The Last Voice: The Story of Hadassah Lempel

A chilling letter found in the National Library archives tells the story of Hadassah Lempel, whose voice was the last one heard during one of the fatal Battles of Latrun in 1948

“They said she was pretty. That she had big, sad eyes. That she was on her own. Her name was Hadassah Lempel. A new immigrant. Hers was the last voice heard from the unit that breached the courtyard of the Latrun police station on the night of May 30th–31st, 1948. She and the rest of the force were engulfed in flames. Some told about a woman’s bloodcurdling cries from inside the inferno amid a hail of gunfire and the desperate screams of the wounded. And there were the enemy’s stories of a girl wearing a radio headset in the armored vehicle filled with dead and wounded, screaming to the legionnaires to surrender. Her mother and sister who arrived in the country after her, were four months too late. A small photograph and a memorial over a communal grave were all that she left them.”

Article by Menahem Talmi, Maariv, May 27th,1988; click on the image to read the full article (Hebrew)

In 1988, a few months after the publication of her book The Teheran Operation, Israeli author Devorah Omer read these heartbreaking words about Hadassah Lempel. The Hadassah in the article was also one of the characters in her book. Hadassah had been one of the Teheran Children, a group of approximately 800 children of families that had escaped or were exiled to the Soviet Union from Poland during World War II, and who finally reached Mandatory Palestine in 1943, after a long and arduous journey that crossed through Iran.

Hadassah was just 14 years old when she arrived in the Land of Israel, and it was only here that she finally became Hadassah – before that she had been known as Helena or Helinka. She moved from one kibbutz to another until she was eventually drafted into the Palmach, the elite fighting force of the Haganah organization, one of the precursors of today’s Israel Defense Forces. Hadassah was soon assigned to escort convoys bound for Jerusalem.

The supply convoys to Jerusalem left Tel Aviv along the only road connecting Jerusalem with the coastal plains, which passed through the area of Latrun. Due to its strategic importance, the British had established a police station there to control the road. On May 14th, 1948, as the British were set to leave the country, the establishment of the new Jewish state in the Land of Israel was declared in Tel Aviv. That night, the British vacated the Latrun police station, enabling the Jordanian Arab Legion to take control of it. The first battle for the liberation of Latrun, a bloody affair which ultimately ended in failure, took place ten days later on the night of May 24th–25th. The second attempt took place on the night of May 30th–31st. A unit was sent to breach the police station. The mission’s signal operator was Hadassah Lempel.

Hadassah Lempel (second from the left) with her friends; the group escorted convoys to Jerusalem during the snowy winter of 1948; from left to right: Shimon Meizel, Hadassah Lempel, Varda Shulek, Yossi Ziv, Yehoshua and Nehemia; from a photo album belonging to Lia (Tahun) Offenbach; click to enlarge

Devorah Omer, who always conducted thorough research before beginning any book, discovered new details about Hadassah Lempel while reading the article by Israeli author, journalist and Palmach veteran Menahem Talmi, which is quoted above. She read of “a woman’s bloodcurdling cries from inside the infernoamidst the hail of gunfire, explosions and screaming wounded. She read about a girl with a radio headset sitting inside a damaged armored vehicle filled with wounded men, shouting to the Arab Legion soldiers in the police building that their end was near and they had better run before it was too late.

In the article, Talmi wrote that Hadassah’s voice, emanating from the command vehicle which stood at the head of the force, was the last sound to come from inside the firestorm at the Latrun police station. It was the last report to reach the brigade headquarters about the failed attack, about the brutal battle and the many casualties. In her final moments, she reported that the force commander, Yaki, and his deputy, had both been injured. Hadassah received the order to retreat and Yaki was able to instruct all who were still capable to save themselves. After that, her voice fell quiet. Yet Talmi wrote, “Her voice continued to resonate with those who heard, or those who learned of it from word of mouth. And there were some who asked, with pent-up rage, why a girl had been sent to the front line, why had she been placed with the force making the breach, and whether equality between the sexes, between male and female soldiers, was essential in such  cases.”

Even though her book about the Tehran children had been published, Omer was eager to hear more about Hadassah Lempel, so she wrote to Menahem Talmi, asking him to tell her everything he knew. She received a letter from him in response with a chilling description of Lempel’s final moments. From the letter, she discovered one more thing that Talmi did not mention in his article. He revealed that he himself had heard her voice coming across the hand-radio in the midst of the battle:

Dear Devorah,

I received your letter in connection with the article about Hadassah Lempel z”l. You knew her, as you write, from Givat Brenner [a kibbutz in central Israel], and then she served as one of the characters in your book about the Tehran Children. I didn’t know her and I never saw her. But I knew her voice and it has haunted me for years. I did not take part in the battles for Latrun, but at the time I was at one of the posts above Sha’ar Hagai [a location on the road to Jerusalem] and on my two-way radio, which was the same as the ones in the armored vehicles that went to breach the police station at Latrun, I listened to what transpired in the Ayalon Valley.

I heard her voice, the clear, subdued voice of a girl caught in the midst of the awful and hopeless battle. I heard her reports, without knowing exactly where she was. But I understood the situation she was in. Her speech and voice were bone chilling. It was clear that she was already speaking from the inevitable abyss and it was like needles piercing your flesh. The news she reported over the airwaves was grim. Despite her desperate state, her voice did not betray her. And you’re sitting far away, not physically involved, in a relatively safe place, listening to the voice of some anonymous girl sent into the heart of the battle, not knowing who she is, unable to help her, hoping that something will happen and she’ll be extricated from it. But no such thing took place.

Her voice faded. I still heard those who were in contact with her on the two-way radio calling her repeatedly – but there was no answer. I understood what they understood.

For years, the voice of this anonymous signal operator haunted me. For years, this situation haunted me: the experience of listening to the death of a human being over the airwaves.

Ahead of the fortieth anniversary [of Israel’s independence] I decided to write about this anonymous voice. I traced the footprints. It turned out that the writers of the history of the Battles of Latrun mentioned her here and there. I located her sister, collected the material, sifted through it, wrote – and the reactions started pouring in. Lots of comments – from regular people and from those who were with her at different points, some who have memories, some photos, some letters. What is interesting and encouraging: Even in this weary and cynical age, there is still great sympathy and identification with the heritage of the past and with those who gave their lives so that such a legacy continues to exist.


Menahem Talmi

[June 5th, 1988]

Talmi’s letter to Omer from June 5th, 1988, from the Devorah Omer Archive at the National Library of Israel; click here to enlarge

In addition to the chilling description of the battle, which also appeared in the article, Talmi’s letter to Omer contains a personal element. More than anything else, what stood out was the difficult experience of a soldier’s helplessness (in this case Talmi’s) in not being able to aid his comrade.

In the letter to Omer, especially in the last paragraph, Talmi also addressed the meaning of “memory,” expanding on it as a motive and purpose. He wrote: “For years, the voice of this anonymous signal operator haunted me” and “[a]head of the fortieth anniversary [of Israel’s independence] I decided to write about this anonymous voice.”

The agony of personal memory that remained for Talmi, that dreadful personal experience of being a soldier out of harm’s way while your fellow comrades-in-arms are on the front line, and maybe even the urge to atone for his inability to help in real-time, led him to write about Lempel to keep her memory alive.


In the failed attempt to breach the Latrun police fortress in Operation Ben Nun II, Hadassah was killed along with another 30 fighters. Lempel’s mother and sister, who survived the horrors of the Holocaust and arrived in Israel about three months after her death, did not find her. Only a few weeks later did one of her friends leave them a message that 19-year-old Hadassah had been killed in battle. A year after her death, she was buried on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, in a mass grave along with other fallen soldiers of Latrun.

Hadassah Lempel, Jerusalem, 1948; from the album of Lia (Tahun) Offenbach

Dedicated to the memory of Hadassah Lempel, z”l

And to the memory of Menahem Talmi, who passed away in March, 2018

Many thanks to David Lang of the National Library’s Archives Department for his assistance in the preparation of this article.


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A Digital Geniza: The National Library of Israel Is Collecting in the Age of COVID-19

The National Library of Israel is asking you to send us examples of digital ephemera which convey a sense of the times

An example of digital ephemera, appearing with the kind permission of Pagoda Online Learning, 

  • Please don’t delete that email from the Rabbi offering to Zoom the Shabbat service straight into your lounge
  • Save the Whatsapp message from the kosher shops assuring customers that there will be enough matzah for Pesach
  • Download your synagogue’s poster offering support for vulnerable people in the community
  • Forward messages from community leaders offering psychological support

These ephemeral digital fragments are documenting Jewish history in real-time. And they are also ephemera –   in ordinary times they might be items such as a synagogue timetable, a kosher restaurant menu, wedding invitation or Jewish film festival poster – items people would not necessarily think to keep, but that will later define our communities and our culture for future generations.

An example of digital ephemera, appearing with the kind permission of Pagoda Online Learning,

In these extraordinary times, they include a whole range of materials reflecting halachic innovations, new forms of ‘socially distanced’ communal life, educational creativity, Jewish irony and unthinkable situations of mourning our lost ones.   These items deserve to be collected as they will tell a story of resilience, creativity and also tragedy .

A classic example of ephemera – an Israeli ad for Ephedion cough syrup from Assea Labs, the Eri Wallish Collection, the National Library of Israel Ephemera Collection

Fortunately, the National Library of Israel (NLI) is creating  the COVID-19 Jewish ephemera collection, the perfect central repository ‘ a digital time capsule’ for this information.

A “Prayer for the Suppression of the Plague in Bombay” at the Shaar Harahamim Synagogue, October, 1896; the Valmadonna Trust, the National Library of Israel Ephemera Collection

Future students of sociology, anthropology, medical history, Jewish communal life, mass marketing, computer science and rabbinic responsa will be tremendously grateful.   Consider the NLI as a library without borders – with links to Jewish communities, people and libraries wherever they may be, drawing on the cyber revolution to enhance community engagement, digital preservation, open access, and collaborative projects globally.

We all hope that one day soon COVID-19 will be history – help us record this unique and historic time.

Drop your COVID-19 digital ephemera here or email it to
[email protected].


See also:

Gesher L’Europa

Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe


This article is based on a longer one published on the Times of Israel website, here.

No Friend of Bacteria: A Letter from Louis Pasteur

This is the story of a promising young student who became the “father of microbiology”, but it didn’t happen by accident; a personal tragedy spurred Louis Pasteur to search for cures for infectious diseases

Louis Pasteur was not born into a family of means. Growing up poor, he received a Catholic education and did not particularly excel at his studies. No one imagined that he would become one of the most prominent scientists of all time for his contribution to the field of medicine.

In his early teens, Louis’ interest in reading grew and he eventually became his own schoolteacher’s assistant. At sixteen, he moved to Paris for his studies, but an acute case of homesickness led him to return home. He enrolled in a local college and successfully completed his bachelor’s degree in science in 1840 and master’s in science in 1842. The next year, he fulfilled his lifelong dream of attending the prestigious École Supérieure Normale (after having failed his first attempt at acceptance).

A portrait medal of Louis Pasteur, the Sidney Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

In 1846, Pasteur began his research in the field of crystallography (the scientific study of crystals), for which he was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor in 1853 for his discovery of the differences in the crystal structure of the two enantiomers of tartaric acid. At age twenty-seven, Pasteur was appointed professor of chemistry at the University of Strasbourg.

An autographed photograph of Louis Pasteur, 1891, the Sidney Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

While teaching at the university, the brilliant young scientist met Marie Laurent, the daughter of the university’s rector. They married on the 29th of May, 1849 and began working together, with Marie assisting in scientific experiments. Their future seemed very bright, until tragedy struck. Three of the Pasteur’s five children died from typhoid, not unusual for that time, but Pasteur swore he would do everything in his power to find a cure for communicable diseases.

In 1854, he was appointed dean of the faculty of sciences at the University of Lille, the same year he began his study of fermentation. In the framework of his research, he came up with a solution to the problem of bacteria. His idea eventually led to a process that would significantly reduce the presence of bacteria in milk, wine, beer, fruit juices and honey.  In this process, liquid (milk, for example) is heated rapidly – almost to the boiling point, and immediately cooled. The purpose is to kill harmful viruses and organisms such as bacteria, protozoans and fungi that are present in the liquid without compromising the liquid’s nutritional value or taste. Beyond extending the shelf life of the liquid, the process helps to prevent disease. This process, which we call pasteurization, was named for its inventor – Louis Pasteur. For his work, Pasteur was awarded the prestigious Rumford Medal in 1856.

Louis Pasteur

The National Library of Israel is in possession of a rare letter sent by Pasteur himself to an unknown recipient, referred to simply as “Monsieur,” which was written, in French, at some point between 1868 and 1869, and which reveals that at that time of its writing, Pasteur was deeply engaged in the further development of the pasteurization process:

“[B]efore anything, and as I mentioned in my last message to you, I ask that you take note of the necessity of performing the heating of the bottles inside the large-scale heating containers; and remember the fact which the professional committee finally agreed upon at the last wine tasting, that the color of the wine that was heated when protected from air was stronger and even somewhat darker than that of the same wine when it remained unchanged and unheated. One can get an idea of the speed of the oxygenation of the wine by looking at the exact experiments appearing in my publications. Do not forget that the wine in bottles or in any other vessel, after it has been sealed a few days before, and after moving it from vessel to vessel to remove the sediment, will, during its decomposition, contain only nitrogen or carbonic acid and no trace of oxygen, but will contain oxygen the very moment it comes into contact with air. Furthermore, bear in mind that the solubility of gases is proportional to pressure.

Finally, it is best to remember that the wine, at the first removal of sediment after the end of fermentation, is saturated with only carbonic acid gas; also on this point refer to my publication “Etudes sur le vin” – the amount of dissolved carbonic acid, at this moment, is so great and so ready to be released that it might resist the intake of air in your device.

I am far from being against cooling after heating. Here again, one must take into account the oxidation process. With the reduction in volume in a barrel, air will penetrate, however it is perfectly clear, from the point of view of preservation principles, that it is safer to fill while heating; but the germs of the wine development process are many and much more active than those created by the air. Through heating, the wine has acquired such features of preservation as to allow, in most cases, even further maneuvering at a later date without great danger to its preservation. In short, with regard to the practice of immediate cooling after heating it will be possible to formulate an opinion after the accumulation of [data from] experiments. In the current state of affairs, I am far from doubting the wisdom of this practice. When heated in a bottle it is clear that the process is more or less natural and certainly not harmful here…”

The four-page letter Pasteur wrote to an anonymous recipient on October 20th (no year is recorded), the Sidney Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

Pasteur did not stop there. His contributions spanned a variety of fields and even included the development of a vaccine for rabies. The first successful experiment with the vaccine was performed on a sick child on July 6th, 1885. Following the experiment’s success, he received inquiries from across Europe from people who had been bitten by wild animals.

In 1887, Pasteur founded the medical research institute which bears his name to this day, and which he headed until his death in 1895. Long after his passing, his name is still familiar thanks to his discoveries relating to the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation and pasteurization. The Pasteur Institute continues the work he began: developing vaccines and drugs to fight disease, including current research being conducted in the hopes of developing a vaccine for the Covid-19 virus.

Many thanks to Elizabeth Friedman and Sharon Assaf for their assistance with translation.


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When the Spanish Flu Arrived in the Land of Israel

The pandemic known as the Spanish flu spread across the world in the early 20th century, reaching the Land of Israel as well; we took a look back at the news reports of the day


Courtesy of the Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine, Maryland

“Avoid crowded gatherings in closed places; avoid contact with others as much as possible, don’t even shake one’s hand when saying hello.” This was the ninth directive in a list of guidelines published by the Hebrew newspaper “Do’ar Hayom in February 1920, when the pandemic known today as the Spanish flu raged all over the world – and in the Land of Israel as well.

The Spanish flu, otherwise known as the 1918 flu pandemic, spread rapidly across the globe following the end of World War I, with overcrowding and famine likely contributing to the disease’s outbreak. The flu infected approximately half a billion people, almost a third of the world’s population, and killed tens of millions. It was one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.

In the Land of Israel, where the population was relatively sparse at the time and largely rural, the disease didn’t hit as severely as it did in other countries across the globe. Nevertheless, it arrived here too, and the population and authorities had to adjust to a new situation. As we mentioned above, even in 1920 – well after the major outbreaks of the pandemic across the world – residents were still being asked to adhere to strict hygiene rules. Apart from being given basic cleaning guidelines, people were also instructed to isolate patients and even to inform the authorities if they encountered someone who was sick.

From Doar HaYom, February 9th, 1920. For the full list of recommendations in Hebrew, click here

On the Flu

Recently, a disease has been raging in Haifa, which is apparently that same Spanish Flu which wreaked havoc in Europe, claiming so many victims, even more than the Great War. And yet, here it won’t last long. Nevertheless, it has become quite dangerous here as well, especially in the Old City neighborhoods, where the Muslims and Sephardic Jews live, and which is quite gloomy and dark. Furthermore, these residents do not maintain hygiene and sanitary conditions.

  1. General sanitation and specifically maintaining clean bedclothes: on clear and sunny days, take out the bedclothes, sprinkle camphor or naphthalene powder on the beds, wash the floor, and let the breeze dry it.
  2. If you start suffering from a cold, even a mild one, use a handkerchief, which you should keep in a tin box, with chunks of camphor and naphthalene. Be especially careful of phlegm from the nose or throat. In case of a runny nose, gargle antiseptic medicine and use the following ointment: Eau exygenee Menthel Resorcine Borax. It is recommended to stay in a warm bed for a day or two.
  3. In case of a cold accompanied by fever, report this immediately to the government sanitary department and if possible, call the doctor”


There is little information on the impact of the disease on the Land of Israel. Contemporary reports cite a low number of casualties in urban areas compared to Europe. According to a study on the subject conducted by Zalman Greenberg, there were approximately 40 listings of flu patients at Sharai Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem in 1918 – and this is the only remaining documentation regarding patients infected with the disease in the country. Greenberg also noted that in Tel Aviv’s Trumpeldor Cemetery, there are three tombstones with inscriptions stating that the deceased passed away from the “Spanish disease”. Here is an excerpt from a doctor’s report on the state of health in the country in 1919:

From Haaretz, September 24th, 1919. For the full article, click here

Dr. M. Borochov-Hoze

On the State of Health in the Country

(A short review)

This first year following our redemption from the agonies of war, has passed, compared to other countries, with relative peace. Although malevolent angels in the shape of contagious diseases and various plagues, which always follow war, and which accompanied the World War as well, have also passed through our country. Evil spirits blowing through the ravaged countries, trampled by armies, have blown through the air of the Land of Israel as well. “A scroll and a sword descended intertwined from heaven” – yet this is but a saying of old. It is a historical fact that in places where you find the sword, you come across epidemics and other exotic diseases. However, just like with the war itself, our brothers in the Land of Israel suffered less of diseases than the rest of the world. Lone cases of cholera, typhus, and recurring fever, and many case of the Spanish disease – a disease that has spread like a storm through all the fighting countries and their neighbors, and wreaked havoc upon them. – This disease claimed victims among our young soldiers, who survived the Turkish oppression. Nevertheless, casualties in our small country were fewer than those abroad.”


Naturally, in the early months following the outbreak of the flu pandemic, in the spring of 1918, when the information was still scant and incomplete, the Hebrew newspapers began publishing their reports. In June 1918, a journalist for the newspaper “Ha’Tzfira” (one of the leading early Hebrew newspapers, published in Warsaw), reported on the spread of the disease in Spain.

From Ha’Tzfira, June 13th, 1918. For the full article, click here

The Foreign Disease

I read that all public and government spaces in the capital have closed. The trams have stopped working. The factories and industries have shut down. The schools have closed and the students, who were anxiously studying for their exams, were sent home. More than one hundred thousand people are lying sick in their beds, and the disease hasn’t overlooked the king and his chief ministers, who have also caught this strange, wondrous illness, which has suddenly assailed Spain.

And I also read that the disease is spreading and expanding all over the country. The number of people afflicted by the disease has reached 10 million people. The military forces stationed in Morocco and the Canary Islands are also suffering. The doctors are helpless; all of the people are extremely fearful.”   


The pandemic raged for two years. During that time, Hebrew newspapers wrote brief reports about the pandemic spreading throughout the rest of the world, just as they reported on other daily news from around the globe with the help of news agencies.

From Doar HaYom, October 1st, 1919

“Madrid (today): the Spanish flu has erupted again. One hundred and twenty people died from the disease in the past two days.”


The issue of language in these reports is no less interesting. What was the disease called when it mysteriously appeared? The source of the virus wasn’t actually in Spain. Its common name, “the Spanish flu”, stemmed from the fact that most of the initial reports of the disease came from neutral Spain, a country that didn’t take part in World War I and which didn’t censor its press. However, Hebrew newspapers hurried to align with other media outlets around the world and associated the disease with the Iberian country. Some newspapers wrote of “the Spanish disease”. The Yiddish press often used the phrase “shpanishe magefa” (Spanish plague). These papers were published in the United States and across Europe and reported more frequently on the topic as their target audience resided in countries that were more heavily affected. Eventually, “Spanish flu” became the dominant name for the disease. The Hebrew newspapers still used the terms “grippe” (derived from French) and “influenza“, but gradually they also began using the word “shap’a’at“, meaning “flu”, which Eliezer Ben Yehuda coined as early as 1893.

In late 1920, the Spanish flu disappeared from the world just as suddenly as it had appeared, and with the exception of a few outbreaks in Africa, the H1N1 virus which caused a worldwide pandemic, didn’t return until the swine flu outbreak of 2009. However, here in the Land of Israel, the relatively new British Mandate authorities had to deal shortly after with the return of an equally threatening illness: the plague, which broke out in Jaffa and threatened Tel Aviv in 1922. Fortunately, thanks to the authorities’ determined actions, it was also wiped out of existence. You can read about it on the Israel State Archive’s website.

A poster distributed by the British Mandate authorities encouraging the extermination of rats and mice – The Israel State Archives


And one more bonus tidbit:

Although the Spanish flu was left behind, various flu viruses remained with us, and even made their way into commercial advertisements! In 1957, there was an outbreak of another (much less fatal) flu pandemic around the world, known as “the Asian Flu.” “Eliaz” wineries from the Israeli town of Binyamina took advantage of the opportunity and published an ad with a recommendation that wasn’t necessarily approved by doctors:


Asian Flu or Regular Flu?

Either way, getting sick isn’t pleasant.

Golden Crown Cognac, from Binyamina’s “Eliaz Wineries” – is the best natural vaccine against flues and colds.

Drink Golden Crown Cognac, from Binyamina’s “Eliaz Wineries”.


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