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Do You Remember Your 21st Birthday?

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DO YOU REMEMBER YOUR 21ST BIRTHDAY?
By Moshe Phillips - June 1, 2009

Do you remember how you marked your 21st birthday? Do you remember how you celebrated? Do you remember who was at the party? Do you remember the gifts?

Avshalom Haviv was making history on his 21st birthday. He was born in Haifa in the Holy Land of Israel on June 18, 1926. Haviv celebrated his 21st birthday in a British court. He was no common criminal though. Haviv was a young soldier of the Etzel, the Irgun Zvai Leumi. The Irgun was the Jewish underground army commanded by Mencahem Begin. Begin served as Israel's prime minister from 1977-1983. Avshalom Haviv was driven by the determination that his people needed him to fight for their homeland and for their honor.

The British arrested and detained hundreds of Irgun soldiers in the 1930s and 1940s and first executed an Irgun soldier in 1938. The Irgun was launched in the 1930s as a guerilla organization to defend Jews against Arab terrorists and prevent terrorist attacks through preemptive strikes. In 1944 the Irgun proclaimed a revolt against British authorities with the objectives of expelling the British, providing a haven for Jewish refugees from the Holocaust and establishing an independent Jewish nation.

Haviv was involved in one of the most heroic and significant operations the Irgun ever launched the May 4, 1947 Acre Prison operation. The Acre prison raid was forever immortalized in the 1960 film Exodus starring the late Paul Newman. Haviv fought selflessly to free his imprisoned comrades and was captured by the British during the attack. Acre Prison was the site of the executions of eight Irgun soldiers by the British.

At his subsequent trial Haviv challenged the British right to be in Eretz Israel rather than ask for mercy. "And this too you will probably not understand: I, a young Jew, facing the sentence of death, lift up my heart to G-d, and give praise and thanks for the privilege of suffering for my people and my country, and say with all my heart: [the traditional Shehecheyanu Hebrew blessing] Blessed are You, Hashem, our L-rd, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive and sustained us and enabled us to reach this time."

How did you spend your 21st birthday? Haviv spent his in a British court and his very life was in jeopardy. Avshalom Haviv was executed by the British in Acre Prison on July 29, 1947, the 12th day of the Hebrew month of Av. Irgun soldiers Yaacov Weiss and Meir Nakar were captured, tried and executed along with Haviv. Nakar was also 21 years old and Weiss was 23.

Here is an eyewitness account of the day from an Irgun prisoner named Nathan:

This morning our three comrades went heroically to the gallows… the (prison) officers went in and informed the condemned men that they were to be executed between four and five in the morning. Their reply was to sing "Hatikvah", "On the Barricades" other songs in powerful voices. They then shouted to us that the hangings would begin at four o'clock, in this order: Avshalom Haviv, Meir Nakar, Yaakov Weiss. They added: 'Avenge our blood! Avenge our blood!'

We shouted back, 'Be strong! We are with you, and thousands of Jewish youth are with you in spirit.' They replied, 'Thank you' and went on singing.

At two o'clock in the morning a Sephardi rabbi … was brought and stayed in the cell for fifteen minutes.

"At four in the morning Avshalom began singing "Hatikvah" and we joined in loudly, pressing against the bars. At once armed police came up to the visitors' fence near our cell. At 4:03 Avshalom was hanged. At 4:25 we were shaken by the powerful singing of Meir. Hardly able to breathe, we nevertheless joined in. He was hanged at 4:28. At five o'clock the voice of Yaakov, this time alone, penetrated our cell, singing "Hatikvah." Again we joined in. Two minutes later he was hanged. Each of the bodies was left hanging 20 minutes before being carried off, one by one.


Just nine and a half months after Haviv sang "Hatikvah" for the last time the State of Israel declared her independence on May 14, 1948.

On the first anniversary of the deaths of Haviv, Nakar and Weiss the Irgun held a large memorial service at their graves. Menachem Begin spoke.

Begin closed his remarks by stating the following:

For the entire Land [of Israel] on both sides of the Jordan [River] is ours. It was and will be ours and our people will dwell in it forever.

O mountains of Galilee that have received the bodies of the heroic dead of Israel for seventy generations, let there be dew and rain upon you! We have liberated you forever. Because of this sacred blood, the summit of Mount Hermon will be ours.

Members and soldiers of the Irgun Zvai Leumi: Attention!

At the graves of our national martyrs let us all take the oath to Jerusalem, which as yet has not been fully liberated, and to whose liberation they dedicated their lives and their death.

"If I forget thee, Oh Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not make Jerusalem above my greatest joy."
[Psalm 137]

Avshalom Haviv should have celebrated dozens of birthdays surrounded by his loving family and his loyal friends. His children and grandchildren should have been there to celebrate with him as well. There were no birthday parties for Avshalom Haviv after 1947. He left no widow and no children. And over half a century later we are still enjoying the gift of the State of Israel that he helped give birth to.

Haviv, Nakar and Weiss were the last Jews to be executed by the British in the Land of Israel.

If Haviv were alive today, with the horrible threats to the very survival of the Jewish State growing, what do you think he would be doing? Haviv gave his life for Eretz Israel. How many of us are even willing to sacrifice our free time?

Postscript: More of Avshalom Haviv's story can be found in Itzhak Gurion's 1950 book Triumph on the Gallows (available in English) and on the website www.SaveIsrael.com.


Moshe Phillips is a member of the Executive Committee of the Philadelphia Chapter of Americans For a Safe Israel - AFSI. The chapter's website is at: www.phillyafsi.com and Moshe's blog can be found at http://phillyafsi.blogtownhall.com.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jewish Eye.
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