Two men who risked their lives to save and insure the continuity of the State of Israel are the subject of a presentation this motzei Shabbat at the Young Israel of Hewlett, Congregation Ahavat Yisrael.
“Most of the heroes we learn about died or were killed at a young age,” said Tuvia Book, a North Woodmere resident and author of “For the Sake of Zion,” who will present an audio-visual tribute to Eli Cohen and Avigdor Kahalani. Their stories, Book said, are “incredible and inspirational.”
The free Nov. 16 program will begin at 8:30 pm, followed by The Skullcaps, the YIH Band; Israeli refreshments will be served.
Cohen was a Mossad agent in Syria from 1962 until he was exposed and executed in 1965. He developed close ties with Syrian business, military and government leaders, touring strategic sites in the Golan Heights — then occupied by Syria, overlooking Israel — and transferring the information he gleaned to Israel. Two years after he was hanged by the Syrians, the intelligence Cohen delivered to Israel assisted the Jewish state in capturing the seemingly impregnable Golan Heights in the Six Day War in just one day.
Kahalani, a brigadier general, now 70, received the Medal of Valor, the highest Israeli military honor, for his heroic actions during the opening battles of the Yom Kippur War in 1973 on the northern front against Syria.
Forty years ago, “he helped stem the tide in the first two days of the Yom Kippur War,” said Book.
Kahalani was a 29-year-old lieutenant colonel and battalion commander in the 77th armored battalion on the Golan Heights which fought a fierce defensive battle “of 1,500 Syrian tanks against 280 Israeli tanks [and] had to hold the line for two days until reserves could come up [north], Book said.
Had they failed, “Israel would have been cut in half,” Book continued. “He helped inspire the men and won an Israeli medal for bravery.”
Cohen and Kahalani show “how an individual could literally change the course, through devotion to the cause of Zionism and Jewish history,” Book said.
Tuvia Book, born in London, grew up in the U.K. and South Africa and made aliya at age 17, “grew up in Bnei Akiva and was weaned on Israeli heroes. I was inspired by the Zionist role models, reading Chana Senesh’s diary and Yoni Netanyahu’s letters.”
He joined the Israeli army and served in an elite combat unit. After college, he guided one of the first Birthright groups and has been working with them ever since, he said.
As a shaliach for the Jewish Agency’s education department, he wrote “For the Sake of Zion: A Curriculum of Israel Studies,” a comprehensive sourcebook on the historic and religious connections of the Jews to the Land of Israel and its importance.
“There was no curriculum so I wrote it,” he said.
As a Jewish educational tour guide he said that he presents “inspirational stories” of Zionist figures, as well as dates and facts, for students to see them as “role models to learn from and emulate if possible.” College students “need to be literate on Jewish heroes.”
The current “lack of knowledge in Jewish and Israeli history is shocking to me,” Book said. “Many Day School students don’t know the Balfour Declaration from the UN partition — it blows my mind. Most come out of yeshiva high school illiterate of Jewish history.” He noted that Rambam Mesivta, HAFTR and Yeshivah of Flatbush, are among the exceptions and have separate courses on Israel and Zionism.
“When they get to college the students can’t talk without cringing, crying, apologizing or yelling; it’s mind-boggling.”
Book, lives in North Woodmere and Modiin, Israel, with his wife Shira, a physician, and their four young children. He is writing his doctoral dissertation in Jewish education on Birthright. He currently teachs a course for high school seniors on Zionism and Israel advocacy at HAFTR.
Book cautioned that “people take [the State of Israel] for granted. We have to realize how fortunate we are that we have a Jewish State, be proud of it and be knowledgeable and make the case for Israel.”
Saturday night’s discussion is planned as the opening of a series. Future installments might include Chana Senesh, Ilan Ramon and his son Asaf, Yoni Netanyahu, Michael Levine, and Roi Klein, Book said.
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Young Israel of Hewlett, Congregation Ahavat Yisrael, 1 Piermont Avenue, Hewlett.