The Volunteers

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“You came to us when we needed you most, during those difficult, uncertain days in our War of Independence. You gave us not only your experience, but your lives as well. The people of Israel and the State of Israel will never forget, and will always cherish, this unique contribution made by you — the volunteers of Machal.” 

– Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, 1993 

Be inspired and amazed by the stories of volunteers from around the world who came to help build and defend the State of Israel in 1948. This movie is the third episode in the “Eyewitness 1948” short film series produced by Toldot Yisrael and the History Channel.

  1. Harold Katz says part of his motivation in becoming a Zionist was that after WW2, he felt an imbalance between the good life he had in America and the horror endured by refugees who survived the Holocuast. He decided to use his privilege as a young healthy man to volunteer with the Palmach to facilitate the illegal immigration of the maapilim to Palestine so they too could have a new life of safety and security like he had been blessed to be born into. What do you make of his decision, and the way he understood his responsibility as a Jew at that time? If you feel privileged in your own life today, how do you use the gifts with which you were born to show solidarity with other Jews and humans in the world today?
  2. Volunteer nurse Ruth Stern from South Africa shared how refugees on a ship landing in Haifa said the Shehechaynu blessing as they sighted the lights of the Carmel Mountains in Palestine. What do you think motivated them to say this special blessing? Have you been in a similar situation in which you felt intense awe and gratitude?
  3. In 1948, Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm volunteered in a New York factory to manufacture bullets for the Davidka mortar used by the Palmach. He shares that they succeeded after the FBI turned a blind eye to their activities saying, “sometimes you have to do things, even if it’s against the law, because there’s a higher law we had to obey.” What surprises you most about this story?
  4. Isadore (I.E) Millstone was a housing consultant from St Louis in 1948. He came to Israel shortly after the creation of the State and met with Ben Gurion to advise him on how the new State should build houses without raw materials such as timber and steel. Millstone suggested that Israel use reinforced concrete to build houses, which was a new technology at the time. It allowed houses to be built from crushed rock, water and cement. His advice set up an industry. How do you view the contribution made by Millstone compared to those who fought with weapons for the State? What does his story teach as about the different skills one can use to support the Zionist endeavour?
  5. When asked by a young sabra what she was doing in Israel as a South African Jew during Israel’s War of Independence, she said “I’m coming because you are my people, and I’m coming to help.” Do you think that’s a sentiment shared by most Jews living outside of Israel towards Israelis in times of need today? Why or why not?
  1. Watch our video about Lone Soldiers in the IDF and answer the following questions:
    • Are you surprised that the IDF has more lone soldiers per capita than any other country? Why or why not?
    • For what reasons do you think young Jews volunteer as lone soldiers in the IDF? Do you identify with any of these reasons?
  2. Play our Kahoot about The Volunteers!
  3. Volunteer Sol Baskin smuggled Spanish guns into Palestine and was a fighter with the Palmach in the Battle of Fallujah. He recalls that heroic and tragic experience saying, “We had a certain amount of chutzpah that we should not have had. We had 400 fighters, while the Egyptians had 3000.” On December 28th 1948, the Alexandroni Brigade failed to take the Falluja Pocket, but managed to seize Iraq al-Manshiyya and temporarily hold it. The Egyptians counterattacked, but were mistaken for a friendly force and allowed to advance, trapping a large number of men. The Israelis lost 87 soldiers, many of whom were Sol Baskin’s friends. If you were to write a letter to Sol about what he did for Israel, what would it say?
  4. The Arab town of Fallujah where Sol Baskin fought took its name from Shahab al-Din al-Faluji, who settled near the town after migrating there from Iraq in the 14th century. Located on land that is now Kiryat Gat in southern Israel, at the time, the town had a population of 3100 people and was in territory allotted to the Arab state under the 1947 UN Partition Plan.During the war, the men of the village blockaded the local Jewish communities and attacked convoys being sent to bring them food, water and other supplies. After their initial failure, Jewish forces ultimately captured the village and the Egyptians insisted that the armistice agreement signed in 1949 explicitly guarantee the safety of the Arabs who lived there. Israel agreed to this in a document that said “those of the civilian population who wish to remain in Al Falluja and Iraq al-Manshiyya are to be permitted to do so… All of these civilians shall be fully secure in their persons, abodes, property and personal effects.”But within days, historian Benny Morris notes that Israel went back on its word. “The Southern Front’s soldiers mounted a short, sharp, well-orchestrated campaign of low-key violence and psychological warfare designed to intimidate the inhabitants into flight,” explained Morris.If you were to write a letter to a Palestinian refugee who lost their home in 1948, what would it say? How would you empathise with their suffering, while acknowledging the need for Israel to have a Jewish majority in order to allow our people to achieve national self determination?

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