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Jewish youth need Jewish heroes, says Zionist underground expert

by Atara Beck

TORONTO – “Allowing Jewish youth to encounter our own heroes has the potential to inspire an entire generation,” said prolific author and historian Zev Golan, a world-renowned expert on the pre-state of Israel Zionist underground, who spoke to students here while visiting family.
His presentation to Or Chaim and Ulpanat Orot high school students on Yom HaAtzma’ut following morning services at B’nai Torah congregation so impressed Rabbi Shlomo Gemara, Rosh HaYeshiva for the B’nei Akiva high schools, that he plans to discuss with Golan on his next visit here how to incorporate this fascinating chapter in Jewish history into the school curriculum.

Golan, who was also one of the foremost hunters for Nazi war criminals in the United States in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, spoke the previous day at a Yom Hazikaron assembly at Associated Hebrew Schools’ middle school, where he was introduced by Ethan Sherman, his Grade 6 nephew. Sherman used the biblical pronouncement of “justice, justice you shall pursue” to describe his uncle’s determination to seek justice, “so that victims of the Holocaust should not be forgotten.”

Golan was pleased by both schools’ initiative to educate the students about the little-known history of the Hebrew revolution and the idealistic Zionist heroes who willingly risked their lives for Jewish liberation.

He explained that Israel – then known as Palestine – was British-mandated territory and the Jews were subject to anti-Jewish laws; it had become increasingly difficult to defend themselves from Arab attacks and the doors to Jewish immigration were closed. Teaching Jewish history “on one leg,” Golan gave an overview of the non-mainstream Irgun and Lechi organizations, which, although maligned for their militancy, took every precaution not to harm innocent civilians in their war against the British.

Golan said his interest in the subject was piqued after meeting late Zionist hero Moshe Segel, who in 1929 illegally blew the shofar at the end of Yom Kippur at the Western Wall and was arrested and jailed.

With the help of then Chief Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Segel was freed several hours later. Golan described the dangerous activities and incredible bravery of Segel and other young fighters in their teens and 20s who asserted Jewish pride and refused to apologize for singing Hatikvah, the Hebrew national anthem.

“I used to imagine what I could have asked Moshe Rabeinu (the biblical Moses), who liberated the Jewish people from Egypt,” he told the Associated students. “Of course I couldn’t interview Moshe Rabeinu, but I could interview Moshe Segel. There were Jewish heroes after the Bible. We should remember all those from the Irgun, Haganah and Stern Group that fought and were willing to die for Jewish liberation as we observe Yom Hashoah and celebrate Yom HaAtzma’ut.”

Golan told the Jewish Tribune that it’s not only Diaspora students who know little of Israel’s history. He mentioned a recent survey conducted by Professor David Chen, an advisor for Israel’s education ministry, according to which only 39 per cent of 527 Israeli students knew that David Ben-Gurion was Israel’s first prime minister.

“I have no doubt that if Rabbi Gemara’s plans come to pass, other institutions will soon be copying him. Because Jewish youth are exposed in school and the media to heroes of other cultures, and to much Jewish suffering, they all too often find Jewish or Israeli history boring. They’re hungry for these role models – the image of revolutionaries who wrote poetry and sacrificed their lives.”

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