023, will be no different. 

One is sometimes inclined to deride and even scorn unusual events which bear the title of ‘miracles’. The Bible is full of such miracles which are difficult to explain and are usually accepted with an element of religious faith.

I would like to share with you a real “miracle” which I experienced exactly 56 years ago. I ascribe the circumstances of this amazing event as being miraculous because they exceed the realms of sheer coincidence. The ramifications of this miracle brought me indescribable joy under conditions which nobody could have ever foreseen.

Countdown to War. Known for his colloquial charisma and pan-Arab populism,Gamal Abdul Nasser, the man who forced war in 1967, was a master at riling up the crowd as seen here from a balcony of the National Union building overlooking Republic Square, Cairo.(AP Photo)

In May 1967, Jews the world over followed the events developing in the Middle East most anxiously. The United Nation forces in the Gaza Strip were expelled by the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdul Nasser. The strategic Straits of Tiran, providing shipping access to Israel’s southern port of Eilat, had been blockaded by Egyptian war ships and menacing cannons placed on Tiran Island.

Egypt and Syria had united to form a formidable military threat. It was obvious to me that the Western world was gutless to do anything to diminish this dangerous situation and that a war involving Israel was inevitable.

At that time I was working with my late father in his clothing factory in Cape Town. My younger brother, Bernie, had recently flown to Morocco and his next destination was Madrid, Spain, to commence an extensive tour of Europe.

After my matriculation in 1958, I volunteered to serve in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces); and had completed my training as a paratrooper 15 months later. I recall our jumps were made from the dangerous height of about 300 meters to ensure a speedy descent and a greater concentration of landed forces. No other parachuting military unit in the world jumps from such a relatively low height. Needless to say, we had our share of paratroopers with broken legs. As the Yankees say: “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs!”

Although now some seven years later, I felt strongly back in South Africa that my duty in 1967 was to be with my fellow soldiers in Israel, being convinced that a war was going to break out and I did not want to just read about it!

Red Beret! The writer after successfully landing safely from his 6th and final parachute jump qualified him to be awarded his “wings” and the privilege of wearing the prestigious red beret. “The – thankfully! – unopened reserve parachute is still attached to my waist.”

At that critical time, all able bodied Israeli men were being called into the army and there was a desperate shortage of man-power to work in the agricultural fields of farms and kibbutzim. The South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) began calling for young South African volunteers to go to Israel and work in the fields, replacing the mobilized man-power. I made immediate contact with the SAZF but insisted that as a former Israeli soldier, I wanted to join my unit, the 50th Paratrooper Battalion. Permission was promptly granted: I could fly together with the other volunteers to Israel but on landing, instead of being taken to some kibbutz, I could break away and try to get into army uniform.

Representing SA Volunteers in Jerusalem. The writer wearing his IDF uniform addressing an International Youth Conference ceremony in Jerusalem, May 1959, representing the South African volunteers who served in the IDF.

My parents realized that nothing would deter me from rejoining my army unit and I left with their blessings… and prayers! My last undertaking before leaving home was to write a brief letter to Bernie, explaining to him that I believed that war in Israel was just a matter of time and that I had to be there with my fellow Israeli soldiers. I ended it with the hope that our paths might meet again under happier circumstances.

Fruitful Experience. Young volunteers from abroad picking fruit in a kibbutz orchid in 1967.

Our plane landed in Israel on Sunday afternoon, 4 June 1967. The Six Day War broke out the following morning. The war ended on the Saturday which found me at some kibbutz outpost in the very north of Israel overlooking the Golan Heights, which the IDF had just conquered. I won’t describe all my desperate endeavors to locate my unit, which ultimately proved unsuccessful. Eventually I arrived at Kibbutz Yizre’el, in the north, near the town of Afula, where I knew a number of South African kibbutz members.

A Field Day. Volunteers from abroad being driven early in the morning by a tractor to the fields on a kibbutz in 1967.

I began to work in the agricultural fields together with other volunteers who were arriving daily from overseas. Almost every night I would be woken up to help new volunteers get off the buses and trucks with their baggage. One evening, after helping a new volunteer from Australia to get off the truck, he stared at me somewhat strangely and asked:

Are you South Africa?”

Replying in the affirmative, I hardly considered his question unusual as there were many South African members on Kibbutz Yizre’el. However, I was quite taken aback when he enquired if my name was Lennie! Again answering in the affirmative, he could have flawed me when he next said:

Your brother Bernie is in Israel!”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Bernie was in Israel!

How did this stranger even know who I was? In a state of near shock, I asked him to explain to me the background to his astounding revelation.

I was amongst a group of  Australian volunteers,” he began.We departed from Sydney and flew to Rome to make a connection to Israel. On the flight to Israel, I began to talk to a young guy seated next to me. He told me that his name was Bernie and that he was from South Africa. He then started speaking about his brother, Lennie, who he said had left for Israel before the war started and that he had planned to join his army unit. This fellow had no idea where his brother was and was most concerned about him. He had broken off his European trip in order to find his brother and when we landed in Israel, this Bernie said to me: “If you see a man with a chin beard, ask him if he is a South African. If he says ‘yes!’, then ask him if his name is Lennie. If he says ‘yes!’ again, tell him that his brother Bernie is in Israel”.”

Dig This! Expecting the worst, high school boys digging trenches in a Tel Aviv street on the eve of the 1967 Six Day War.

I firmly believe that despite the enormity of war the Almighty was watching over us and wanted to unite my brother and me.

Now that I knew Bernie was in Israel:

“How would I find him?”

I decided my best bet was to call Telfed  – the office of the South African Zionist Federation in Tel Aviv. Afterall, they look after the interests of South Africans living in Israel and keep track of the movements of visiting South Africans, who in those days, usually made a point of visiting the Telfed office for a coffee, chat and to catch up on news.  It was the No 1 meeting place for South Africans, particularly in 1967.

“Maybe Bernie would have contacted the ‘Fed’ at some time after his arrival.” I thought.

So, very early the next morning I phoned the Fed. One of the secretaries, Myra, whom I knew from my army days, answered the call. I had barely stated my name when she interrupted me to say: “Your brother, Bernie, is standing next to me. Do you want to speak to him?”

Bernie had hardly asked, “Len, is that you?” when I found the strength to utter only two words to him:

 “Don’t move?”

Some three hours later we reunited in the Fed offices. People could only stare in bewilderment as we embraced each other in uninhibited rapture, tears of joy streaming down our cheeks. I returned with ‘bro’ Berns’ to Kibbutz Yizre’el where we worked for a few weeks. We then left the kibbutz and hitchhiked together to the Golan Heights and then south to Eilat, sharing with Israelis the wonders of a victorious Israel with a united Jerusalem.

Home Away from Home. The Telfed office in Tel Aviv where the Lurie brothers were reunited. A meeting place for Southern African volunteers during the Six Day War, seen here are the staff of Telfed with the legendary Simie Weinstein (standing centre).

I defy you to convince me that our reunion was not a miraculous event!

I felt the Almighty had rewarded us – two brothers – for our volunteering efforts to aid Israel in its hour of need. He brought us    together and replaced anxiety and concern with fraternal elation and happiness.

The Lurie Brothers. After spending months in Israel during and following the 1967 Six Day War, the writer (right) with his brother Bernie (left) are seen here back in Cape Town, South Africa. Three years later, Lennie emigrated to Israel.

The Six Day War 56 years ago, united Israel’s eternal capital Jerusalem; it also united two brothers from South Africa in Israel.

I made Aliyah in February 1970 and Israel has been my  home ever since, raising five children and being blessed with five grandchildren.

About the writer:

A B.Sc. graduate in Economics and Geology from the University of Cape Town (UCT), Lennie may be the only volunteer from abroad who was granted permission to leave his group on kibbutz during the 1967 Six Day War to rejoin his paratroop brigade that he had served with years before following his matriculation in Cape Town. In Israel, Lennie has worked as an Export Manager for some of the country’s major food manufacturers and chemical companies as well as an independent consultant in Export Marketing guiding many small Israeli businesses to sell their products and services in the world-wide market. As a result of a work accident in 1995, Lennie made a career change and became an independent English teacher working mainly with hi-tech companies and associated with universities and colleges in the north of Israel.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


The Jewish festivity of Shavuot brought back memories  of a kibbutz in Israel’s South and its South African connection

By David E. Kaplan

Where you spending Shavuot?” I asked my physiotherapist as I lay flat in his clinic in Ra’anana while he worked on my recalcitrant right knee. Known as the Jewish “feast of weeks” – although celebrated over one day – Shavuot commemorates the revelation of the Torah on Mt. Sinai to the Jewish people and celebrated with families eating dairy food.  

I’ll be spending it with my family, my parents, where I was born and grew up – on the kibbutz.”

Which kibbutz?” I ask.

Revivim. It’s in the south. You ever heard of it?

If Shavuot is a festivity of revelation, there was more revelation to follow.

Not only had I heard of it, I knew all about it having written years earlier about its South African connection that so few know, in particularly its connection to the small town of Parow, outside of Cape Town, where I grew up until the age of four.

Family Ties. With the old British Mandate police station at Kibbutz Revivim in the background – that in June 1948 a Palmach Brigade took at heavy cost from the Egyptians – pose the descendants of the Cape Town/Parow Berold family with the late Freda Pincus (née Berold) seated in the centre. Freda’s parents from Parow, South Africa, donated the land for Revivim.

The story begins in the 1930s when Jewish aspirations and nationalism were aroused by Zionist leaders touring Jewish communities around the world inspiring the rebirth of Jewish sovereignty in biblical Palestine. They were followed by emissaries of the JNF (Jewish National Fund) encouraging Jews to invest in the future Jewish state by purchasing land in Palestine. One of the communities they focused on was South Africa and history records their efforts were well spent. One such inspired family was Barney and Fanny Berold from Parow, a developing town outside Cape Town. Barney was a successful industrialist who owned and ran Plywoods – Parow’s first factory. My late father, worked at Plywoods who used much of his salary of £12 a month (later raised to £15) to support a fledgling ‘Cape Gate Works’ of which he was a cofounding partner  – Parow’s second factory – to survive.  Cape Gate was started in 1929 during the Great Depression, and according to my Dad, that in the early months apart from his salary at Plywoods, “our only income came from selling petrol from a manually operated pump.”


A few years before the passing of Freda Pinkus in Jaffa, Israel, the then 94-year-old daughter of Barney and Fanny Berold, revealed to me in an interview her parent’s love for the Jewish homeland, “not yet Israel.” At a time when few visited Palestine, could even afford to travel there,  “My parents visited Palestine twice in the 1930s, first in 1932 and then 1936 when they met the Zionist activist Avraham G r a n o v s k y. Later he changed his name to Granot and would be a signatory to the Declaration of Independence, a member of the Knesset and chairman of the JNF. However, back in 1936, the JNF were negotiating with an Arab to buy his land in the Negev when this South African group with my parents arrived and Granovsky asked if anyone was interested in buying it.” The British Mandate Authority allowed Jews to purchase land, but not to establish settlements. “The land was totally out of the way, a desolate landscape some 36 kilometres south of Beer Sheva. There was nothing there except a British Mandate police station. During World War II, a large British army base was established, which served as a stopover from Suez to the centre of the country. Anyway, as far as I know, my father was the only one interested and he bought 825 dunams. Of course it did not sound financially attractive, but my father was a Zionist. He was not investing for profit but in the future of the Jewish People.”

Champion of the Desert. To offer encouragement, Chairman of the Provisional Government of Israel, David Ben Gurion (right) visits Revivim in 1943.

A few months later, “he passed away in Paris and my Mom returned to Parow. In 1939 our family received transfer of the property.” This might have been the end of the story until Freda’s brother George Berold, while stationed in Egypt during WWII “took leave to visit Palestine. He went to see Granovsky hoping to see the land and report back to the family in South Africa. Granovsky dissuaded him saying that there was a war on and there were no roads to reach this area. Probably the only way to reach the area was on camel, which I imagine would not have been too appealing to my brother with only a few days leave! Anyway, Granovsky then asked George if the family would consider donating the land to the JNF for the purpose of establishing a kibbutz.” It was quite a daring idea as it would be the southernmost kibbutz at the time with no access to piped water. It would demand of its members immense grit, determination and vision. It would also require the acquiescence of the Berold family of Cape Town. George said he would discuss with the family who all agreed. “This was the land that the JNF gave for the establishment in 1943 of Kibbutz Revivim.”

However, it was not so simple.

Pulsating Progress. Bringing water to the area meant survival. Revivim reservoir in 1946 with the old fort in the background.


While the small group received the Berold parcel of land to fulfill their dream of settling the Negev, they had to be careful as permanent settlements were illegal. To circumvent British Mandate regulations, Revivim was established as an “Agricultural Research Station” and formally named ‘Mitzpe Revivim’ or ‘Revivim Lookout’. Settlers pretended that the antenna they used for radio contact was essential in “testing climate conditions”, and were so convincing that the British bought the story. The radio was hidden in a first-aid kit!

A Golda Moment. Actress Anne Bancroft (right) is shown around Kibbutz Revivim by Golda Meir (left), whom she is to portray in the Broadway production “Golda” – a play by William Gibson based on Mrs. Meir’s “My Life”.

The first settlement began with only three men and as the research station slowly grew, eventually women were allowed to join. One of these brave women was Golda Meir’s daughter. The stars were not only a fascinating desert night sighting. They sometimes appeared to on the ground as it did when Hollywood star, Anne Bancroft was shown around Revivim by Israel’s former premier, Golda Meir.

However, in the 1940s, Revivim was isolated and fraught with danger.

Determined in the Desert. Six years after settling on the land, young Revivim residents at the time of Israel’s independence in 1948.

Battling the elements was tough but soon they would have to confront a new enemy – their fellow man! A portent of what was to come occurred in December 1947 when a Kibbutz Revivim car was ambushed and three members of the kibbutz were killed. Then in 1948, Revivim became the center of Israel’s defense of the Negev during the War of Independence. An airstrip was built to fly in supplies and the caves which were once home to the pioneers became the field hospital and main base. Kibbutz members valiantly withstood heavy Egyptian attacks and 34 soldiers, including one woman, fell in the ensuing fighting, all recorded in a museum there today.

Battling with the Basics. View of Revivim with underground ancient Nabataean caves, pitched tents and fortified building on top of the hill.

Riveting Revivim

After the war, Revivim emerged as a pioneering center for desert agriculture. It played a huge part in the massive success Israel has had in making the desert bloom and the story of its development as revealed in its Mitzpe Revivim Museum popular to tourists, presents a colorful insight of a hard-fought journey won. It mirrors the journey of modern Israel.  My physiotherapist regaled me the stories of his youth on Revivim:

 “What a wonderful place to grow up. I knew nothing of life outside the kibbutz. The kibbutz was our world. We didn’t watch TV; I had many friends and we played and explored and built things and developed a feeling of camaraderie. Everyone on the kibbutz ate together in the chadar ochel (communal dining room) and where we celebrated together the chagim (festivities). I am proud to say, the kibbutz today is still mostly a collective, adhering to its founding principles. I always look forward to returning. I’m not only visiting my parents but revisiting the values of what I still hold dear.”

Sabras planting Sabras. Planting cacti on TuBishvat on Revivim some years back, are the children of former South African Wendy Cohen- Solal (née Israel from Parow)


Google Kibbutz Revivim and you will find that it was established in 1943 by a youth movement group from Rishon LeZion that included new immigrants from Austria, Germany and Italy on land given to them by the JNF. You have to deep search to extract from whom the JNF acquired it, that is, the Berold family from Parow. 

Even many who live there are unaware of the South African connection to their home. One such was  Joyce Friedman (née Kanowitz) from the USA who was born in Pretoria, South Africa in 1943 and when she was 18, immigrated to Israel and moved to Revivim where she became a member.  She wrote to me some years ago following the publication of my first article on Revivim:

When the 1967 war broke out, many groups of volunteers arrived, amongst them South Africans and it was my job to be their madricha [leader]. They did well for themselves and I was proud of them.

After living in Israel for 12 years, l met my husband who is an American, and we got married at Revivim. After two years, we moved to the USA in 1974.

Recently, my nephew in Israel sent me a copy of your article regarding Kibbutz Revivim and the financial link between it and the South African Jewry. It made for very interesting reading as this was the first time l had ever heard about it. Even while being on the kibbutz, no one had ever told me about the funding. Funnily enough my cottage faced the old fort, so l was constantly reminded of the kibbutz’s history.”

Revivim Relic. While today a relic of the past, it was once the kibbutz’s lifeblood bringing in supplies when it was cut off from the rest of the country.

Revivim has another connection to Parow in Wendy Cohen-Solal. born in Parow to Ivan and Raiza Israel and who settled on the kibbutz. In subsequent visits to Revivim during the 1950s, Fanny Berold kept up the connection with the kibbutz her family made possible, by donating money towards a rose garden and a library.  During the 1967 Six Day War and the aftermath,” said her daughter Freda, “there were many Southern African volunteers on Revivim; I’m sure some of them, their forebears, could have come from Parow.”  Today the kibbutz is held in high regard for its pioneering use of saline and brackish water. One of its members, Yoel de Malach, received the prestigious Israel Prize for his efforts in this field. Despite being a desert kibbutz, Revivim’s dairy farm once  won the prize for the largest quantity of milk produced by any farm in Israel. No less surprising it also has a “fish farm” – in the desert!

On the occasion of Revivim’s 75th anniversary some years ago – the Pincus and Berold families were honoured for their family’s enriching history embedded to the kibbutz no less embedded than the Negev’s desert rock. While many Jews donated money to buy land in Israel, “As far as I know,” said Freda, “Revivim is the only case of actual privately-owned Jewish land being donated for this purpose.”

By George! While stationed in Egypt during WWII, George Berold visited Palestine hoping to see the land his parents had bought years before in the Negev and which he was encouraged to impress upon his family back in South Africa to donate for a strategically important kibbutz for an emerging Jewish state.

From Cape Town’s ‘Northern Suburb’ to Israel’s southern desert,  South Africans have been fulfilling the prophesy of Isaiah that in “A dry and thirsty land, where there is no water” they shall make the desert bloom.

While Revivim became the heart of the Negev it was the heart of South Africa’s Berold family that made it all happen.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


Brought together by a love for music, it was love for country that would tragically separate them

By David E. Kaplan

I saw the article, then stared wide-eyed at the photograph.

I was reading a Ynet report and then, when I read the line that  “Few Israelis have likely heard of the man named Meir Max Bineth”, I exclaimed:

 “I’m not one of them.”

Being the Jewish festival of Tu B’Shevat  (“The new year of the trees”) on the 5 February, the focus of the article was on this man from British Mandate Palestine whose passion for Jewish holidays pushed him to teach about the subjects to local Jewish communities abroad.1942 found him in Iran teaching about Tu B’Shevat – hence the article.

Max Bineth

What would follow next in his life is what I would write about  in 2004, when his South African-born widow, Jane Bineth (née Davidow), passed away aged 83 in Savyon, Israel.

As a young woman out from Johannesburg in the late 1940s, Jane was trying to find her feet in Tel Aviv. Interested in classical music, she responded to a notice in the newspaper inviting music lovers to meet at a café in Shenkin, already a street ‘paving’ the way to what it is today, packed with cafes, restaurants and boutiques.

There she met Hungarian-born Meir, a cultured European who played a variety of musical instruments and who spoke six languages. They would marry, and in the few years that they would share together, they would dwell in the furtive world of deep undercover intelligence gathering.

New State; Young Love. Max and Jane Bineth marriage ceremony in  Tel Aviv in 1950.

Prior to his marriage to Jane, Meir had been a secrete agent operating in Arab countries throughout the Middle East. It all started for him went he went to the UK in 1946 to study radio and electronics, believing these were the subjects of the future.

He used to use the bayit (club house) of Habonim – a Jewish youth movement – to train after hours. One of the members of the movement recalled that “he would pick up Morse broadcasts in English from Moscow and decode them at a speed of 60 words per minute and identify the different broadcasters.”  It is no surprise that his skills attracted the attention of agents working for Aliyah Bet – the code name for illegal immigration to British Mandate Palestine  – and in 1947 he was recruited. He operated as a communication technician building vital communication equipment for the voyages bringing the illegal immigrants as well as procurement of arms for the fledgling Jewish state as well as thwarting efforts of enemy Arab countries to acquire specialized military equipment. Max was a very busy man.

With the establishment of the State of Israel, Binet moved on to more dangerous missions. He joined the intelligence corps of the young IDF and in August 1949, he arrived in Iraq. Even though the decades have passed since then, there is no permission even today to reveal the details of his clandestine activities on Iraqi soil. However, one fact of history remains undisputed:

The Iraqi government condemned him to death in absentia for his actions in its territory during this period.”

His final mission  – now married with a child – was to Egypt, where he posed as a businessman representing various German firms, primarily ‘von Laufenberg’, a company manufacturing artificial limbs for the disabled.

Under Cover in Cairo. First leader of the Egyptian Republic, Mohamed Najib is seen here thanking Max Bineth (left) representing ‘Von Laufenberg’, the company that manufactured prostheses for Egyptian soldiers injured in the 1948 war with Israel. (Bineth Family Photo)

How ironic,” his daughter Michelle Bineth-Dagan told me during the 2004 interview for Telfed Magazine. “Here was my father spying against Egypt and my mother had a 1953 photograph of my dad with the Prime Minister of Egypt, General Mohammed Naguib, who was honouring him for his contribution in rehabilitating Egyptian soldiers wounded in the war against Israel in 1948.”

‘Sign’ of Friendship. As a token of friendship, see the signature (top) of General Mohamed Naguib President of Egypt 1952-1954 in this postcard Max Bineth sends to his daughter Michelle. ( Bineth Family Photo)

Jane and her daughter Michelle, who was a child of two at the time of his posting to Cairo in 1951, joined Max and were part of the cover. Recalling conversations with her mother, Michelle described their life:

 “as being very comfortable. My parents had a very hectic social life. They were part of the cocktail circuit, attending parties, where they mixed with foreigners in the diplomatic and business communities and of course Egyptians in government and the military. One of the primary tasks was to get close to the many former Nazis, who had found refuge in Egypt. Some of them were scientists, who were helping Egypt develop missiles that could threaten Israel.”

The Spy who Loved Me. While under cover in Egypt as a businessman representing German companies, Israeli spy Meir (Max) Bineth is seen here dancing with his beloved South African-born wife Jane at a cocktail party in Cairo. (Bineth Family Photo) 

Max was passing on vital information to  his Israeli contacts:

 “until things went terribly wrong and set into motion a chain of event that ended tragically, leading to my mother’s bitterness to her dying day.”

The secrete lives of the Bineths came crashing down in what became referred to as the “Lavon Affair”, after Defence Minister Pinhas Lavon, who was forced to resign.

Conducted in Egypt in the summer of 1954, the Lavon affair was a  ‘false flag’ operation, whereby Israeli military intelligence had setup a spy ring of young local Egyptians in the Jewish community with the purpose of blowing up US and British owned civilian targets – like cinemas and libraries –  all timed to detonate several hours after closing time so there would be no casualties. The attacks were to be blamed on local nationalists with the aim of creating a climate of instability to induce the British government to retain its troops in Egypt’s Suez Canal zone. While the operation caused no casualties among the population, it did lead to the deaths of four of the Jewish operatives, one of whom was Max. It also led to a scandal that dominated Israeli politics for well over a decade.

The incident had been euphemistically referred to in Israel as the “Unfortunate Affair” or “The Mishap”(In Hebrew: HaEsek HaBish).

Israel publicly denied any involvement in the incident until 2005, when the surviving agents were awarded certificates of appreciation by Israel’s State President.

My father,” said Michelle, “was not part of this spy network but was ordered by his senior officer in Israel to pass on money to them. He had met Marcelle Ninio, a young member of the group on a few occasions. She was the last to be captured and under torture, gave a description of my dad’s car, which led to his arrest.”

Michelle and Jane were in Europe at the time visiting family and so escaped the physical horrors that were to follow. “The psychological scars never left my mother until her last breath.”

After a few months of interrogation and torture, on December 24, 1954, “my dad slit his wrists in his prison cell on the day before his trial. He realised there was no way out for him and did not want to give the Egyptians the pleasure of hanging him,” the fate of two others, Dr. Moshe Marzouk of Cairo and Shmuel Azar of Alexandria.

Max in Court. One of the thirteen accused of spying, Max Bineth enters the Supreme Military Court in Cairo for the start of the trial in December 1954. This is the last known picture of Bineth alive before he committed suicide by slashing his wrists in a Cairo cell. (AP Photo)

Failure has no father and for many years this bizarre and embarrassing affair was shrouded in secrecy. Strict censorship ensured that the Israeli public was fed little or no accurate information and key protagonists were routinely referred to as “X” and “The Third Man”, a reference to the 1949 Orson Wells’ movie of the same name. To this day, the truth as to who gave the orders in the Lavon Affair remain a mystery.

In 1959, President Nasser agreed to transfer the body of Max (Meir) Bineth to Israel on condition that the arrangement would not be publicised. Max was secretly buried on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem in the presence of a few members of the family. “My mother was only told about the burial at the last moment.” The reburial only became public knowledge following the peace agreement with Egypt in 1979.

Jane, who passed away in 2004, never remarried. From his cell, he wrote to Jane before he ended his life.  These were a few of the lines:

My dear – there is no other way out. I came to this conclusion out of caution and consideration. It is becoming impossible to bear this… I am also thinking of you. …..Jane, you must remarry, Michelle needs a father, and I hope you live as planned. You and Michelle can plant a tree in our garden on my birthday.  I love you, I love youOf all the contributions I wanted to make for a better future for everyone – now Michelle is my only contribution. I wrap my arms around you and Michelle. May God bless you and grant you peace and happiness. Jane my dear, hold me tight….”

While Jane did fulfill what she believed was her dear husband’s dying request to bring up their daughter in the Land of Israel, she did not fulfill the part where he called on her to marry again. “ She had many suitors,” said Michelle her daughter, “but she never married again. Father was the only knight for her.”

Father and Daughter. Daughter Michelle Bineth-Dagan proudly holds up a photograph of her father Mair Max, who spoke six languages, loved music and played various instruments. He also painted and kept a diary of his experiences.

According to Michelle, her mother resented that the honour  bestowed on other Israeli agents – such as Eli Cohen, (“Our man in Damascus”) – had been denied to her husband. Israeli Minister of Defense, Yitzhak Rabin tried to correct this injustice. Some thirty years later in September 1987, when Rabin, handed Jane, her husband’s Lieutenant Colonel rank, he said:

It was an unusual, remarkable, high-risk mission that Max Bineth was running. Unfortunately, and to our great regret, he fell on duty, while on his watch. In the course of time, certain affairs got mixed and Meir was linked, by mistake, to another affair (referring to “The Lavon Affair), one he had nothing whatsoever to do with. Meir went on a separate security-intelligence assignment, which had nothing to do with the other events that took place that year. He fell while serving the State of Israel and for the State of Israel. Meir’s service improved Israel’s security capabilities greatly and they have become far, far better than they would have been, had Meir not performed so well on his mission.

Sounds of Silence. Article following widow Jane meeting with Israeli President Chaim Herzog in 1986 notes that  “The meeting with the President does not erase the bitterness of 32 years of silence.”

Later, a street in Kiryat Shaul in Tel Aviv was named Rechov Meir Bineth. Do people walking this street know who Max Bineth was or the contributions to Israel’s security he made and of his ultimate sacrifice?

Israeli journalist, author and military commentator Gad Shimron rightly asks:

“”How did it happen that a man who deserves to stand in the first row of the Israeli pantheon of heroism was forgotten on the fringes of the public consciousness of the country he served and for which he gave his life?”

It was thus heartwarming, that all these tumultuous years later in 2023 that Max is being remembered on Tu B’shvet. When Max  was teaching in Iran in 1942 to the Jewish community about the ‘New Year of the Trees’ festival, the mass slaughter of six million Jews across Europe was taking place and a Jewish state was still a dream to be hard fought for.

Today, a region that was mostly arid desert has over 200 million trees and Jews have a secure and vibrant homeland – ISRAEL.

Like the trees he so loved, the legacy of Max Bineth is ‘rooted’ to this land.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


Recalling my interview with a foot soldier – Leib Frank – who participated in the decisive Battle of El Alamein 80 years ago.

By David E. Kaplan

This past October 2022 saw the 80th anniversary of the Battle El Alamein pass undeservedly without much fanfare. One can only imagine the concern of the Jews in Palestine at the time fearing the worst. Their fate and the fate of a Jewish state hung in the balance – it hung on the outcome of one battle that proved a turning point in the war, halting the advance of the Axis powers in North Africa and paving the way for final victory. British leader Winston Churchill said famously in the wake of the victory:

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Pressing Forward. Troops in the thick of battle at El Alamein in the Egyptian desert. (Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

However, for Jews around the world, it might  have meant “the end of any beginning” of a future Jewish state if Rommel had not been stopped dead in his tracks on Egyptian soil. We may well ask, “What if the Nazis had won the Battle of El Alamein?”

They would have swept into-then-Palestine destroying any chance of a future Israel and massacred Jews wherever they found them. Hence, it could be argued that the Battle of El Alamein shaped the history of the Holocaust by restricting the “Final Solution” to Europe.

On this 80th anniversary, I revisited my interview in 2002 with the late Leib Frank at his home in Kfar Shmaryahu in central Israel. In 1942, Leib had been a young 5th Brigade signaler among the South African troops attached to the Rand Light Infantry.

One thing was certain,” said Leib, “was the feeling amongst the troops that the major battle that was looming,” on the parched, flat and barren North African desert “would dwarf” all that preceded it. But there was another more personal dimension as well!

Although there was this sense among the troops that the impending battle had to be one to save civilisation, for our group of Jewish boys, it was more focused – we felt it was a war to save the Jews.”

High Anxiety. An anxious crowd gathers around a radio shop in Tel Aviv Street to hear news of the war.

There was “a new spirit of optimism,” says Leib, “once Monty took command” of the 8th Army following crushing defeats in the preceding months, notably the fall of Tobruk. “We now had at the helm a commander that did not include the word ‘defeat’ in his vocabulary.” He then with a smile added:

 “I mean insofar at it applied to his own troops.”

As an example of this, Leib recalled an incident  that when Monty came upon a platoon digging trenches way to the rear. “He bellowed in his high pitched voice, ‘Stop digging there at once – you’ll never need them.’ The troops grasped the salient truth – there would be no further retreat.”

Shortly before battle, Monty issued a personal message to his officers and men:

The battle which is now about to begin will be one of the decisive battles in history. It will be the turning-point of the war. The eyes of the world will be on us, watching anxiously which way the battle will swing. We can give them their answer at once. It will swing our way.”

Mighty Monty. Determined to reverse the defeats in North Africa, General Bernard Montgomery is seen here ready for action in 1942.

The men were left with no illusion as to what was in store.

Although from August to October 1942, some 41,000 British reinforcements had streamed into El Alamein, Leib and his comrades had been sweating it out since June preparing for the big onslaught. “It was a daily grind of digging trenches and training exercises. The one consolation,” recalled Leib, “was that we were positioned on the coastline. After a hard day, we would relax and bathe in the sea.”

But were they ready?

Battle hardy we were not. The only action we had experienced until then were night patrols in jeeps. We would come upon enemy positions and get off some shots. There would be a token exchange of fire, but in relation to what was to follow, it didn’t feel like ‘real’ war.”

The ”Real war” as Leib described it, began on the night of the 23 October. Monty had retired early to bed.  It is said that hanging on the wall of his trailer was a portrait of the Desert Fox Erwin Rommel, beside which he had scribbled a quote from Shakespeare’s Henry V:

 “O God of Battles! Steel my soldiers’ hearts.”

At Ease Soldier. Leib Frank in front of his tent in the desert in Egypt.

For soldiers in the field – whether armed with pikes or longbow on the green fields of fifteen century Agincourt or clad n Khaki on the desert plateau at El Alamein – pre-battle jitters are inevitable. One can only imagine what occupied the thoughts of the young lads as they mentally prepared during the final countdown. Many would write letters home or make entries in their diaries. For Leib and his Jewish comrades, David Wacks, Sam Caplan, Melville Levin and Wally Hochstater:

 “the time had finally arrived. We had been through so much together embarking on the Il d’France at Durban and were rearing to give ‘Jerry’ a thrashing. It seemed a lifetime ago that Wally and I had been lavishly entertained at the Moshal mansion the night before we left Durban and Sol Moshal taking us aside for a lecture on ‘staying away from brothels’. The next morning we were chauffeured to the quayside in the Moshal’s black limousine, surprising the troops who all braised up to attention, thinking the top brass had arrived. I would only think back to that sumptuous ‘Last Supper’ when faced later with typical army slop of bully beef and dog biscuits.”

Off to War. Leib Frank (2nd left) and his Jewish comrades before embarking on Durban docks to join the war in North Africa.


Monty picked the night of October 23 for the attack, assured that there would be a full moon. In fact, the wide, golden glowing moon, hanging low over the silhouetted desolate terrain, was so bright that the noncombatants to the rear, trying to sleep, tugged blankets over their heads to block out the light. This augured well, for it would provide sufficient natural light for the sappers to clear paths through the enormous minefields that Rommel had laid in front of his position. The sappers had 8 hours before dawn to clear the area before the infantry and armour advance. Leib and the soldiers of the Rand Light Infantry were waiting.

The attack started with a thunderous artillery barrage. As skilled a tactician  as Monty was, not all was going according to plan. “Our surveillance was not as good as it should have been,” said Leib. “We soon found to our distress that we had been dropped from our transport short of the designated spot and what’s more, at the bottom of a ravine. To get out and back to ground level,  we had to scale a perpendicular rock face. Some of the boys made it up by themselves, and then very quietly helped pull us up by with our riffles. But ‘Jerry’ was not caught napping. The moment they picked up on our movement, they opened up with massive rapid machinegun fire.”

Leib was one of the many early casualties.

“I was hit in both legs. Lying in pain on the battlefield, I watched the troops advance. Fallen comrades lay on both sides of me, although at some distance. I did not know whether they were alive or dead. Stray bullets were spitting in the sand all around.”

Digging In. Preparing for the Battle of El Alamein.


There were no natural obstacles on the battlefield to provide any form of cover. Virtually incapacitated, Leib focused his sapping energy on removing his helmet and positioning it in front of his head to afford some limited protection. “I lay  there in that position for four hours until the stretcher bearers arrived at midday. Bleeding profusely, I could do nothing to stop the flow. Over the hours that I lay there, sand got into my wounds and the sun was sizzling hot. Running out of water, I thought I had little chance of survival. Inevitably, I began to reflect how my life was drawing to a close before I even had an opportunity to make a success of it.” Managing to hang on, Leib was barely conscious when the stretcher-bearers finally arrived. “Their training left much to be desired as they offered me cognac instead of water. That was the worst thing they could have done as it accelerates the heartbeat leading to an increased loss of blood.”

Leib’s legs were in bad shape. As a result of the hours lying on the sandy battlefield without medical attention, gangrene had set in. It is doubtful that Leib’s stretcher-bearers or the medical orderly, who quickly applied bandages to the wounds to stop the bleeding, expected him to survive. He was taken to a field hospital where he received medical attention that saved his life. From there, Leib was taken to an underground hospital, where he was operated on and thereafter moved to the South African Hospital in Alexandria. It was there that Leib would learn that the battle in which he had heroically participated in the first act had moved to the final act of a crushing victory. After 12 days, Rommel had lost some 90% of the 500 tanks with which he had begun the battle. Facing annihilation, the Desert Fox had no alternative but to order a complete withdrawal on November 4th. While the final curtain call for the demise of Nazi Germany would only come some years later, Leib, who was to see no further action and would to the end of his days endure the wounds of war, could look back with immense pride. Not only did the outcome at El Alamein signal that the tide of the war was changing, but for Leib and his Jewish comrades who saw it also as “The war for the Jews”, the future of the emerging Jewish State of Israel was ensured.

Leib would later settle in the new State of Israel that he fought to secure.

Still Serving. Surviving the Battle of El Alamein, Leib Frank (l) would later emigrate to Israel from Zimbabwe (Rhodesia at the time) where he would serve as Director of TELFED assisting the immigration of Southern African to the new state of Israel and in that capacity is seen here together with his chairman, Leo Kawalsky (r) meeting with former Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion.Leib Frank.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


The heroic past shall be ‘unveiled’ at an upcoming ceremony at Johannesburg’s Jewish cemetery illuminating ‘bloodlines’ between South Africa and Israel

By David E. Kaplan

On the 27th November, people of all faiths and races – some wearing medals of battles past – will gather at the South African National Jewish War Memorial at West Park Cemetery in Johannesburg. They will do so to remember those South African soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the world wars of the twentieth century that not only “changed the course of history” but profoundly impacted on the destiny of the Jewish people. The acts of bravery by these soldiers – whether aware at the time or not – contributed to the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in their ancestral homeland in 1948.

Live stream link on Sunday 27/11/22, 10:30 (SA time) – https://www.facebook.com/SAZionistFed/

The drama of three long forgotten and for many never even known events, will be ‘unveiled’ together with the stones embodying their pulsating pasts.


When only a year ago, students at  UCT ( University of Cape Town) tried to expunge the memory of South Africa’s famed wartime Prime Minister Jan Smuts by defacing and covering his bust with plastic bags and ultimately removing it from the campus as well as renaming the historic men’s residence from Smuts Hall to Upper Campus Residence, the upcoming gathering on the 27 November has a contrary agenda of honouring his memory as it connects with the Jewish people. If UCT students sought to ‘cover’ Smuts’ bust, the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF), JNF (SA), the South African Jewish ex-Service League together with its committee member, Selwyn Rogoff and its former Chairman, Peter Bailey also representing the Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee in Israel, have sought to uncover Smuts’ less known past, notably his contribution to the State of Israel.

Century of a Stone. The cornerstone originally unveiled by Prime Minister Smuts in 1922 to be again unveiled by his great-grandson Gareth Shackleford on the 27 November 2022 at West Park Cemetery, Johannesburg.

When it was brought to Bailey and Rogoff’s attention that a cornerstone honouring South African Jews who had fought and died in the Great War that had been unveiled by Prime Minister Smuts in November 1922 at the old Jewish Guild War Memorial Building in downtown Johannesburg had after a century of travels to different locations  resurfaced in the garden of a bowling club, they felt a special memorial event marking the centenary should be held. Bailey felt further that it should include two other monumental contributions of South African soldiers who died in the service of that biblical land that would in time emerge as the state of the Jewish people – Israel. Through this writer’s intervention, he contacted Benji Shulman of the SAZF that set in motion the upcoming event that will have Smuts’ great-grandson, Gareth Shackleford, who will unveil again the cornerstone that his grandfather originally unveiled a century earlier reminding the world of the love Smuts had for the Jewish people and his role in the creation of the Jewish state.

Dead at Delville. Included amongst Jewish South African soldiers killed in WWI was the writer’s grandfather’s brother, Victor Kaplan, who volunteered for overseas service and was killed in the Battle of Delville Wood in 1916. (Family photo)

Too few are aware that when Smuts and Chaim Weizmann met in London during the Great War, the two began a close friendship that lasted for the rest of their lives and greatly influenced events in Palestine. In an essay on Smuts and Weizmann, Richard P. Stevens writes:

perhaps few personal friendships have so influenced the course of political events during the twentieth century as the relationship between General Jan Christiaan Smuts, South Africa’s celebrated prime minister, and Chaim Weizmann, Zionist leader, and Israel’s first president.”

Meeting of Minds. They emerged friends with shared visions – Chaim Weizmann (left) and Jan Smuts, circa 1915 (photo credit: JERUSALEM POST ARCHIVE)

Research reveals that Smuts played a monumental backroom role in the drafting of the Balfour Declaration, providing Weizmann with a direct conduit to the War Cabinet. Another of Smuts’ great-grandsons, Philip Weyers, said of his great-grandfather, who he fondly refers to as “Oubaas” (old boss) that:

he was the anonymous partner to the Balfour Declaration. The spirit and even some of the wording of the Balfour Declaration came from the Oubaas’ mouth. His thoughts and views carried a lot of weight, and is imbedded in that fateful document.

It is little wonder that kibbutz Ramat Yohanan – founded in 1932  – was named in honour of Jan Smuts; ‘Yohanan’ being the Hebrew translation for the Afrikaans ‘Jan’ or English ‘John’, in recognition of his unstinting efforts on behalf of the Jewish people.


However, Israel’s ‘Magna Carta’ – the Balfour Declaration of 1917 – would have meant very little beyond a letter or footnote in history had not the actual ‘feet’ of commonwealth soldiers – including the Cape Corps comprising members of South Africa’s Coloured community – fought valiantly to relieve Palestine of the Ottoman Turks. Some 54 Coloureds  – Christians and Muslims – lost their lives in what became known as the Battle of Megiddo, opening the road for General Allenby’s breakthrough to Damascus. Most important from a Jewish perspective, while it “opened the road” for Allenby, it cleared the region of the occupying Turks, paving the way for a British Mandate and ultimately Jewish statehood in 1948.

Jubilation in Jerusalem. One month after the Balfour Declaration, General Edmund Allenby enters the Old City on the 11 December 1917 to accept the surrender of Jerusalem from the Ottoman Turks. Next battle to follow – Megiddo.

A year following the famous battle, Field Marshal Viscount Allenby, GCB, GCMG had this to say about the men of the 1st Cape Corps:

 “I heard you are creating a Roll of Honour containing Cape Corps names. I had the honour of serving with many of the Cape Corps in Palestine and I should like to add my tribute of appreciation. The record of those of the Cape Corps who fought under my command is one that any troops might envy. Especially on September 19 and 20, 1918, they covered themselves with glory, displaying a bravery and determination that has never been surpassed.”

A descendant of this battle, Cmdr. M. Adeel Carelse MMM (Ret.), whose grandfather Cpl. C. H. Carelse fought bravely at Square Hill and Kh Jibeit that were decisive battles within the larger Battle of Megiddo and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, will unveil on the 27 November a plaque to the Cape Corps. Today in Cape Town’s suburb of Retreat, there is Square Hill School that is named after this famous battle that too few remember or the sacrifices made.  However, these mostly forgotten battles fought in a biblical land, ended Ottoman Turkish rule and led to the eventual establishment of the independent states of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and ISRAEL!

Valiant Fighters. Men of the 1st. Battalion, Cape Corps(160th Brigade, 53 Welsh Division) in Palestine 1918.


The third stone of history to be unturned at the ceremony, will be to remember and honour the 644 black Southern Africans who went down with 140 Yishuv Jews on the SS Erinpura during WWII.

They had all worked together as volunteers on a British labour project in Palestine for the war effort and were together in a convoy in the Mediterranean in May 1943 . The SS Erinpura was carrying more than 1000 troops, including Basuto and Batswanan members of the African Auxiliary Pioneer Corps and Palestinian Jewish soldiers of 462 Transport Company of the British Army when on the evening of 1 May 1943, German bomber aircraft attacked the convoy 30 nautical miles (56 km) north of Benghazi.

They Made History. On parade but soon to be tested in battle are soldiers of the Cape Corp during WW1 who performed so heroically at the Battle of Megiddo in 1918 against the Ottoman Turks.

In one wave of the attacks, a bomb hit the Erinpura in one of her forward holds, causing her to list to starboard and sink within five minutes. The crew of her 12-pounder anti-aircraft gun continued to return fire until she sank with a loss of life of 800 that included the 633 Sotho, 11 Tswana soldiers and 140 Palestinian Jewish soldiers.

Lives lost at Sea. The ‘SS Erinpura Memorial’ on Mount Herzl, Jerusalem is dedicated to the 139 Jewish soldiers of the British Army  462 Moving Unit in British Mandate of Palestine  that lost their lives on the SS Erinpura  that was sunk in an attack  by the Luftwaffe on 1 May 1943.

The monument on Mount Herzl  to the 140 Jewish soldiers who drowned aboard the SS Erinpura is shaped like a ship  with a pool of water representing the sea where on the bottom appear the names of the fallen. Above the pool is a turret adorned with the Hebrew text of Psalm 68, verse 22:

The Lord said, I will bring again from Bashan, I will bring my people again from the depths of the sea.”

Ship of Soldiers. The ill-fated SS. Erinpura that went down with South African and Jewish Palestinian soldiers in WWII.

This did in a sense happen with the emergence five years later  with the gathering of Jews and the established of the Jewish state in 1948.

It is only fitting that  Israel’s Ambassador to South Africa, Eliav Belotsercovsky, will unveil a memorial plaque at the West Park Cemetery ceremony to the tragic loss of life of both the Yishuv Jews and black South Africans who lost their lives together in a cause that others may live.

Entrance to West Park Cemetery, Johannesburg


The years have rolled by and like packed away old unread books, heroic lives were lost tucked away in forgotten chapters in recedingly remembered conflicts. The upcoming ceremony on the 27 November 2022  in Johannesburg is designed to address this amnesia and all across the world are invited to attend on ZOOM


Before all these events played out, the instruction of ‘being careful not to forget’ was already present in Deuteronomy 4:7–9:“Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy son’s sons.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


A drive up north on Yitzhak Rabin Day led to recollections and reflections of more than a life cut short

By David E. Kaplan

While Americans of a certain age will ask each other where they were when they first heard the news in 1963 that President Kennedy was shot, Israelis are more likely to question of their own leader assassinated on November 4, 1995:

What would have happened had he lived?”

Reflections of “WHAT IF” have persisted unabated  every year around the time of the anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin who was gunned down in office while addressing a peace rally in Tel Aviv on November 4, 1995. Despite his physical absence, his spiritual presence remains profoundly felt – even at places far beyond the borders of the country he so valiantly served.

Man of Destiny. Yitzchak Rabin as a young Major General in the IDF.

More than killing a man, the assassin killed a peace process leading to an accelerated and deepening polarisation in Israel  that has influenced the country’s domestic and foreign policy ever since. One wonders if Rabin had not been killed by Yigal Amir that fateful November Saturday 27 years ago, would Israel be different today?

These were the thoughts that I pondered as I traveled north with a JNF (Jewish National Fund) delegation from South Africa, who together with members of our Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee (Israel), were meeting with the Mayor of Megiddo, Itzik Holawsky and members of the Megiddo Regional Council to discuss joint projects in a region that is so enrichingly connected to the Jewish community of South Africa.

Memorable Meeting. With the photograph of Yitzchak Rabin in the background, members of the Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee (Israel) and a delegation of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) South Africa meet in the Mayor of Megiddo’s office on Rabin Day. (l-r) Mayor Itzik Holawsky, Hagar Reuveni, Isla Feldman, Bev Schneider, David Kaplan, Peter Bailey, Michael Kransdorff and Nati Vierba (Rob Hyde absent). (Photo D.E. kaplan)

The day’s programme, although not intentionally connected with Rabin,  resonated with the spirit of Rabin from the moment we peered out the vehicle’s window as we headed north and saw the sign in bold – Yitzchak  Rabin Highway – the official name of Highway 6. Seeing that sign, jolted my memory back to my interview with Rabin’s trusted friend and confidant, the late Eitan Haber who said “that it was most fitting that Israel’s Cross-Israel Highway (“Highway 6”) was officially dedicated as the ‘Yitzhak Rabin Highway’. He was such a powerful force behind this project as he was in pushing ahead with road development throughout the country.” Nevertheless, the irony was not lost that on this anniversary of a nation mourning the loss of its visionary leader, the leader of the opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu was forming a coalition – whose collective mindset represented the antithesis of what Rabin stood and for what he was gunned down for.

On Track. Highway 6 (Hebrew: כביש 6, Kvish Shesh), also known as the Trans-Israel Highway or Cross-Israel Highway is officially dedicated as the Yitzhak Rabin Highway.

Our day would play out with constant  interludes of Rabin from entering Mayor Holawsky’s  office and noticing the photograph of Rabin on the wall behind his desk to visiting a school where the young students – boys and girls – were all singing songs from the Rabin era.

We all joined in. As I watched these youngsters,  I wondered what they knew of the life of the former Prime Minister.

Rabin Remembered. Members of the Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee (Israel) and a delegation of JNF South Africa attend Rabin Day activities at Megiddo School with representatives of the Megiddo Regional Council.

My father was a happy man; he loved life and loved his tennis,” Rabin’s daughter Dalia Rabin told this writer in an interview at the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv in 2010. We were standing next to the glass-encased cabinet of Rabin’s rackets and tennis balls, testimony to the relaxed side of a personality that carried the weight of a nation on his broad shoulders.

Earlier in the interview, Dalia explained the importance of the Center in outreaching to the children of Israel:

We need to reach today’s young generation. We are all concerned about the increased level of violence, a thread, I believe, traceable to the night of the assassination. People woke up the next day to a new reality they were not prepared for. Unfortunately, the shock was never dealt with by the leadership of all political parties at the time and that has impacted on our culture. When you have tensions that are not addressed, when your minorities do not have adequate platforms to express their ideas and beliefs, it leads to frustration. Seeking an outlet, this pent up frustration can lead to violence. We believe that our initiative to ensure every schoolchild in Israel should visit the museum and hopefully thereafter attend our workshops will help address some of the pressing issues confronting our society.”

Revealing Rabin. The writer interviewing Dalia Rabin about her illustrious father at the newly opened Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv in 2010.

I thought too of another image of Rabin that Haber had raised, a far cry from the  ‘cigar and champagne’ image of some of today’s leaders and that would be important for children of today to know about. Haber had told me that “The trappings of high office never got to Rabin, as it might others with less moral stature.” Supporting this observation, Haber revealed a feature of Rabin’s personality that was quite unique for a leader of a country.

Say your Peace. Eitan Haber reads lyrics from the anthem “Song of Peace” at Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral in 1995. The sheet of paper had been retrieved from Rabin’s pocket after he was shot by the assassin at a peace rally. (Photo Nati Harnik/AP)

He constantly voiced to me the need to justify his monthly salary. He might have held the highest office in the land, but this man never forgot he was a servant of the people and that he had to give it his all.” It was that “all” that would later cost him his life.

On the return drive home later in the day and seeing once more the sign as we got onto Yitzchak  Rabin Highway, the name again sent my mind back in reverse, this time directly relating to ‘highways’.  I though back to the meeting I attended in the Prime Minister’s office in 1995 representing TELFED with a delegation of the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) leadership from South Africa. After welcoming us each individually – there must have been twelve of us altogether –  he said:

I am not sitting behind a desk, please grab a chair and let’s sit in a circle.”

From what could have been a typical formal meeting separating the Prime Minister from his guests,  he immediately transformed it into a relaxed gathering with friends. He made us feel we were meeting with the first name, ‘Yitzchak’, and not the revered surname – ‘Rabin’.

And then, at some stage during our discussions, Rabin did the unexpected by breaking off from the intense conversation with this surprising question:

Do you know what still excites me?”

We all sat there puzzled.

The question, which came out of nowhere, was of course rhetorical, so no-one ventured an answer. No-one was expected to. But for sure, most were probably pondering:

 “What could still excite a man who was in his second term as Prime Minister; had previously been a Minister of Defense, an Ambassador to the USA, Chief of Staff and participated in some capacity in most of the major national events, from all the wars to the most famous rescue operations in history – The Entebbe Raid?”

What was realistically left?” all must have thought at the time.

We did not have to wait long.

Rabin answered:

Waking up on mornings knowing that I would be cutting a ribbon that day opening a new stretch of highway, a bridge or an underpass.”

After a lifetime of excitement, I thought that this sounded so mundane!

I was so wrong!

Only on that 1995 drive back from the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem to Tel  Aviv, did the proverbial shekel drop! It was not so much the “stretch of highway, bridge or underpass” where Rabin was cutting the ribbon that was so significant – it was what potentially lay ‘down the road’. The roads, bridges and underpasses were metaphors – signifying to the Prime Minister easier access to a better future – for they would lead to expansion – new towns, new factories and new lives as Israel developed. Rabin was a man of foresight; he looked not only at the road but down the road and beyond!

Of the many photographs of Rabin throughout his military, diplomatic and political careers, the one that resonates for me the most is one with the late King Hussein of Jordan, taking time out to enjoy a smoke together. It was taken at the Jordanian royal residence in Aqaba after the signing of the historic peace treaty between their countries on the  26 October 1994. Rabin is guiding Hussein’s hand as he lights his cigarette. Rich in symbolism, it captures the atmosphere of two former enemies who had waited a long time for this precious moment who were not only enjoying a ‘smoke break’ but enacting the symbolic ritual of smoking the proverbial  ‘peace pipe’.  

Light Up. King Hussein lights a cigarette for Yitzchak Rabin after their signing the Israel-Jordan peace treaty. Aqaba, October 26, 1994.

As they puffed away,  they had moved on from warriors of war to worriers for peace.

Later reflecting on the singing children at the Megiddo School, we welcome the day when future leaders will be ‘cutting ribbons’, opening new sections of the road ahead – to peace and prosperity.

Visiting a school where the young pupils – boys and girls – were all singing songs from the Rabin era.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).