Look into this face. It is a drawing of Pavel Frenkel. At the age of just 23 he was commander of Betar forces in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943. Alas there is no grainy photo because Pavel – and all trace of him – was wiped out by the Nazis shortly after the Ghetto was incinerated.
But through painstaking research by former Defense Minister Moshe Arens, the courageous role of Frenkel and his Revisionist comrades has now come to light and been spliced into its rightful place in a chapter of history originally written by the predominantly Labor-Zionist survivors of the resistance.
Their resistance marked the first manifestation of what Menachem Begin coined as ‘the fighting Jew’ not seen since the days of Bar Kochba and the Macabees. Their message to the Nazis was: “We shall not go silently into the night. We shall survive and one day return to our homeland.”
Their demonstration of courage in the face of impossible odds, spurred the Hagana and the Irgun to rise to the same challenges in 1948 and in all of Israel’s wars since. Theirs was the ultimate sacrifice, for the noblest of ideals: the secure future of the Jewish people in their homeland.
And so, with the help of G-d, the land was won. Inch by inch, in blood and tears. And our people tilled until the desert turned green. The chants of Jewish schoolchildren echoed again in the alleyways of Jerusalem and Sabbath songs wafted from the windows of thousands of new homes in Judea and Samaria.
It is a success story that begs for belief in an afterlife, so that heroes like Pavel Frenkel and all those like him could look down and behold the wonderful gift of nationhood for which they paid with their lives.
But today I am thinking, perhaps not.
Forget the afterlife.
Better they shouldn’t see what is going on 63 years after their ultimate sacrifice.
You see today the Hareidi Knesset members of United Torah Judaism are walking all over the graves of our latter-day heroes in negotiating their fee for joining Olmert’s convergence party. Determined to better Shas’s joining-fee of 1.8 billion shekels, the leading UTJ Rabbi announced: it’s not worth joining the government for less than a 500 shekel increase in child allowances.
Even under the worst deprivations of Netanyahu’s cuts, no child starved to death in Israel. Just as they improvised in war, Jews overcame the poverty challenge with acts of charity and personal support unknown anywhere else in the world.
But the blessed land and the sanctified lives of all those who died in its capture and defense are now being sold in the corridors of the Knesset for 30 pieces of silver.
If you are looking down today Pavel, I hope you will forgive them.
For they surely know not what they do.
[More about the Pavel Frenkel story can be found at this link]