Children of Heroes: The Story of Ma’ale HaHamisha

Is it a good idea to raise children in a place constantly under enemy fire? How much joy can there be for a ten-month-old baby whose father has died for a cause? This is a story of childhood spent in Kibbutz Ma'ale HaHamisha – a story of love, laughter and dedication, alongside constant threat and loss

Yaara, the only surviving offspring of the five murdered men after whom Kibbutz Ma'ale HaHamisha was named. Courtesy of the Ma'ale HaHamisha archives.

“Crowds gathered once again, the same crowds that came to the funeral, but their purpose now was different. Instead of tears of sorrow, their eyes glistened with tears of light and happiness. The joy poured out from their hearts and took hold like a flame, spreading further and further afield. Shoulder to shoulder, hands on each other’s backs, the atmosphere was intoxicating, hands moving, feet pounding the ground in circles. The dance began. Eyes were closed, and the heaviness in our bodies dissipated. Everyone moving together in a circle, everyone trembling, in an ecstatic hora.”

(Description written by Yitzhak, one of the first members of the group, on 20 Tammuz 5699 [July 7, 1939] when the cornerstone was laid)

They didn’t originally call the place Ma’ale HaHamisha (“Ascent of the Five”) because the disaster hadn’t yet happened. They were “just” a group of young pioneers, one of the many from Europe who came to build a new home – for them as individuals and for their nation – in the Land of Israel.

The first core group of pioneers, which called itself BeMa’ale (“in the ascent”), consisted of members of two separate groups of Zionist activists – one from the Vitkinia movement and one from the Gordonia movement – who came together in temporary residences in Kiryat Anavim in the Jerusalem hills, west of the city. They were later joined by people who arrived with the Youth Aliyah organization.

The goal was to establish a new settlement point. The question under debate was whether they should settle in the valley or take on the heroic task of “conquering the mountain” – settling in a strategic elevated position under harsher conditions where it was more difficult to grow crops.

First members of the group at Ma’ale HaHamisha. This photo is preserved in the Ma’ale HaHamisha archives and is available online at the National Library of Israel (IL-MAHM-001-07-063-144)

These were the days of Arab revolt (1936-1939) in Mandatory Palestine, and in the meantime, the group answered the Histadrut’s [the Zionist labor union] call to take over the operation of the stone quarry in Nahalat Yitzhak that had been abandoned by its Arab owners. The work in the stone quarry was difficult and unfamiliar to these group members who had mainly been given agricultural training. The housing conditions were harsh and uncomfortable; they slept in one central hall and had to guard the area in shifts after work. They also worked simultaneously in forestry.

Within this group of pioneers still finding their feet, was a young couple, Yitzhak and Hanna Migdal. During that initial stage characterized by hard manual labor and frequent Arab attacks, with an as yet unclear future, Hanna gave birth to their daughter in the old Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Baby Yaara was the couple’s firstborn, but she was the third child born to the first core group.

Baby Yaara. Photo courtesy of the Ma’ale HaHamisha archives

Despite differences of opinion and the growing pains of those early days, it was clear to all the members that for the sake of the children and their future, they needed to decide where to settle.

In the end, this difficult decision was made for them.

On November 9, 1937, some members of the community went out to pave a road on Har Haruah (“The Mount of Wind”), just south of where the kibbutz is situated today. They arrived during the early hours of the morning with their tools loaded on a donkey, and walked straight into an Arab ambush. They were shot and murdered almost at point blank. The group that arrived right after them got there just in time to see the murderers flee.

Aharon Olishevsky, Aryeh Mordechovitz, Yehoshua Pochovsky, Moshe Bar Giora (Baumgarten), and Yitzhak Migdal – baby Yaara’s father – were brutally murdered.

The members of the small group were beside themselves, but the decision was made. They decided to settle on the mountain, despite the physical and security-related challenges this would pose. They felt they needed to do this to honor those who were murdered in the past and for the sake of their children’s future.

A page in the members’ book where Yitzhak Migdal’s death is noted, somewhat laconically – met, “dead”. Courtesy of the Ma’ale HaHamisha archives.

The Ma’ale HaHamisha archives, which have been operating for many years to preserve every piece of history related to the kibbutz, contain writings from this period, which reveal the feelings of the members and which document the pivotal moments of their pioneering days.

These writings are available digitally to the general public through the National Library website as part of the Archive Network Israel project. The project is a collaboration between the archives of different Israeli communities (such as Ma’ale HaHamisha), the Ministry of Heritage, and the National Library of Israel.

Towards the end of July 1938, the group left their temporary residences at Kiryat Anavim, accompanied by an auxiliary force of Jerusalemites and residents of other nearby towns. They headed uphill to the place where the five were buried and began their ceremony to lay the cornerstone for the new community at the top of the mountain.

The companions helped set up the first lodging arrangements and fortifications, but they ultimately departed, leaving behind the members of the BeMa’ale group, who were carefully chosen to be the first pioneers to prepare the land and buildings for the rest who would follow.

“15 members remained. Around a hard rock, they sat down for their first meal there. Such sublime contentment, such a pleasant feeling came over them when, after such tumult, they could see what they had accomplished with their own hands.

The summer breeze blew and swept away the footprints of the crowd that had been there, noisily blowing around the new shack, surrounding it all around, and when it realized that it could not be subdued, it went off in another direction toward the wilderness.

From this day on, on the high peak, the Ma’ale HaHamisha enterprise will continue to develop, nurtured by a few members who have formed bonds of life and death, eternal bonds, with this place. “

(Yitzhak, Ma’ale HaHamisha, 20 Tammuz, 5669 [July 7, 1939])

“In memory of the “BeMa’ale” members who sanctified the place with their blood” – A report in Davar describing the establishment of Ma’ale HaHamisha, July 22, 1938. From the Historical Jewish Press Collection at the National Library of Israel

The first group included a few members who “knew a bit about guarding and security.” The group organized itself with military discipline, in the heart of a hostile area prone to Arab attacks. The place didn’t yet have the character of a proper community. Women hadn’t even arrived yet, except for one young lady who filled a medical position.

They prepared the land around them for agricultural harvesting but mainly they focused on construction – everything from homes to fortifications to henhouses, as well as a water line connecting to nearby Kiryat Anavim.

“Just as they finished the first two [Jewish] agency houses, the children came up, along with their parents. How joyful the toddlers were, who also made the ascent. Their vision of Aliyah [immigration, ascent] was realized and manifested in a deep, childlike joy. And who among us can accurately express the feelings of children; and it is not easy for children, but they are pioneers. And so, step by step, the place was conquered, and it submitted to humans, the masters of nature and the creators of culture.”

(Leah, Ma’ale HaHamisha)

The first children of Ma’ale HaHamisha. This photo is preserved in the Ma’ale HaHamisha archives and is available online at the National Library of Israel ( IL-MAHM-001-07-063-055)

With the arrival of the children, the community transitioned from a semi-military outpost to a home, a place where the members could start families and raise future generations.

One might assume that children growing up next to combat positions, with their parents and all the other adults around them constantly busy with their daily tasks – toiling and working the difficult land while also taking on long and demanding guard duty shifts – would have to accept not being the primary focus of attention.

The opposite actually proved true; the children were a source of joy and hope for all the members – not just their parents or caretakers.

This is how Tzila Cohen-Rotblit described the first day in nursery school for Dalia, the kibbutz’s first newborn:

“This is an important event in our internal lives: Dalia is leaving [baby] care and moving over to nursery school. A new, more interesting, but also more difficult chapter is beginning for her… Despite our best wishes, we are unable to arrange for a nursery school here… At this moment, with the great changes in Dalinka’s young and tender life, we wish for ourselves, that this firstborn daughter won’t disappoint our hopes that we have placed in her, that she may grow and merit praise and renown.”

When Yaara was born to Hannah and the late Yitzhak, the nannies carefully monitored her development and growth. In a journal that was ahead of its time, predating contemporary baby wellness clinics’ records, her weight, what she ate, and any childhood illnesses she suffered were recorded in neat and meticulous handwriting.

Tracking baby Yaara’s development, courtesy of the Ma’ale HaHamisha archives

By the time she had grown a bit, a nursery school was set up in the kibbutz itself, and Yaara didn’t need to leave her natural environment every day like her older friend Dalia had. The teacher, Bedna, loved the children dearly, and they loved her back.

Their lives were full of songs and stories and they had dolls, games, books and an almost normal routine, just like any child anywhere in the world. It was as if they didn’t live on an exposed mountain opposite enemies who’d take every opportunity to break into their homes and murder them. As if a few dozen meters from the nursery school there wasn’t a guard post equipped with submachine guns and grenades. As if they had never heard the sounds of shells exploding or heavy bursts of gunfire while they were singing their morning songs.

They were almost like typical children, complaining about showers that were too cold, annoying things the adults demanded of them like taking off their shoes when coming inside (paved roads and sidewalks were nowhere to be found, and depending on the season, the shoes could be full of mud or dust), and the long 2-3 kilometer walk to school.

But was this cloak of normalcy enough to cover up the fact that Yaara’s father wasn’t waiting for her every evening at home? That Dalia, Gideon, Eitana and Gila’s parents left home every night for guard duty?

Parents and children on the kibbutz, 1938. This photo is preserved in the Ma’ale HaHamisha archives and is available online at the National Library (IL-MAHM-001-07-063-040)

On November 29, 1947, the parents and nannies tried to choose between maintaining normal routine and recognizing the magnitude of what was happening: The children weren’t allowed to stay up, but were promised that they’d be woken up with the results of the vote on the United Nations Partition Plan. In the end, they were dragged out of their beds to take part in the festivities in the kibbutz’s dining room, when it was announced that the UN had approved the decision to establish a Jewish state alongside an Arab one.

But the jubilation didn’t last long. Their surroundings began to become more and more dangerous. Some men from the Palmach (the elite Haganah fighting force) had come to stay at the kibbutz and assist in defending and training the members for the war that was now underway. The children observed their training and lifestyle with curiosity, and occasionally they’d hear from the nursery schoolteachers that this one had been killed or that one had been injured.

School was cancelled and the children now helped fill sandbags, practiced what to do during episodes of shelling (there was no safe room; usually they just lay down between the bed and the wall in their rooms) and mostly tried not to bother the preoccupied adults.

Children helping at the cow shed, 1946. This photo is preserved in the Ma’ale HaHamisha archives and is available online at the National Library ( IL-MAHM-001-07-013-006)

After the fall of Gush Etzion, the kibbutz received a warning to expect an attack by enemy forces who were no longer tied down in the fighting there. This was just around the time when construction of the first shelter was finished. One night in early May, when heavy shelling began, the children were moved into the shelter, which still contained remnants of construction materials.

“In the shelter, I dressed the children and managed to give them breakfast,” kibbutz member Edna Wexler explained:

“We hadn’t yet managed to organize the children inside the shelter when the order suddenly came to evacuate the place immediately. I have no idea where they came from but the Palmach guys suddenly appeared inside the shelter. They removed the mothers who had arrived so as to streamline the evacuation and speed it up. They didn’t let the mothers intervene and look for their children, but instead put one of the little children in each of the girls’ arms and ordered them to run towards Kiryat Anavim. The older kids ran after us themselves.”

In Kiryat Anavim, buses were already waiting to evacuate them to Jerusalem – first to homes in the Katamon neighborhood and then to the Ratisbonne Monastery, where they remained until the end of the war.

After the war, they returned. And to this day, they fill the lawns, orchards, and pathways of the kibbutz with the sounds of laughter and life.

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.


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

The State’s Watchful Guardians: Female Field Observers on the Border

IDF field observer war rooms are spread across Israel’s borders, working 24/7. The soldiers and officers who operate the systems contained within know that the security of their entire sector often depends on their judgment calls. On October 7, dozens of field observers were killed by Hamas terrorists who broke into Israeli army outposts. This is the story of the IDF’s field observers – the eyes that protect Israel’s borders.

An IDF field observer on duty, never taking her eyes off the screen for a moment. Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit

It’s July 2020, in the early hours of the morning. The observation war room of the southern Golan Heights is relatively quiet, but dramatic events are about to unfold. Noa, a veteran tatzpitanit, or field observer,  scans her sector on her screen. She knows the area like the back of her hand, even when it’s dark out. She knows the farmers who pass by every day, the shepherds, the nearby villagers.

But this time she identifies four suspicious figures – bent over, moving cautiously. To the untrained eye, they look like wild animals in search of a meal. Noa identifies them as human figures carrying large brown bags and moving towards Israel’s border fence.

She declares an ongoing incident. Additional field observers, a sergeant and the officer of the war room, are called in, while elite Maglan soldiers prepare an ambush near the fence for the uninvited guests. Meantime, the four can be seen splitting up on screen, with three of them moving towards the fence and one staying behind to watch their back. They place the explosives and quickly retreat, certain that they’ve succeeded in their mission – when IDF forces open fire on them. Noa the field observer and the southern Golan war room managed to prevent four Hezbollah terrorists from carrying out their hostile plans.

This is just one of thousands of stories that exemplify the critical role played by field observers in protecting Israel’s borders – by stopping terrorism, weapons and drug smuggling.

Field observers during an exercise. Photo: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit

Field observers are part of the IDF’s Border Defense Corps, which includes combat battalions alongside male and female combat intelligence collection soldiers. The field observers are charged with the duty of endlessly surveying their respective sectors, across all of Israel’s borders. Oftentimes, observers will be the first to identify suspicious activities and be the first to have to make the judgment call of whether to call in combat forces.

Combat intelligence collection soldiers in training. Photo: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit

Field observers are combat support troops, who work from observation war rooms in the most dangerous of areas. We received tragic confirmation of this fact on October 7, when dozens of field observers were killed trying to protect their outposts and war rooms. They were also among the first to identify the danger and attempt to warn of it. They serve in the Border Defense Corps alongside light infantry units like the Karakal, Bardelas and Lions of the Jordan battalions – all containing male and female soldiers fighting side by side.

In the 1990s, the IDF began to seriously consider how and when to integrate women into combat roles in the IDF, though there were earlier cases as well. There are still voices that oppose the integration of women into these roles, but recent events have shown that female combat soldiers are up to the task. In recent years, the IDF has become one of the most interesting armies in the world when it comes to women in combat and combat support roles. While many armies around the world integrate women in their combat array, Israeli female combat and combat support troops take part in real time fighting on a nearly unprecedented scale in modern times, turning them into an interesting test case and the subject of many studies.

Moshe Dayan as IDF Chief of Staff, 1950s. Photo: Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel. In 1940, Moshe Dayan commanded a team of Australian and Jewish soldiers who fought the Axis powers. as part of the British Army. While carrying out observation of a bombing target in the Beirut area, he was shot through his binoculars, losing an eye. When he returned to Mandatory Palestine, he became famous as a war hero, developing into one of the most influential public figures in Israel

46-Foot-High Observation Towers

Observation is one of the most important, and most ancient, methods of intelligence gathering. The first Zionists to develop what would become the Israeli intelligence doctrine belonged to the NILI underground led by Aaron Aaronsohn, which provided the British Army in WWI with information on Ottoman forces stationed in the Land of Israel.

British General Edmund Allenby, who ultimately took the region from the Ottomans, would later write of Aaronsohn’s contribution to the British victory: “He was mainly responsible for the formation of my Field Intelligence organisation behind Turkish lines.” In 1917, the NILI underground members were caught. Many were imprisoned, tortured, and executed. Sarah Aaronsohn was captured, cruelly tortured, and died from her wounds three days after shooting herself.

NILI underground members Sarah Aaronsohn and Avshalom Feinberg, Damascus, Syria, 1916. This photo is part of the Israel Archive Network (IAN) and is made available thanks to the collaboration of Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi, the Ministry of Heritage, and the National Library of Israel

During the War of Independence, the first observation war rooms were established near the country’s borders, and these were tasked with gathering and analyzing intelligence information based on observation, aerial photos, and more. The intelligence units would accompany the combat companies, and the intelligence gathered served the higher-ups to prepare for future hostilities. From that time until about the 1990s, observation was conducted mainly from towers established at IDF outposts and along Israel’s borders.

Soldier looking out at the Jordanian border, 1971. Photo: Boris Carmi. Source: the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

“The soldiers ask that we protect them”

In the early 2000s and especially due to the establishment of the Separation Barrier, the IDF began to develop the field of observation on a visual-technological basis. This was the period during which the first female field observers began operating their systems in the border region war rooms. In the past few decades, thanks to technological innovations, the field of visual intelligence has evolved considerably. Today, field observers work with technology allowing for far greater movement, in-depth observation, detailed imagery, and of course the endless monitoring of the area on a scale that was not possible before.

Although they have been doing their job for over twenty years, public awareness of the importance of their role hit the headlines as a result of that terrible day in October. Field observers were a significant element among those who suspected, identified and gave warning of Hamas’ plans ahead of time. Not only that but as soldiers stationed on the borders, tasked with monitoring dangerous areas, they were the first to see the attack coming in real time, before anyone else.

Field observers know today, more than ever, just how important their work is. Stav, who served as one, says: “The field observers know their sector the best. People can’t understand just how intimately. We identify the people who live in the area, identify every tree, every rock. We can identify if people have bad intentions based on their body language.”

Field observers in the northern sector. Photo: private album

Thanks to technological progress and the tactical benefits of their work, the responsibilities of the women serving in these roles have changed and expanded over time. Beyond warning of suspicious activities and scanning the border, field observers also observe active IDF operations in real time, watching over the combat soldiers as they move through terrain and helping to protect them with their knowledge of the area.

Gal, a field observer serving in the reserves, added that “for us as young women aged 18-19, to take part in such sensitive operations, with special units, to look the enemy in the eye and be one step ahead of them, this is a powerful sense of mission”.

Every field observer has a wealth of hair-raising events to tell of, few of which hit the headlines.

Eden, another field observer serving in the reserves, said: “In one of the operations, for which we even received a citation from the brigade commander, we directed forces inside a hostile city during the night hours. I identified an ambush that was set for the soldiers about a hundred meters away from the force, of course I announced an immediate stop to the advance. And thanks to our discovery, the forces ended the mission without casualties and of course while catching those who tried to harm us. In that moment, when you’re in the war room and you know there’s a threat a few meters from the force, you’re the one who makes the decision that we’re not advancing and the force listens to you. The soldiers know what we can do and want us to protect them.”

Five years ago, on October 7 2018, a terrorist murdered two Israeli citizens – Ziv Hajbi and Kim Levengrond Yehezkel. The two worked together with the terrorist at the Alon Group factory near the city of Ariel, where Jews worked alongside Palestinians in what was supposed to be a symbol of coexistence.

After tying Kim up, shooting her, as well as shooting Ziv and wounding other workers, the terrorist got away. For two whole months, the hunt was on for him. The soldiers of the observation war room in the Shechem (Nablus) area were an inseparable part of the operation – “One day, we identified him with new clothes on, for instance, this proved he had help,” Stav says. After a two-month manhunt, the terrorist was captured, to the joy of the field observers who helped capture him with their hard work.

Ynet article, 13.12.2018. Screenshot from the Historical Jewish Press Collection at the National Library of Israel

Day-in and day-out, Israel’s borders are protected by brave, intelligent, and highly motivated women. Their eyes scan the border looking for danger wherever it lurks. Even today, after suffering the trauma of October 7 in the most personal, painful manner, these dedicated soldiers continue to occupy the observation rooms and serve as the eyes of the whole country.



I would like to wholeheartedly thank the field observers who shared their fascinating stories for this article: Gili Yuval, Tal Grazi, Stav Ref, Gal Sharabi, and Eden Gorevitch.

Women who served as field observers are currently working on founding a memorial association for the field observers who fell defending IDF posts during October 7.

May their memory be a blessing.