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1,000 Jews Vs. The British Empire: The Story Of Lehi: An Interview with Historian Zev Golan

Historian Zev Golan

Historian Zev Golan

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In the book, you profile 13 leaders and members of Lehi, including a Chabad chassid, Moshe Segal. Can you talk about him?

I don’t know if he was Chabad at the time, but he certainly was afterwards. He set up the women’s seminary in Kfar Chabad and was its principal for several years in the 1950s. He also corresponded not only with the [seventh] Lubavitcher Rebbe but also with the one before that.

He was the leader of a religious underground called Brit Chashmonaim; he was a member of the Irgun high command before he joined Lehi; and he was also the first Jew to blow the shofar at the Kotel when the British made it illegal. He was arrested, and only when Rav Kook, the chief rabbi at the time, threatened a hunger strike did the British agree to release him.

Every year afterwards, young Jews went to the Kotel and blew the shofar, and Rav Segal often coordinated [this operation]. The shofars would be smuggled to the Kotel area without the British knowing, somebody would blow it, hand it off to somebody else – often a young woman, who would be searched less by the British – and then try to escape. This went on [from 1930] until 1947, and it made the Kotel an area that symbolized Jewish pride.

Many years later, in 1967, Rav Segal became the first Jew to return to the Old City as a resident. He rebuilt the Chabad synagogue with his own hands and continued to blow the shofar at the Kotel until his death in 1985. He died on Yom Kippur at night.

In the memoirs of Lehi leader Israel Eldad, which you translated and published in 2008, Eldad writes: “Between [Abraham Stern] and even the best among his opponents there still lay this tremendous difference in approach: They admitted we must fight in order to be free, and he said we must fight because we are free.” What did he mean by that?

Stern was, in his soul, a sovereign, free, proud Jew living in the Jewish state.  If I can return to an earlier question, Rav Segal told me that when he put the tallis over his head and blew the shofar at the Kotel he was living in a free Jewish state. There was a little area under that tallis where no non-Jew could tell him what to do in his homeland.

These people were free in their souls and that’s why they fought. They said, “Nobody can oppress us, nobody can tell us when to blow the shofar, nobody can tell us that we can’t bring our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted in Europe to live with us here.” Other Jews, even the best of them, looked around and said, “We’re oppressed, we want to be free. How can we best realize that goal?” When you start thinking like that, there’s a lot of room for political negotiation and machinations, or being docile because “it’s not the right time.”

You argue in the book that Lehi’s ideology, which you call Revolutionary Zionism, is still very much relevant in 2011. How so?

Revolutionary Zionism means that nothing competes with the importance of liberating and establishing Jewish sovereignty in the land – and in bringing redemption. So as long as the land – from the Nile to the Euphrates – is not liberated we have to liberate it. As long as the people are not living entirely in Eretz Yisrael, we have to bring them back to Eretz Yisrael. And as long as we don’t have the Temple, we have to build the Temple.

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About the Author: Elliot Resnick is a Jewish Press staff reporter and holds a Masters degree from Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel School of Jewish Studies.


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