Franz Kafka on His Deathbed

On the author's last days, and some of the last words that he was able to put in writing.

Franz Kafka

In the early 20th century, tuberculosis was a fairly common disease. At that point in time, an effective treatment had yet to be developed. The disease mainly spread among populations that suffered from nutritional deficiencies. War could often lead to significant parts of the population suffering from malnutrition, and so it isn’t surprising that Franz Kafka contracted tuberculosis in 1917 – in the midst of the First World War.

At first, Kafka tried a very simple method of treatment; he figured a few months of rest outside the city at his sister Ottilie’s home might help. During his years of illness, Kafka occasionally returned to work at the insurance company in Prague where he was employed but he found he increasingly needed long breaks, which he took at various sanatoriums in Bohemia and Austria. During his last weeks, he stayed at a sanatorium in the town of Kierling near Vienna, Austria. Many of the patients there were in the terminal stages of tuberculosis and had hardly any chance of leaving in a reasonably healthy state. For Kafka, the disease had spread to his throat, preventing him from speaking and he switched to exclusively written communication.

The author sent letters and postcards to his friends, like the ones pictured here that he sent to Max Brod in April and May 1924:

Photo By Ardon Bar Hama
Photo By Ardon Bar Hama
Photo By Ardon Bar Hama
Photo By Ardon Bar Hama
The last postcards sent by Kafka to Max Brod. Photo: Ardon Bar-Hama

In these postcards, Kafka wrote about his own literary interests, the works of other authors, and also his unpleasant experiences due to the difficult treatments he was receiving, for example, injections of alcohol. At best, these injections offered a bit of relief.

About 40 “conversation sheets” from this difficult period have been preserved. They contain the ideas Kafka wrote down and the words he wished to express to the people who surrounded him: his friend and lover Dora Diamant, the doctor Robert Klopstock, Max Brod, and possibly others. After Kafka’s death on June 3, 1924, these pages were distributed among his friends, with five of them given to Max Brod. These items were brought to the National Library of Israel, along with Max Brod’s personal archive and a number of Kafka’s writings which were in Brod’s possession. While reading the pages (which were never published), it is not always easy to understand who exactly Kafka was “conversing” with when he wrote a certain line on the page, or what exactly the conversation was about. Some interesting references can be found among the pages, for example, his memories of experiences he had with his father when he was a child:

“When I was a little boy, before I learned to swim, I sometimes went with my father, who also can’t swim, to the shallow-water pool. Then we sat together naked at the buffet, each with a sausage and a half liter of beer. My father used to bring the sausages from home, because at the swimming school, they were too expensive.”

Photo By Ardon Bar Hama
Photo By Ardon Bar Hama
Photo: Ardon Bar-Hama

Elsewhere in these pages, two lines reveal Kafka’s concern for the flowers that were brought to his room in the sanatorium:

“Not cold water, but not too hot either, so that they don’t get sick.”

“And they should have made sure the flowers that were pushed to the bottom of the vase were not damaged. How can they do that?

Kafka also had comments about his diet: “It makes sense that in the hospital, dinner was between six and seven-thirty, after lying down all day, you can’t eat at half past eight” and “after all, a round of meals without fruit is unbearable over time.” In his deteriorated condition, it wasn’t easy for him to drink, either: “Milk? I drank sour milk for too long, then vinegar. The agony that drinking milk causes, now.

Of course, his illness and the treatments also became an issue: “It was from a cough at the time. I’m still burning from the oil. The injections don’t excite me anymore either, it’s too confusing.”

The exact order of the pages isn’t clear, nor is it clear if they contain all the content of Kafka’s written conversations in his last days or if there were more.

Despite his health and mental condition, he put together several short stories for a final collection he prepared, entitled A Hunger Artist. Proofreading the pages may have been the last literary act Kafka undertook. His friend Brod completed the process of getting it published. Franz Kafka never got to see it in print.

Photo By Ardon Bar Hama
Photo: Ardon Bar-Hama
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These and many other items will be displayed in the National Library of Israel’s exhibition on Franz Kafka, which will open towards the end of 2024.

The Prime Minister’s Stuttering Speech

In the lead-up to one of Israel's greatest-ever military victories, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol took to the airwaves to address the nation. It didn't go well, and the national crisis became significantly worse as a result. Despite his failure in a critical moment, today Eshkol is often viewed as one of Israel's greatest leaders.

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Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and IDF troops during the Six-Day War, 1967. Both images are part of the Israel Archive Network project (IAN) and are made accessible thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Yad Levi Eshkol Archive, the Oded Yarkoni Historical Archives of Petach Tikva, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel.

If only Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, prior to addressing panic-stricken Israelis on live radio on May 28, 1967, had reviewed his short speech to ensure that everything was in order—or, better yet, rehearsed it.

If only word processing existed then, it would have obviated the need for Eshkol’s top aide, Adi Yaffe, to scribble a change to the text that the Prime Minister—fresh off a cataract procedure, exhausted from late-night meetings in the lead up to the Six-Day War and having rushed to the Tel Aviv broadcast studio to deliver his remarks—struggled to read. Confused by the wording, Eshkol whispered to Yaffe in Hebrew, “What does it say?” (again, this was a live broadcast) and stumbled and stuttered. That undermined Israel’s confidence in its 71-year-old leader, led to Eshkol being compelled to relinquish his other job as Defense Minister, necessitated the government’s being expanded on an emergency basis to include opposition parties and, at least temporarily, tarnished Eshkol’s reputation.

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Prime Minister Levi Eshkol speaking at the podium of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, 1967. Photo by IPPA, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

The episode would become known as Eshkol’s Stutter, hardly Israel’s parallel to Abraham Lincoln’s stately Gettysburg Address at wartime a century earlier.

It wasn’t what Eshkol said, but how he said it—and its context was everything.

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IDF tanks near Jerusalem’s famous Montefiore Windmill, during the Six-Day War, 1967. Photo by Boris Carmi, the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

By the time Eshkol addressed the nation, Israelis were white-knuckled, fearing for the country’s survival after Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser in mid-May evicted United Nations peacekeepers from the Sinai Peninsula and deployed his own troops there, then blocked the Straits of Tiran to cut off Eilat from Israel’s Red Sea commerce—an act of war under international law. Israel’s military mobilized, and Tel Aviv residents dug ditches in anticipation of mass fatalities.

Reassurance through a national address was needed. Eshkol’s meetings at the Defense Ministry’s Kirya compound in Tel Aviv ran long, leaving no time to record the address that afternoon at his office on the grounds. Instead, he went across the street to a radio studio to speak live.

In a vacuum, Eshkol’s mistakes during the address were minor. Cross-outs and insertions dotted the 1½-page text, and Eshkol handled them fine, with slight hesitations and stutters here and there.

His pivotal screw-up centered on one word.

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Prime Minister Levi Eshkol during a visit to Dimona in southern Israel, 1967. This image is part of the Israel Archive Network project (IAN) and has been made accessible thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Yad Levi Eshkol Archive, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel.

It occurred near the end of a broadcast that ran just over three minutes. Listening to a recording of the speech today while following along on the typed text containing the handwritten changes, the drama builds. That’s because Eshkol reached the end of the first page, flipped to the second page—we hear the crinkle of the paper—and immediately encountered the fifth word crossed out and two scribbled words above replacing it.

Instead of reciting, “Likewise, directions of activity were specified for withdrawing the [Egyptian] military concentrations from Israel’s southern border,” we can imagine Eshkol’s confusion upon encountering the handwritten Hebrew word for moving. (Italics added for this article.)

That’s when Eshkol turned to Yaffe and whispered his question. Yaffe made a hand-rolling motion to signal Eshkol to quickly continue. An engineer cut the sound for seven seconds. Silence. The sound returned, and Eshkol proceeded.

But the whisper, the sound cut and the resumption—all vital to understanding the magnitude of the screw-up—aren’t grasped by listening to the audio recording today. Rather, those key components, and Yaffe’s gesture, come courtesy of an archived interview the Israel Broadcast Authority conducted years later with Yigal Lossin, who was working that day in the studio’s sound engineer booth.

The audio that exists is Eshkol’s address after it was edited—the whispered question and the seven-second pause were deleted—for rebroadcast later that night, because Eshkol’s staff realized the magnitude of the Prime Minister’s blunder.

The edited speech in Hebrew can be heard here:

Where the original audio is today is anyone’s guess.

Ehud Shapira, a businessman who was 11 years old at the time, remembers the tension Eshkol’s hesitancy caused. Shapira’s father had been called up to reserve duty and was away. Shapira, his siblings and their mother listened together to Eshkol’s radio address. She pronounced in Yiddish, “Oy a brokh!”—What a disaster!

With Eshkol’s performance, “she thought it was impossible to rely on him,” he said. “The Six-Day War was a big victory, but it was not taken as a given” at that point, he added.

Afterward, like a game of Telephone, Israelis’ anxiety levels multiplied. People commiserated about their fears, magnifying the collective dread. Rumors spread of a coup. Shapira recalled that a Hebrew term coined at the time evoked both the military and the deteriorating mood of the street: “Maj. Rumor” (Rav-seren Shmuati), which typically refers to the unclear or dubious source of whatever widespread rumor is circulating in Israel at any given moment. These days, he quipped, social media’s power would bump that up to Lt. Gen. Rumor.

Arnon Lammfromm, who worked for the Israel State Archives for many years and authored a 2014 biography of Eshkol, holds Yaffe responsible for not ensuring that his boss rehearsed, or at least reviewed, the speech. Eshkol also bears responsibility, he added, for not ensuring that Yaffe did just that.

The fallout was swift, and shocking. Opposition leader Menachem Begin approached former premier David Ben-Gurion to urge that his Rafi party join Eshkol’s ruling coalition during the wartime crisis, something Begin and his Gahal party did. Moshe Dayan, a Knesset member from Rafi and a former IDF chief of staff, replaced Eshkol as Defense Minister. (Dayan wouldn’t be sworn in until after the war.)

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Prime Minister Levi Eshkol (center, middle row) sitting between Defense Minister Moshe Dayan (left) and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Yitzhak Rabin (right). Other members of the general staff are also pictured, including Maj. Gen. Ariel Sharon, Maj. Gen. Chaim Herzog, Maj. Gen. Ezer Weizmann and Maj. Gen Shlomo Goren, among others. Photo by Avraham Vered, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Eshkol’s stuttering address didn’t politically doom the Prime Minister, who remained in office until his death in early 1969, having served nearly six years. Nor did it harm his legacy in the long term. Lammfromm considers Eshkol one of Israel’s most important leaders for his range of accomplishments, including, as Prime Minister, signing a defense pact with U.S. President Lyndon Johnson that became the basis for Israel’s ongoing alliance with Washington.

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Prime Minister Levi Eshkol (center) reads the newspaper as Defense Minister Moshe Dayan eats an apple and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Yitzhak Rabin relaxes. The three were on their way to visit the troops shortly before the war broke out in June, 1967. Photo by Avraham Vered, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Lammfromm pointed to Eshkol’s wide-ranging impact on Israel. As Treasury Minister, and as treasurer and settlement director of the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency for Israel before that, Eshkol handled the deficit arising from the War of Independence, helped the country fund the absorption of more than 650,000 immigrants (doubling Israel’s population), transferred the Absorption Ministry from the Jewish Agency to the government, expanded the economy from agriculture-based to industry-based and added approximately 300 settlements. Eshkol also launched the Mekorot water utility.

As time will do, Eshkol became forgotten in subsequent decades. But historians and older Israelis later came to appreciate Eshkol, Lammfromm said.

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Prime Minister Levi Eshkol (center) reviewing the Independence Day IDF parade in May, 1967. On the left are President Zalman Sazar and IDF chief Yitzhak Rabin. Photo by IPPA, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

“In 1967 was the last time that Israel went to war and won a clear victory. People long for victory and for his personal leadership,” he said. Eshkol wasn’t charismatic, but “his strength wasn’t there,” Lammfromm added. “It was managing people, getting into the weeds in many things. He was multidisciplinary.”

That said, was it fair that Eshkol is so well-known for his inopportune mistake in 1967?

“No, because he was a good prime minister and defense minister,” Lammfromm said. “But that’s life.”

Writer-editor Hillel Kuttler can be reached at hk@HillelTheScribeCommunications.com.

Declaring Independence With 150 Lira in Your Pocket

In May of 1948, designer Otte Wallish was given his “mission impossible”: Get everything ready for a Declaration of Independence ceremony. You have 24 hours. Also: Were there nude images hiding behind Theodor Herzl’s portrait?

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Declaration of Independence ceremony on May 14, 1948. Photo: Rudi Weissenstein

At 11:00 AM on the morning of May 13, 1948, one day before Israel declared statehood, Otte Wallish was given a very sensitive assignment. The official graphic artist of the Hebrew Yishuv (the Jewish community in pre-State Israel) was summoned to an urgent meeting at the Tel Aviv Museum – at the time, the only museum in the first Hebrew city. He had been summoned by Ze’ev Sherf, who had only recently been appointed “Temporary Secretary of the People’s Administration”. During the hasty meeting, which lasted no more than a few minutes, Sherf assigned Otte Wallish his task: “Get the large hall of the museum ready within 24 hours. That’s where the ceremony for the Declaration of Independence will take place.” Before Wallish could even ask for details, Sherf disappeared from the room to in a rush to attend to the other pressing items on his agenda that day.

Otte Wallish at work. Source: Wallish family

Wallish was given a budget of 150 lira.

Ben-Gurion’s plan was for the ceremony to be held under a heavy veil of secrecy.

Wallish approached this urgent task with every ounce of energy he had left after having spent several sleepless nights designing the first series of stamps to be used by the state-in-the-making. As the battles of the War of Independence were underway in neighboring Jaffa, Wallish ran around the streets of Tel Aviv to purchase a wooden desk, cloth to cover up the walls that were covered in nude images behind the stage upon which the nation’s leaders would be sitting in a few short hours, and a carpet to lend the hall a more dignified ambiance. The chairs to be placed on the stage were confiscated from local cafes. The meager budget wasn’t enough to cover flags, and it wasn’t possible to get a picture of the Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl from any of the stores. He therefore borrowed both of these items from the Keren Hayesod (the United Israel Appeal). However, the flags needed to be washed, so Wallish took them to a nearby laundromat and ordered “lightning-fast washing.”

Some of the expenses that were paid for the Declaration of Statehood ceremony, from the Ari Wallish Collection

The nude statue at the entrance to the museum was covered in white cloth, and even though the War of Independence was still in its initial stages, Wallish decided to cover all the window curtains in the hall with black, as a precaution to avoid damage from possible aerial bombardments launched against Tel Aviv. It was a case of “who knows what will happen?” And as if all that wasn’t enough, Wallish was called back to Sherf’s office to receive another assignment: to prepare – without delay – a parchment upon which the Declaration of Independence itself would be written.

Wallish hurried off to the Beit HaMehandes (“engineer’s house”) at the end of Dizengoff Street. He asked to see examples of various parchments, but since he wasn’t permitted to reveal why he needed this strange request fulfilled, the clerk helping him got the feeling that this fellow was just a bit “off.” Wallish bought the parchment and brought it back to his office to test it for durability, to make sure it would last for generations to come.

The end of the Declaration of Independence, designed and prepared by Otte Walish

As soon as his dizzying spree of purchasing/borrowing/confiscating was complete, this graphic artist turned interior designer was free to prepare the hall for the historic occasion. And so, at 11:00 AM the following day, exactly 24 hours after he was assigned his task and only five hours before the declaration was signed and the State of Israel came into being, the hall was finally ready for the attendees. This was all described in a pictorial article by Pinchas Yourman in the Davar newspaper five years later, in 1953. The Hebrew article can be found online in the National Library’s Historical Press Collection.

The official invitation given to Otte Wallish to attend the Declaration of Independence ceremony. Ari Wallish Collection.

That same Pinchas Yourman described the declaration itself in his book The First 32 Minutes, as follows:

“It is unbelievable – but it is a fact; the most important and decisive ceremony ever held in Israel – the historic ceremony for the Declaration of Statehood in the Tel Aviv Museum – lasted only 32 minutes; it included one short speech; was conducted with exemplary order, and was praised afterward by its participants with the best of compliments, ranging from “great and impressive” to “once in a lifetime, moving and felt in the depths of the soul.”

Despite the cloud of secrecy cast over the location of the ceremony, the large gathering inside the Tel Aviv Museum – which had previously served as the private home of the late mayor Meir Dizengoff – guaranteed that a large crowd would show up outside the entrance hall in the hope of catching a glimpse of the most important ceremony in the country’s history. One particularly amusing story told by historian Mordechai Naor in his book The Friday that Changed Destiny concerned a guest who almost didn’t get in. The guest was Pinchas Rosen, then chairman of the small and now forgotten “New Aliyah” political party. Since Rosen had forgotten his official invitation to the ceremony at home, the guard stationed at the entrance to the museum refused to allow him to enter. None of his begging and pleading helped. He remained stuck outside until Ze’ev Sherf intervened, and Rosen, who would soon become Justice Minister of the State of Israel, was finally allowed to enter the ceremony and sign the declaration. The truth is that there was no shortage of offended parties and people with all manner of grievances trying to use all their contacts to gain entry to the prestigious event.

Ultimately, only 350 people were allowed through the doors of the museum at 16 Rothschild Blvd. The newspaper reporters didn’t even reveal where it was being held. The entire event was broadcast on the Kol Israel (“Voice of Israel”) radio station, as its inaugural broadcast.

A Broadcast From the Meeting of the Jewish National Council” – This laconic announcement informing the public of a radio broadcast on Kol Yisrael at 4 pm was published in every morning paper on May 14, 1948. This particular item is taken from HaTzofe.

Pinchas Yourman offered the following description:

“After a light banging of the (walnut-colored) gavel on the desk, everyone stood up and sang HaTikvah. In a voice that was later described in the newspapers as “trembling,” David Ben-Gurion began by uttering 15 words that have been stamped by the seal of history: “I will read for you the founding Declaration of the State of Israel, which has been approved in the first reading by the Jewish National Council.”

Upon hearing the name of the State of Israel being called out explicitly, the crowd burst into thunderous applause. One of the men sitting on the stage, Rabbi Y. L. Fishman, didn’t take part in the spontaneous applause. He burst into tears.

The haste with which the Declaration of Statehood ceremony was organized, and the amount of improvisation required in order for it to take place within such a short time didn’t manage to detract anything from the importance of the event. Ultimately, the ceremony was every bit as moving as it was brief, and it also symbolized a new beginning in many ways, for example, with new institutions (the radio station, for one) being established which would continue to accompany the new state for many years to follow.

Long live the State of Israel!

Freedom Under Siege: The Last Seder in Kfar Etzion

How can one celebrate the festival of freedom, with the clear knowledge that your life or liberty will be taken from you in just a few days? The Seder night of 1948 was one of the last nights of freedom for those in besieged Gush Etzion, but this fact did not prevent the isolated group of men from creating the most celebratory atmosphere possible under the circumstances.

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The Nebi Daniel convoy, the last convoy to leave the besieged Gush Eztion, and the agenda for the last Seder. Image courtesy of the Dov Knohl Gush Etzion Historical Archive

On the 14th of Nissan (April 23), the eve of Passover 1948, the defenders of Gush Etzion knew that their fate was sealed – and that if they stayed where they were, they would die. They were surrounded by Arab villages which served as bases for the Arab Legion, a Jordanian military force that outmatched them by orders of magnitude. Efforts to reinforce the settlement bloc had failed, and a plane meant to land there on Passover eve was forced to turn back due to thick fog.

Most of the women and children had been sent just to Jerusalem, just north of Gush Etzion, several months earlier. The last few women had left more recently. The men remaining there had all the reasons in the world to become mired in despair: their personal situation was hopeless, they missed their wives and children (some of whom, having been born in Jerusalem, they had yet to meet) and were worried about them. After all, Jerusalem was also under blockade and anything but a safe place.

Family in Kfar Etzion, part of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. Photo courtesy of the Dov Knohl Gush Etzion Historical Archive

Shlomo Garnak ob”m shared the mixed feelings they felt with his wife:

“We’re planning here for the Passover holiday. But I lack the sense of a holiday eve. When they put together a plan for guard shifts on the Seder night, I said I don’t care if I guard from 6 in the evening or 8 or 10. If you and the children are not here – celebrations are far from my mind. And still we must overcome and not let despair and bitterness control us. We especially must not arouse grief and sadness during the holiday.”

They were a wonderful mixture of the diversity of Jews present in the Land of Israel at that time – Holocaust survivors who’d just arrived to the Promised Land, Israeli sabras who consciously chose to take part in establishing new communities in one of the most dangerous locations in the country, and volunteers who came to support their efforts.

The quiet before the storm: the trees planted in Kfar Etzion, before the war began. Picture courtesy of the Dov Knohl Gush Etzion Historical Archive

This home, which they’d just started building but a few years before, turned into a military camp before their very eyes: holes formed by shells adorned the walls of the white houses, cow dairies were turned into weapons storage facilities, and playgrounds became fortified positions.

Endless debates accompanied the decision to stay in the bloc, which lay outside the territory assigned to the Jewish State in the UN partition plan. They fought not to save themselves, as the settlements of the Gush Etzion bloc (Kfar Etzion, Revadim, Masu’ot Yitzhak, and Ein Tzurim) were at this point clearly beyond rescue, but rather to give hope to besieged Jerusalem, by keeping the Arab Legion busy to the south, and preventing if from invading the Jewish neighborhoods of the Holy City.

It was in this atmosphere that the holiday arrived.

Agenda for the last Seder night. Courtesy of the Dov Knohl Gush Etzion Historical Archive

Between standing guard and caring for the wounded, the men found the time to decorate the collective dining room in Kfar Etzion. Spring-themed landscape pictures were hung and flower pots spread out throughout the room, adorned by verses from the Song of Songs – “the vineyard has flowered, the nascent fruit has opened,” “the buds have been seen in the land.” The courtyard, neglected since the beginning of the siege, was cleaned up and organized. The customs of Passover eve were adhered to in full, despite the void left behind by the children who had left.

“This morning we held a siyum masechet [celebratory ceremony for completing the learning of a Talmudic tractate], in which the “first born” took part [the ceremony allowing them to eat rather than adhere to the traditional fast for first born on Passover eve]. I also participated, in the name of our eldest son. There were cakes and drinks. The happy news encouraged us and excited us until we went out to dance. And now everyone is rushing to finish the last meal of chametz [leavened bread and grain food, forbidden on Passover].”

(Letter from Akiva Galdenauer ob”m to his wife in Jerusalem)

“I just finished bedikat chametz [ceremonial check for chametz to ensure none is present for the holiday]. Yair my son was not with me, and there was no-one to hold the candle. In these days, I miss you most. But the encouraging news of our victory in Haifa [most of the city of Haifa fell to Jewish forces a few days before] sweetens the suffering of detachment. Perhaps we are close to victory. True, we have no illusions that the war will end quickly. But the recognition that our strength is with us to acquire our state with God’s help, immunizes us in these grim and dark days.”

(Letter of Shmuel Arazi ob”m)

As evening came, a holiday prayer was conducted at Neveh Ovadyah – an impressive stone house, less than two years old, which served as the central beit midrash or house of religious learning in Gush Etzion, after which everyone gathered for the Passover Seder – the religious kibbutz members together with the Nebi Daniel Convoy drivers and members who remained there.

Neveh Ovadyah, the building serving as the religious and communal center of Kfar Etzion, where holiday prayers took place. Picture courtesy of the Dov Knohl Gush Etzion Historical Archive

The traditional Haggadah, which now took on a new and contemporary significance, was peppered with newly written Zionist texts.

“Every so often, a [Kfar Etzion] member got up and read from the works of our time, things related to the project we are defending. The whole group joyously sang passages which have become popular during Eztion Passovers.”

From the diary of Yaakov Edelstein, Kfar Etzion member

Between the song Vehi She’amda [a song about how enemies seek to eliminate the Jews in every generation] and the tune Betzeit Yisra’el Mimitzrayim, [“When Israel Left Egypt”] passages from the poems by Yitzhak Lamdan (Mitzpeh Beyehudah) and Uri Tzvi Grinberg (Hayakar Mikol Yakar) were read aloud. When they came to the verse “And I pass over by you, and I see you trodden down in your blood, and I say to you in your blood, Live!” they read passages from Shalom Karniel’s article – “In Your Blood, Live.”

Tzvi Lifshitz, one of the participants in the Seder, described the scene:

“there was some excitement when the door opened and everyone got up and excitedly called out ‘Pour Your fury on the nations who have not known You’– all the humanistic hesitations which accompanied the reading of these verses in previous years were now rejected. The blood of our dear friends, who fell in defense of the Gush and in the War of Liberation throughout the country, demanded revenge.”

Later, when they reached the song “Next Year in Rebuilt Jerusalem,” most of the members got up in a wild dance. But some remained to sit with a bowed head round the table – they could not dance as they remembered their friends and the members of the convoys who had come to save them, who did not get to sit with them now around the Seder table.

The relative quiet which enabled this Passover celebration did not last. The attacks on Gush Etzion renewed already during the holiday, with one of the fiercest battles taking place ten days after the Seder was held. On the 4th of the month of Iyyar, the day before Israeli independence was declared, the last of the defenders surrendered. Some were massacred by Arab forces, and the others were taken into captivity in Jordan.

The Knesset would later mark the day Gush Etzion fell as the Memorial Day for all the fallen of Israel’s various wars and conflicts.

“…I do not know of a more glorious, tragic and heroic struggle in all the valiant battles of the Israel Defense Forces than that of Gush Etzion…Their sacrifice, more than any other war effort, saved Jerusalem… The Gush Etzion campaign is the great and terrible epic of the Jewish war… If a Hebrew Jerusalem exists… the gratitude of Jewish history goes first and foremost to the fighters of Gush Etzion.”

 From a speech by Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, 1949