By Moshe Phillips
Are you or a family member planning to go on Birthright in 2019? Are you looking for something more than the average “Israel experience?” Here are some ideas on what to see if you choose to extend your trip and your mind. Don’t give in to the critics of Israel who want you to leave Birthright and see the Palestinian point of view when you know almost nothing about the Jewish struggle to free Israel from British control in the first place.
Birthright may take you to the Kotel, the Sea of Galilee, the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and Masada — and those are all worthwhile — but there are other places to visit that will help you understand the amazing history of the pioneers who fought the battles that allowed the modern state of Israel to be declared.
Here is a list of eight places to visit in Israel that will help you develop a more accurate picture of the struggle to build the Jewish state.
Acre Prison is where Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky and his comrades were imprisoned by the British in 1920 for defending Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem from Arab rioters. Later, the British imprisoned Irgun and Stern Group (LEHI) underground fighters there. Several Zionist fighters were executed there by the British. The prison is perhaps best known for the 1947 escape of dozens of fighters during an underground raid that was depicted in Leon Uris’ novel Exodus and the 1960 movie.
Museum of the Underground Prisoners
Another prison where the British held Irgun and LEHI soldiers was Jerusalem’s Central Prison in the Russian Compound. Exhibits there relate the stories of the heroes of the underground.
The Irgun was also known as the Etzel. This museum in Tel Aviv details the history the Irgun and the movement’s impact on the British decision to leave the Land of Israel, as well as the group’s combat role in the War of Independence.
The LEHI underground launched a campaign to force the British to leave the Land of Israel. Its founder, Yair (Avraham) Stern, had been a leader in the Irgun and formed the LEHI in order to fight the British at all costs. The LEHI Museum is housed in the building where Stern was assassinated by the British in 1942.
Menachem Begin Heritage Center
To better understand this founding father of Israel and leader of the Irgun there is simply no better place to visit than the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem.
Ze’ev Jabotinsky was the Zionist leader who created a bold, new vision for Zionism after the death of Theodor Herzl. The Jabotinsky Institute in Tel Aviv houses a museum dedicated to teaching about him and an intriguing special exhibit that spotlights the Af Al Pi illegal effort that rescued Jews from Nazi Europe and brought them to Israel.
Tel Chai was a settlement in the Galilee that was the site of a battle against Arab raiders in 1920. The Zionist hero Joseph Trumpeldor and seven other valiant defenders died in the defense of Tel Chai against a much larger force. Trumpeldor had been instrumental in forming the Jewish Legion during World War I. Jabotinsky named his Betar movement after Trumpledor. A large statue of a lion sits at the sight as does a museum at kibbutz Kfar Giladi.
Shlomo Ben Yosef is buried in Rosh Pina. Rosh Pina was an early Zionist settlement. In 1938 in response to attacks on Jews by Arab terrorists, Ben Yosef, a member of Betar and the Irgun, along with two companions organized a reprisal attack. They were subsequently arrested by the British. Ben Yosef was executed by the British at Acre prison.
A perfect book to bring along on your Birthright trip is Zev Golan’s Free Jerusalem Heroes, Heroines and Rogues Who Created the State of Israel (Geffen Publishing, 2003). It will help make your visits to these historic sights more meaningful. The book is worth reading even if you have no plans to visit Israel anytime soon.
Moshe Phillips is the national director of Herut North America’s U.S. section. Herut is an international movement for Zionist pride and education.