Avshalom Feinberg: A Spy With a Poetic Soul

Avshalom Feinberg is known for being among the founders of the "Nili" organization, but as it turns out, even before the Jewish spy ring was established, he was already active in politics and managed to capture the hearts of women, well-known cultural figures and scientists. There is no telling who he could have become were it not for his tragic death at 27

Avshalom Feinberg. This item is part of the Archive Network Israel project and has been made accessible thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Yad Ben Zvi Archive, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel.

Avshalom Feinberg’s name is known primarily for his heroic involvement with Nili, a spy ring which helped British forces conquer the Land of Israel from the Ottoman Turks. One of the organization’s founders, he was the male counterpart in a famous love triangle with Rivka Aaronsohn (who claimed they were engaged to be married) and her sister Sarah (with whom he had a special relationship). Aaron Aaronsohn described him as “a knight without fear and without reproach,” but as you are about to find out, he was much more than that.

Indeed, if fate had taken a different trajectory, and Feinberg, who was quite an impressive man, had never met Aaron Aaronsohn and not become part of Nili, chances are his career would have gone down a different path. He could perhaps even have become President of the State of Israel, or at the very least, a major figure in its cultural milieu.

Feinberg was born in Gedera in 1889, a descendent of a distinguished line of intellectuals from the early-Zionist Bilu movement, a first-generation native of the Land of Israel. He possessed a gift for languages, a sharp mind, a poetic soul, and a rebellious spirit. Avshalom’s father, who had great expectations for his young offspring and intended for him to study law in Constantinople one day, had him learn Arabic and the Quran under a sheikh in Jaffa. The Arab neighbors knew Avshalom by his Arabic name, Salim. Both in these studies and at school, the young man excelled. In 1904, he graduated with distinction from the Alliance School and was granted a scholarship to the Alliance Teachers’ Seminary in Paris.

Avshalom Feinberg, aged approximately fourteen, studio portrait taken in Paris, France. Photo: Photographie Russe (89 Rue de Renner, Paris), REI-YBZ photographer. Avshalom sent this photograph from Paris to his sister Tsila, née Feinberg. This item is part of the Archive Network Israel project and has been made accessible thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Yad Ben Zvi Archive, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel

The years spent in France had a profound impact on Avshalom: enamored with the language and culture, he drank in the ideas of liberty. He joined the intellectual circles of Paris and forged a close friendship with the French philosopher Jacques Maritain and the poet Charles Péguy, who both predicted a great future for him in the realms of French literature and poetry. In addition, their friendship had further-reaching consequences as it sparked new admiration for Jews in France more generally.

Following his time in France, Feinberg went to Switzerland to be treated for a neurological disease from which he was suffering and stayed in the renowned sanatorium of Professor Constantin von Monakow in Zurich. It was there that he met a scientist who would become a central figure in Zionist history. In a letter to his aunt Sonia (from the book Avshalom: Writings and Letters (Hebrew), found in the collections of the National Library of Israel), Avshalom describes a conversation he had with the biochemist Chaim Weizmann, who would later become Israel’s first President. It appears that Weizmann asked Feinberg to become his research assistant:

“And you, listen to me!” – he told me

“Forget America, come to England with me. Have you means?”

 “I do not, but I could get some from my father, or elsewhere.”

“It’s nothing, take them; forget vain arguments, you’ll repay it someday. Property, simple and compound interest, this is what I do myself these days. Do come to England… The choice is yours: Oxford, Cambridge, London, or Manchester. You will be given every possible consideration and opportunity. One year to prepare and four years of study, this is more than you need. Once you are properly equipped, you will be able to go to America or wherever you like, but you must prepare first, you must outfit yourself. Now, do! Promise me. I have been preoccupied with you for a while now. I have taken an interest in you. Now, a stone has fallen off my heart.”

I promised I would give the issue some thought.

The next day, as I was walking him to the station, he asked me in parting to come see him again.

All this took place on the night of the thirtieth of December 1907.

– From the book Avshalom: Writings and Letters (Hebrew), by Avshalom Feinberg (Hebrew), ed. Aaron Amir, published by Haifa Shikmona, 1971, p. 20)

We do not know what happened beyond this meeting; perhaps it was Weizmann that ended up recommending young Avshalom to Aaron Aaronsohn? And what would have happened had he gone to read natural sciences at Oxford? One thing is certain, Avshalom captured the hearts not only of women, but also of cultural figures and scholars.

Once he had returned home, Feinberg took up civic activism and was unafraid to speak his mind publicly. For example, Feinberg was involved in debates between religious and secular groups within the Jewish community in the Land of Israel. In this article in Herut on 5 August, 1910, he is quoted speaking at a conference protesting the Jewish religious ban on farmers working the land during the seventh shmita year. Feinberg hoped the masses would take to the streets, in support of the Jewish farming colonies against the religious authorities:

Avshalom Feinberg of Hadera cries out: “I would not call for war on the rabbis like the previous speakers, but rouse the entire nation[…] They would split Israel into their faction against the faction of youths who wish wholeheartedly to work at reviving the nation. Instead, this assembly ought to decide to call for a greater gathering, of fifty thousand, in Jerusalem…”

Avshalom was not at all religious; he even refused to put on tefillin at his Bar Mitzvah. However, he was well-versed in scripture thanks to his grandfather, who had taught him as a child, and one could argue that Judaism was dear to his heart.

At the age of 22, Avshalom met the agronomist Aaron Aaronsohn, his elder by a mere 13 years. This meeting marked the beginning of the best-known period of Avshalom’s life. Aaronsohn ran a facility for agricultural experiments in Atlit and had another branch in Hadera. Highly impressed by young Feinberg, he first placed the young man in charge of the Hadera branch, and then made him into his own secretary and right-hand man, despite his lack of agronomical knowledge.

During their six years of friendship, until Feinberg’s highly mysterious and bewildering death in the desert in 1917, Avshalom was a member of the Aaronsohn household, and this period is well-attested. Aaronsohn expressed his love and appreciation of Feinberg in the best way available to an agronomist—by naming a new species of onion after him, which he discovered on the foothills of Mt. Hermon: Allium feinbergii. Eventually, Avshalom became one of the founding members of the Land of Israel’s first Jewish underground group. The Nili organization dedicated itself, under Aaronsohn’s leadership, to collecting information on Ottoman forces in the Land of Israel, in the hopes of helping the British Army conquer the region during the First World War. This would indeed come to pass.

Thanks to the wealth of written material young Feinberg left behind, readers have been able to discover surprising little-known facets of his exceptional personality. In a 1911 travel journal he kept while working at the agricultural research station in Atlit, he expressed his connection to nature and spirituality:

“I stood stunned, speechless at the beauty of the plants. All I could think was that I could well understand this way of honoring God.”

Feinberg’s love of nature was evident even at the end of his life. He was killed in the desert when he was merely 27 years old. He disappeared in the sand dunes around Rafah in the Sinai Peninsula—then the Turkish-British frontline—on 20 January 1917. All initial attempts at finding his body met with failure. It was only after the Six-Day War, once the IDF captured the area where he was killed, that his remains were identified thanks to a palm tree that had grown there, apparently from seeds that were in Feinberg’s pocket when he fell.

The palm tree that grew from seeds in Avshalom Feinberg’s pocket, near Rafah. Next to it stands Lt. Col. Shlomo Ben-Elkana with some local Arabs. The skeleton Ben-Elkana found was ultimately identified as belonging to Avshalom Feinberg and transferred in a military ceremony to the cemetery at Mt. Herzl. This item is part of the Israel Archive Network project (IAN) and has been made accessible thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Yad Ben Zvi Archive, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel

Long before Jim Morrison or Kurt Cobain were even born, Avshalom Feinberg could have been considered the first member of the notorious “27 Club”. Feinberg was an artist: a virtuoso of the written word, talented, clever, courageous, and creative. The poetic soul of this secular man who worked tirelessly for the revival of the Jewish nation in the Land of Israel can be observed in many of his writings. We are left to wonder what he could have become and what he could have written and created, had his life not come to such a cruel end, somewhere far off in the desert.

The Appeal of the Brown Beret: The Story of the IDF’s Golani Brigade

“Every corner of the country is marked with the blood of Golani Brigade soldiers. That is the way of the brigade: to be wherever Golani soldiers are needed, to decide the battle, to bring victory, to give life to the State of Israel.” The words of Yitzhak Rabin describe the feelings of many today in Israel

Golani soldiers form the name of the Golani Brigade. From: “Brown Beret – The Story of the Golani Soldiers” [Hebrew], p. 122

How it all started: farmers protecting their land

The Golani Brigade was founded in February 1948, a few months after the breakout of Israel’s War of Independence. The name, of course, comes from the Golan Heights, which the brigade founders could see at a distance from their moshavim and kibbutzim in the country’s north. In its first few months, the brigade operated sporadically – soldiers would leave work on the farm for a specific mission assigned to the brigade and then go back to their daily routine as farmers.

Golani Brigade soldiers enjoying some downtime during training in the Galilee, 1950. Photo: Boris Carmi, the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, at the National Library of Israel

In the 1950s, many of the veterans of the War of Independence were discharged, and the ranks of the Golani Brigade were filled with new immigrants from the cities and the transit camps, people unfamiliar with the country’s conditions and customs. Rehavam “Gandhi” Ze’evi, who was commander of the brigade’s 13th “Gideon” Battalion, said of this time:

“We found that our soldiers came from some 30 different countries, and beyond preparing them for the army, there was a need to teach them Hebrew – reading, writing, and speech.”

“Golani,” he said, “was a real melting pot.”

Soldiers of Golani’s 12th Battalion, 1951. Photo: Boris Carmi, the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, at the National Library of Israel

Golani, despite its natural affiliation with Israel’s north, did not limit its operations to that region. Once the brigade completed its missions in its own sector during the War of Independence, it moved south to take part in a number of important operations, including the conquest of what would later become the city of Eilat.

Historic telegraph announcing the conquest of the Eilat area by the Negev and Golani brigades. From “Golani – A Family of Soldiers” [Hebrew], p. 38

Golani’s unique spirit was evident as early as 1956, during the Sinai Campaign that took place that year. The “First Breachers” Battalion (the 51st) contained many new immigrants who arrived in Israel without their families and who had nowhere to return to after the fighting was done. At a party that was held to celebrate their release from service following the war, many expressed fears that they had no home to go to, no job or family to support them. Battalion commander Shlomo Alton heard them and got up to say a few words:

“I am telling you, and I don’t care if this goes against General Staff orders – go out and live your lives, try to build something. Those who can’t make ends meet should know, here at the base, you always have a home. The ‘First Breachers’ Battalion will always take you in.”

A Golani soldier at rest following the end of an exercise, 1972. Photo: IPPA, from the Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, at the National Library of Israel

Even the color of the brigade beret, which was decided in 1976, expressed the connection between Golani soldiers and the land itself. The earthy brown also represented the founders of the brigade, the farmers who carried hoe and rifle to maintain the young State of Israel.

A few examples from among dozens of books on the Golani Brigade kept at the National Library of Israel

Yitzhak Rabin, who was Defense Minister at the time and who served twice as Prime Minister, described this connection nicely, in a speech he gave in memory of the brigade’s fallen in 1989:

“Every corner of the country is marked with the blood of Golani Brigade soldiers. That is the way of the brigade: to be wherever Golani soldiers are needed, to decide the battle, to bring victory, to give life to the State of Israel.”

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin with Golani Brigade Commander, Col. Moshe Kaplinsky, attending an IDF exercise in the Golan Heights, 1995. Photo: Ofira Yochanan, from the Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, at the National Library of Israel

The early Golani Brigade was a parallel Zionist microcosm of the young state, an ingathering of the exiles connecting north and south, native-born workers of the land and new immigrants fleeing the European inferno, sabra city kids and recently-arrived newcomers from the peripheral “development towns”. All felt part of the Golani family. The brigade’s commanders understood over the years that this embracing spirit of unity was what attracted so many new recruits – the idea that Golani was more than just a training ground for soldiers and commanders, but a cohesive social unit bringing together all levels of society.

This spirit of acceptance can explain why so many young Israelis seek to enlist in Golani, to this day:

“A new recruit showed up when we were stationed on the northern border, it was freezing, snow. After two weeks, he came and told me he wanted to leave, that he can’t serve in these conditions,” recalled an officer was the brigade deputy-commander in the 1980s. “I told him: ‘You’re important to me, you are irreplaceable, stay. In Golani, everyone is important.’ He went home. Came back. He told me: ‘My whole life, no-one, anywhere – not at home, not at school – ever told me that I’m important. I always felt unnecessary. And I came here, to Golani, and you, a lieutenant-colonel, tell me I’m important. That’s why I’ll stay.’ And he stayed and went on to complete a squad commander course with honors.” (From: “Golani – A Family of Soldiers”, [Hebrew], p. 15)

Golani Brigade commander Gabi Ashkenazi at a brigade ceremony, late 1980s. From “My Golani” [Hebrew], p. 194

Service in the brigade was etched in the minds of many of its former soldiers as a significant experience. The well-known Israeli author Meir Shalev even wrote about it in the IDF magazine, Bamachaneh, when he came to visit a Golani Reconnaissance Unit base, 20 years after leaving the army. Shalev was wounded in a training accident just before completing his service in the elite unit. His writing, full of characteristic humor and wit, expressed the feelings he was left with after his intense time in the military:

“Jeeps dry my throat. I can’t stand to eat any kind of canned food. I hate when it rains on me. I’m ready to strangle any commander who abuses his soldiers. I hate hunters because I know what it feels like to take a bullet. I love travelling with a topographical map in hand.”

And despite all these ornery complaints, Shalev didn’t forget his service in the unit:

“The unit was an entire world. It was good friends, it was struggle and effort, it was also a first real acquaintance with pain and death. Of friends and enemies. At the time, the days of my youth, serving in the unit was the greatest thing that ever happened to me.”

From Meir Shalev’s article in Bamachaneh, September 7, 1988. “The equipment is improved, but the face of the unit greenhorn remains the same… that same miserable mixture of an aching, desperate body and a lack of sleep”

The history of the Golani Brigade is strewn with missions which seemed impossible at first but ended in highly significant victories for the State of Israel. At the Tel Mutilla battles north of the Sea of Galilee in 1951, a Golani reserve unit carrying out a training exercise encountered Syrian forces moving through a demilitarized zone. 40 soldiers were killed in difficult battles which took days, at the end of which, the Syrians were pushed back.

In the Six-Day War, Golani forces attacked the fortified position of Tel Faher in the Golan Heights. 34 Golani soldiers were killed, including admired battalion commander Moshe “Musa” Klein, but the outpost was taken by the brown brigade.

Towards the end of the Yom Kippur War, Golani forces stormed the peaks of Mount Hermon. In a long and difficult battle, and after the first effort to take the position failed, the brigade’s soldiers successfully regained control of the snow-capped mountain, which they dubbed – “the eyes of the state”.

In all these cases, and many others, Golani’s sense of pride and heritage stemmed from the belief carried by every soldier in the brigade – their insistence that they could succeed at any mission they were tasked with.

The brigade and its soldiers have paid a heavy price over the years, but nothing has been able to break its spirit. The brigade’s special nature has helped its troops cope with the difficult trials it has faced

The soldiers also frequently make use of dark humor to help deal with the dangers they face:

“One of their habits was to take bets on who wasn’t going to make it back. Sometimes they would sing El Malei Rachamim [prayer for the deceased], meaning me,” recalled Raviv Nir, the Recon unit commander. “I understood that this was a way to release fear and I allowed it. (From: “Night Predators – The Story of Golani Recon” [Hebrew], p. 212).

South we went, to the city among the fields

During the night we entered, crossing the sands,

We sunk to knee-depth, shivering with cold

Then we knew, we had come to the city of strife.


Translation of an excerpt from Gaza – a Hebrew poem by Itamar Oren, who served in the Golani Brigade’s 12th Battalion. Oren took part in the raids on Gaza City in the early 1970s and was killed in the Yom Kippur War. From: “Golani – A Family of Soldiers”” [Hebrew], p. 150


Some 1450 of Golani’s soldiers have fallen in service over the years, and they are commemorated at the memorial site at Golani Junction in northern Israel. 71 of them were killed on October 7, 2023, when they suddenly found themselves on the front lines. Their heroic efforts helped prevent an even higher civilian death toll. Many more Golani soldiers, far too many, have since fallen in the fierce battles in Gaza. The spirit of the Golani soldiers has not fallen, however, and their strong sense of pride continues to accompany them, wherever they go:

“Ask a soldier where he serves and he will tell you: this or that battalion, this or that company, or this or that corps; ask a Golani soldier where he serves, and he’ll only have one answer: ‘I’m from Golani.’” (From: “Golani – A Family of Soldiers”)


The Jewish WWI Soldiers Who Fought in Gaza in 1917

During the First World War, the British Army waged three bloody battles to capture the city of Gaza from the Ottoman Turks. Many of the soldiers who fell were buried in the British Gaza War Cemetery, and among them were Jews with names such as Morris, Wilfrid and Hyman. We set out on a journey to share their stories.

The ruins of Gaza City after its occupation by the British. This photograph is part of the Archive Network Israel project and is made available thanks to the collaboration of Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, and the National Library of Israel

As is the way of world wars, World War I took place not only in Europe where it broke out in 1914, but also in the Middle East and even right here in the Land of Israel. The main role of the British military force stationed in Egypt was to protect the Suez Canal, the vital sea passage between the British colonies in the East and the European continent, via the Mediterranean Sea. In 1916, the British force that fought in the region expanded into a multinational military force under British command called the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF).

In order to keep the Turks and their German allies away from the Suez Canal, and also to step up the pressure on the Turks and thus prevent them from diverting any forces to fight in other arenas of the war, the British decided to advance north towards the Land of Israel – then still Ottoman Palestine.

The British started the year 1917 with their first success along these lines. The city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip was conquered in just one day, on January 9, 1917. But the British command realized it would be difficult to defend Rafah from the Turks, and thus the British Army would have to conquer the largest city in the area – Gaza City itself. In fact, Gaza City was seen as the key to conquering the entire Land of Israel from the south.

But Gaza has never been easily conquered. In March and April 1917, two British attempts to conquer Gaza from the south failed. These costly failures led to the replacement of the EEF’s commanding officer. General Edmund Allenby, who until then had been commanding the Third Army in France, was appointed to the position. His mission was to conquer Jerusalem before Christmas 1917, as a gift of encouragement to the British people whose spirits were low after three long years of war.

Allenby, who would go down in history as the celebrated conqueror of the Holy Land who put an end to 400 years of Ottoman rule, chose a surprising strategy including a series of deceptive maneuvers. He understood that Gaza must be cut off from Be’er Sheva and that the series of outposts connecting the cities must be demolished.  While the Turks were expecting an attack on Gaza, Allenby decided to first capture Be’er Sheva and then surprise the Turks by attacking Gaza from the east, thus hindering their ability to bolster their forces there.


The Australian cavalry charge on Be’er Sheva

Zero hour was set for October 27, 1917. The Third Battle of Gaza began with a heavy artillery bombardment of the city using 68 large-caliber artillery guns firing from British and French ships. In the meantime, and as secretly as possible, many forces advanced towards Be’er Sheva, which the Turks had not yet finished fortifying. Apart from the trenches on the southern and western borders, most of the city was without any effective defense. The British surrounded the southwest part of the city with 24,000 soldiers and began shooting and capturing enemy positions.

In the meantime, cavalry units from Australia and New Zealand (ANZAC) and other mounted forces, comprising 11,000 soldiers, headed east of Be’er Sheva. They all reached their destination on the night between October 30-31.

Turkish soldiers prepare for the arrival of the British. This photograph is part of the Archive Israel Network project and is made available thanks to the collaboration of Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, and the National Library of Israel

The British planned to take Be’er Sheva by beginning with a mounted assault by the Australian cavalry from the east.

The attack began at 4:30 PM from a distance of about 6.5 kilometers from the city. The horsemen slowly increased their speed until they charged the Turkish defenders, who were not properly armed and were also in the midst of fleeing the city. The forces of the 4th Light Horse Regiment jumped over the Turkish positions; the soldiers dismounted their horses and began face-to-face combat. Meanwhile the 12th Light Horse Regiment moved on to take over the city. Within a short time, Be’er Sheva had fallen.

The deployment of the forces (British in red, Turkish in green) following the occupation of Be’er Sheva. Amir Kahanovitz Collection

The Third Battle of Gaza

After taking some time to rest and water the horses, Allenby began to advance the infantry and cavalry forces westward from Be’er Sheva. But the Turks still held several positions between Be’er Sheva and Gaza, and there was substantial resistance. One of the challenging targets was the military logistics center at Tel a-Sheria (today Tel Shera near Rahat). After fierce battles, the position and the nearby railway station were finally captured by the brigades of the 60th London Division with the help of additional forces.

In southern Gaza, the Turks had dug in a series of trenches that reached the Mediterranean Sea, with a number of control posts between them. The British forces captured part of their fortifications and went up along the coastline into Turkish territory as far as the village of Sheikh Hassan (today the area of ​​the Al-Shati refugee camp), but they were stopped, and the capture of Gaza was delayed. The Turks realized that Gaza could no longer withstand the shelling and stop the advancing British forces, and on November 6, 1917, they evacuated the city. When the British entered Gaza, they found it abandoned and in ruins. The road north to the Land of Israel was now open. The British forces advanced towards Jaffa, and within a few weeks they reached Jerusalem and liberated it from the Turks without a fight.

Most of the British soldiers who were killed in the battles for Gaza were buried in the military cemetery that was established there after World War I, in the area that is now the Tuffah neighborhood near Saleh al-Din Road. The cemetery has 3,691 graves, most of them belonging to soldiers who fell in the three attempts to conquer Gaza.


The Jewish soldiers who fell in Gaza

About one and a half million Jews fought in World War I. Of these, about 50,000 were Jewish soldiers from the British Empire. Some fought in the Land of Israel. 8,600 Jewish soldiers from the British Army fell during the war. It is safe to assume that some of them took part in the battles for Gaza.

As of the writing of this article, IDF soldiers are currently fighting in Gaza as part of the Swords of Iron War. The fierce battles and heavy, heartbreaking losses made me think of the Jewish soldiers of the British Army who fell in Gaza in 1917. I decided to try to delve deeper into some of their stories.

The names of Jewish soldiers who fought in the British Army were collected after the war and published in the British Jewry Book of Honour, which also includes a list of those who fell. About a year ago, I had a conversation over Zoom with a Jewish couple from London who researched the book, how it was edited, and the soldiers listed in it. It is not possible to search for a fallen soldier by date or place of death in the book, so I tried my luck on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.

I didn’t know the fallen Jewish soldiers’ names, ID numbers, or the units in which they served, so in the advanced search, I typed in “Gaza War Cemetery” and got 2,696 results. The only method, albeit not a scientific one, for finding a Jewish soldier is by looking for a name that sounds a bit Jewish. I tried “Cohen” first. One result came up: Lance Corporal Frederick Arthur Cohen, who fell during the Second Battle of Gaza, in April 1917, but his name wasn’t listed in the British Jewry Book of Honour. I then tried “Levy” and got one result: Sgt. J. Levy, but his name wasn’t listed in the book either. It’s possible that there are some inaccuracies in the book and that they hadn’t managed to collect the names of all the Jews who had fought. It’s also possible that despite the names, these people weren’t Jewish.

So, I started going through the list of 2,696 names of people buried in the British military cemetery in Gaza.

After a while, I came across a soldier with a Jewish name: Hyman Goodfriend. It’s likely his original name was Haim Godfried. He fell on November 7, 1917, on the last day of the Third Battle of Gaza. The location of the grave is listed by plot, and on the website, you can download an old map of the cemetery. Hyman is buried near the front of the cemetery on the right. His name also appears in the book, but with a different date. The date on the site, as also appears on his tombstone, is probably the correct one.

A few years ago, there was an initiative to collect information about British Jews during World War I. The initiative, called “We Were There Too”, became a website where you can search for names of soldiers, among other things. I found Hyman with a photo of him in uniform and the names of his family members. His date of death was taken from the book and not from the tombstone. He was 25 years old when he fell in battle.

Hyman served in the 17th Battalion of the London Regiment, which was attached to the 180th Brigade of the 60th Division and which fought here in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, among other campaigns. During the Third Battle of Gaza, their mission was to work together with other forces to conquer Tel a-Sheria. The battalion stormed Turkish machine gun positions and it was probably during this battle that Hyman fell.

From the grave numbers, I could see that next to Hyman’s grave is the grave of a Jewish officer named Wilfrid Gordon Aron Joseph. He was killed during the Second Battle of Gaza in April 1917. He was 21 years old when he fell and was survived by his wife.

Private Sam Bernstein, a 40-year-old soldier who worked as a tailor in Leeds, England and served in the 39th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, is buried not far from them. Although buried in Gaza, he was killed in Egypt a year after the battle, in October 1918.

The home page of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, features a large, pastoral image of the cemetery and its well-kept lawns. Above the picture, there’s currently an unsurprising announcement:

“November 2023 – This cemetery is currently closed to visitors.”

At the right end of the photo, there’s a tombstone with a Jewish star.

Photo: https://www.cwgc.org/

You can’t make out the soldier’s name in the picture, but by comparing the picture with the map, I discovered that this is grave no. XIV B 1.

On the Find a Grave website, you can search for graves in about 250 countries, also by grave number. With the help of this database, I found the name of the person who is buried in grave XIV B 1 in the picture from Gaza. His name was Maurice Magasiner and he served in the 11th Battalion of the London Regiment. This battalion was attached to the 54th Division that General Allenby placed near the coastal strip south of Gaza. The soldiers of this battalion moved up along the coast amid heavy fighting with the Turks, until they were stopped at the village of Sheikh Hassan. The Turks responded by shelling the area on November 2, and it appears that that is how Morris fell. He was born in Berdychiv, Ukraine and immigrated to England at the age of 4. He was 21 years old when he died and was survived by his wife.

It’s safe to assume that there are other Jews buried in the British military cemetery in Gaza, as well as the other military cemetery in Deir al-Balah. It’s hard to imagine the last time a Jewish memorial service was held for them.

Many battles have been fought in Gaza since the three fought by the British in 1917. May the Swords of Iron War be the last war in Gaza.

The Emotional Resonance of Music During War

Throughout Israeli history, music has been utilized to calm the chaos of war and make sense of tragedy. When words can’t quite get it right, music often can. As we deep-dive into four of Israel’s most famous wartime tunes, we can start to understand why music is just so important to our dear country, especially during dark days such as these.

IDF band, 1984, Ilan Ossendriver, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

From the earliest of times, people have been using music to channel their emotions. Early Mayans used soothing songs to aid with the difficulties of labor and birth, the Vikings sang melodious chants when marching into war to scare their opponents and boost their own morale, ancient Innuits would make use of throat singing to pass down their culture throughout generations. And the People of Israel were no different.

As the biblical story goes, when the People of Israel escaped persecution and slavery in Egypt, they played tambourines and sang songs of joy, led by the biblical figure Miriam and the righteous women around her.

Artist’s depiction of Miriam with her tambourine, Ze’ev Raban, photographed by Zeev Radovan, 1992, Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the National Library of Israel

Song is immensely powerful – this is a belief that was acknowledged way back in the ancient world, and is still recognized today. And one of its uses is during times of war, both in battle, but also for the comfort, assurance and perseverance of those who are suffering and need a certain special ignition of hope. Songs composed during wartime are often unique in their outpouring of emotion and the rawness ascribed to them.

Naomi Shemer is one such example of a singer whose wartime songs captured the hearts of the Israeli nation possibly more than any other composer before her. If any song has the power to symbolize something as terrible as a war, then the song Lu Yehi, more than anything, has come to represent the Yom Kippur War.

Lu Yehi – Performed by Chava Alberstein

 You can also find this song in the National Library of Israel collections


During the first devastating days of that war, Shemer composed a collection of lyrics that expressed her hope and prayers for the Israeli soldiers’ safe return home. At first, she used the melody of the Beatles’ song “Let It Be” (the Hebrew words Lu Yehi are a direct translation of the title) but, influenced by her husband Mordechai Horowitz, Shemer decided to later compose an entirely new tune. “I won’t let you waste this song on a foreign tune. This is a Jewish war, and you should give it a Jewish tune,” said Mordechai. Listening to his advice, Shemer worked on completing her new melody before performing her freshly composed song on Israeli television, where it captivated audiences, and reflected back to them their own feelings in a way that most people couldn’t hope to do alone. The song became something of a national prayer in Israel during that time (more about this here).

Draft of Lu Yehi Naomi Shemer, 1973, the National Library of Israel

When the National Library of Israel was endowed with Naomi Shemer’s personal archives, they included both her handwritten lyrics to Lu Yehi as well as a special little pocket book. This pocket book contained the words of the fourth verse of her song “Jerusalem of Gold”.

Yerushalayim Shel Zahav – Performed by Shuli Natan

 You can also find this song in the National Library of Israel collections


At the beginning of 1967, the Mayor of Jerusalem commissioned a song about Jerusalem from Naomi Shemer. This song, Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, was written for the Israel Song Festival at a time when Jerusalem’s Old City was occupied by Jordan – a difficult period in which Jews could not enter the Old City and worship at their holy sites. It describes the longings of the Jewish people for Jerusalem and their yearning for peace.

Jerusalem of Gold” (Yerushalayim Shel Zahav), Naomi Shemer, 1967, the National Library of Israel

Less than a month after the song’s publication, however, the Six-Day War broke out and the IDF was able to take the Old City. Upon hearing this jubilant news, Naomi Shemer decided in that very moment to add a final verse to her song, celebrating the return of the Jews to their ancient holy sites. Naomi Shemer’s song thus became the unofficial anthem of the Jewish people, and still symbolizes the mood of many Israelis during the Six-Day War.

Naomi Shemer at the piano, the National Library of Israel

Shemer was not the only songwriter to have this effect on the nation, however. As the First Lebanon War raged around him in 1982, esteemed Israeli lyricist Ehud Manor was inspired to write a searing text that dealt with his own emotions following the death of his brother during the War of Attrition. As Manor sat in his living room with his wife watching the daily news play out reels from the battlefield, he broke down in tears and started jotting down words on a scrap of paper. These lyrics would eventually become the song Ein Li Eretz Acheret – “I Have No Other Country”.

Ehud Manor on the radio, 1969, IPPA Staff Photographer and Shalom Bar Tal, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

When the song was released in 1986, it emerged as a profound musical testament that resonated with the collective sentiments of a nation grappling with the tragedies of war. Against the backdrop of the challenges and strife around them, the melody not only encapsulated the turbulent emotions of Israelis at the time, but his insightful lyrics echoed the collective atmosphere of the war. Ein Li Eretz Acheret became a significant cultural touchstone, being voted Israel’s favorite song time and time again. Later chosen as the Song of the State of Israel by the Yediot Ahronoth newspaper. The song has been given different political interpretations but it actually offers a musical narrative that goes beyond political boundaries and has thus been recycled multiple times throughout Israel’s recent history to articulate the intricate emotions woven into the fabric of a society which continuously finds itself facing conflicts.

“I have no other country. Although my land is burning, my veins, my soul with an aching body and with a hungry heart, here is my home. I will not be silent. For my country has changed her face. I will not give up on her, I shall remind her and sing into her ears, until she opens her eyes.”

Ein Li Eretz Acheret – Performed by Gali Atari

 You can also find this song in the National Library of Israel collections


Even more recently, during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, as hope for a brighter future seemed so far off for so many Israelis, a song that had been released a few months earlier suddenly hit home in a new way: Ayeka. After becoming a Breslov Hasid, Shalom “Shuly” Rand was expected to spend the rest of his life learning Torah and walking in the traditional Hasidic path set out for him. But, being an introspective and thoughtful man with a rebellious streak, this was not the route he chose. While staying true to his religious beliefs and practices, and fathering seven children, he also became an actor and began composing and singing music.

Ayeka – Performed by Shuly Rand

 You can also find this song in the National Library of Israel collections


Arguably his most well-known song is a prayer that came straight from his heart. As a man who had lived through dark days as well as the good ones experienced by all Israelis, he writes of his faith being challenged. Confused and lonely, he turned to the heavens with a question, or even a plea – ayeka?! – “where are you?!” Rand communicates his feelings candidly in this song, with vulnerability and perhaps a touch of rage, as he turns to G-d and questions how the Master of the Universe could allow so much suffering and heartbreak in the world that He created.

When Operation Cast Lead shook the people of Israel just a few months after the song’s release, many Israelis recalled Rand’s lyrics and felt their own feelings echoed in his song, understanding that this man’s confusion and his struggles with faith were also their own during the distress that lay all around them. Rand expresses his longing to understand how to cope in difficult times, as well as the bigger frustration which comes with knowing that he may never have answers to these questions. It was a sentiment that so many ordinary people could align with during the conflict which arose that same year, and lots of Israelis considered it an apt reflection of the times they were living through.

“Oh G-d almighty, openly speaking, sometimes I have no desire to be in Your world. Where can I hide from You? What will I claim, how will I justify myself, what shall I say? Merciful and gracious G-d, before You is a Jew, hanging by a hair-thin thread, fighting the sadness, the despair that gnaws like a worm. The happiness had fled from me and so did my sanity. Voices from the past whisper to me to stop, but I keep on rowing in the dark, asking and wishing, where are You?!”

 IDF band, 1984, Ilan Ossendriver, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

And now, as Israel has been at war since the unimaginably dreadful events of October 7, we see this same musical phenomenon playing out once again. If you look today at the top Israeli music charts, you may notice that the songs being listened to in Israel right now reflect the war that we are experiencing. Many of the most popular songs in the country at the moment were written to express the national mood of mourning, of helplessness at the situation we find ourselves in, but also of hope for a brighter future.

 IDF band, 1969, Shalom Bar Tal, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Songs do more than just entertain us. They provide us with guidance in times of hardship, they provide us with companionship in knowing that others feel how we feel, and they provide us with words for feelings that we can’t quite express alone. Listen to the lyrics of the songs mentioned in this article, and many of the most listened-to songs in Israel right now and see if you feel the same way. The chances are that you, like so many others, will find a friend in these words and melodies.

 IDF band, 1969, Shalom Bar Tal, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel