Tova’s brothers were also under arrest. Her mother supported the underground by feeding its hungry members and cooking glue for them when they were hanging anti-British posters on billboards and walls.
Over the next six years, some 150 women from the Irgun and Lehi were jailed in Bethlehem. Tova acted as a Hebrew tutor to some. She and her friends led several protests against the conditions endured by the prisoners and the patients on a ward for the insane one floor below. Once, after the prisoners barricaded themselves in their cells, Tova was punished with six weeks in solitary confinement.
In 1944 Tova happened to be in a hospital when the body of Detective Wilkin was brought in. He had just been assassinated by Lehi.
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Tova was released in 1946. Her cellmates sang to her as she left. Rabbi Jacob Goldman was there that day to give a Torah lesson and he gave her a lift to Jerusalem. They stopped to pray at Rachel’s Tomb and the rabbi gave her a book of Tehillim as a gift. Tova prayed for the safety of her husband, brothers and all Israel.
In the middle of a July night a few weeks later, Tova was re-arrested. This time she was held for a month without being charged. In February 1948, Moshe was one of twelve Lehi and Irgun members who dug a tunnel out of the Jerusalem Central Prison to rejoin the fighting ranks.
When Tova and Moshe reunited, Moshe told her how worried he was that a slip of his tongue in the hospital after he was shot might have led the British to their apartment. In fact, he had been depressed over this for years.
Tova loved Moshe and had not seen him for six years, so she did not want to tell him how hurt and angry she was that he hadn’t written her of his worries.
“If he had told me, he would have spared us so much pain,” she says, because she could have told him the British reached the apartment at least an hour before he gave his address in the hospital. In the years that followed, Moshe sued anyone who suggested Stern’s death was his fault, and he won a libel case in an Israeli court.
When Israel was established in 1948, it wasn’t what Stern’s followers wanted: a Jewish state from the Nile to the Euphrates with a Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem. Still, Tova mingled with the dancers in the streets, thinking, “It isn’t enough, but still I’m happy.”
In the 1950s Moshe was refused government permission to be a teacher because he had been in Lehi. Instead he drove a bus while putting himself through law school and embarking on a career as a lawyer.
Tova was a housewife again. But the motto of the Lehi fighters was to serve forever. It was taken from a song by Stern: “Soldiers without names or uniforms are we…discharged from the ranks with our last breath.”
In 1981 Moshe and Tova, then in their mid-sixties, helped organize a settlement group and moved to northern Samaria. They established a town called Shaked. Tova became Shaked’s librarian and worked into her nineties disseminating books among the children of Shaked’s 200 families.
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Moshe died last December 6 at the age of 97. Tova insisted that the ambulance carrying his body circle the settlement before his final departure as a fitting farewell.
Tova celebrated her 96th birthday on December 29. She took up painting a few years ago and still paints today. When well-wishers offer her the traditional hope Ad me’ah ve’esrim – May you live to 120 – she replies that while she has no objections to living that long, her preferred wish is Ad hasof tov – May it be good till the end.
I believe Ze’ev Jabotinsky was right when he wrote not to ask where the blood of our Maccabean ancestors has gone, for it flows in the hearts of our generation, too.
Tova and Moshe had two more children after Herut, but it is appropriate to call Tova, Moshe and their generation the mothers and fathers of Liberty.
Zev Golan is the author of “Stern: The Man and His Gang,” a history of the Lehi underground and its members.