More than twenty settlements in Israel are named after individuals who sacrificed their lives for the defense of the Jewish Yishuv in the pre-State era or during the later wars for the establishment and defense of the State of Israel. In honor of Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s annual Remembrance Day, Buyitinisrael shares some of the heroic stories that lie behind the names of communities throughout Israel.
Today, Yom Hazikaron 5782, Israeli commemorates the approximately 24,000 men and women who lost their lives in the wars for the establishment and defense of the State of Israel and in terror attacks. More than twenty settlements or towns in Israel are named after individuals who sacrificed their lives for the sake of the State, and this article tells some of their heroic stories.
Kiryat Shmona: Commemorating the heroes of Tel Hai
The city of Kiryat Shmona was established in 1949 in the Finger of the Galilee. It is the northernmost city in Israel, with a current population of about 22,500 people. The name “Kiryat Shmona,” literally “Town of the Eight,” commemorates the eight defenders that fell in one of the most famous battles in the history of the early days of Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel: The Battle of Tel Hai.
Tel Hai was an agricultural farm founded about two kilometers north of present-day Kiryat Shmona on land purchased by Baron Edmund de Rothschild. After a number of settlement attempts starting in 1905, a permanent agricultural settlement was finally established in 1918. The region was very unstable at this time, due to an attempted rebellion by the local Arab population against the French army, which controlled the territory after the First World War. Arab forces were also attacking and harassing other Jewish settlements in the area, including Metula and Kfar Giladi. In February 1920, after the settlers of Tel Hai requested reinforcements, a volunteer force under the command of Joseph Trumpeldor arrived in Tel Hai to help defend the farm.
On March 1, an armed group of Bedouin Arabs arrived at Tel Hai and demanded to enter the farm to see if French forces were hiding inside. The settlers allowed some members of the group to enter. During the search, the commander of the Arab team asked one of the settlers to hand over his gun. When the defender refused, the Arab tried to grab it, and during the struggle, a bullet was fired. A difficult battle ensued, leading to many deaths and injuries. A few hours later, the attackers withdrew. After the battle, the defenders decided to leave Tel Hai, with the assistance of a delegation that came to help them evacuate to Kfar Giladi. During the evacuation, Joseph Trumpeldor died of his wounds. According to various testimonies, he uttered his famous last words: “No matter: it is good to die for our country.” This phrase took on tremendous symbolic value in Zionist folklore and ideology.
Alongside Trumpeldor, Shneur Shposhnik, Aharon Sher, Sara Chizik, Devorah Drechler, Binyamin Monter, Ze’ev Sharaf, and Ya’akov Toker all fell in Tel Hai. Nearly thirty years later, the city of Kiryat Shmona was established and named after these national heroes.
Kochav Yair: Remembering the commander of the underground
Kochav Yair-Tzur Yigal is a local council located northeast of Kfar Saba, adjacent to the Green Line between Israel and the West Bank. It was established in 2003, as a result of the merging of two towns in the area, Kochav Yair and Tzur Yigal. Today, the council has a population of 9,000.
Kochav Yair, which was founded in 1981 within the Southern Sharon Regional Council, was named after the commander of the Lehi group, Avraham Stern, who went by the alias, Yair. Stern first began his underground activities in the Haganah, following the 1929 Arab riots in Palestine. He eventually took part in the split that led to the establishment of the Irgun, a Jewish underground paramilitary organization that identified with the Revisionist Zionism Movement, which took a more militant approach against British Mandate rule.
In 1940, Stern refused to accept the Irgun’s decision to cease all activity against the British, who at that time was waging war against Nazi Germany, and he ultimately formed the Lehi underground, which took an even more militant stance against the regime. In February 1942, Stern was captured by the British police in a hiding place in the Florentine neighborhood of Tel Aviv and ultimately shot to death.
Four towns commemorating paratroopers who fought the Nazis
In 1943, a group of 37 courageous, young people from the Jewish Yishuv in the land of Israel volunteered to carry out a particularly daring mission for the British Army: parachuting into enemy-occupied territory in Europe to assist partisan units fighting against the Nazis and help rescue European Jews. In 1944, 26 of the paratroopers landed in Europe; twelve were captured by the Germans and their allies, seven of whom were executed. Four of these paratroopers were commemorated in the names of settlements established in Israel after their untimely deaths.
1. Yad Hannah
A cooperative village in the Hefer Valley, is named after the most famous paratrooper in the group: Hannah Szenes. In March 1944, Szenes parachuted into Yugoslavia and joined a group of local partisans. Shortly afterward, she was captured by the pro-Nazi Hungarian army while trying to cross the border into Hungary. She was executed in November of that year. In addition to her heroism, Szenes is known for the beautiful poems she left behind, the most famous of which is, “Eli, Eli” (My G-d, My G-0d). In 1950, Yad Hannah was founded as a kibbutz by a group of Holocaust survivors from Hungary – the country where Szenes was born and died. In 2005, the kibbutz members decided to become a cooperative village. Today, Yad Hannah has about 1,000 residents.
2. Kibbutz Lehavot Haviva
Located about ten kilometers east of Hadera, was named after Haviva Reik. In September 1944, Reik parachuted into a free enclave in Slovakia, controlled by rebels against the pro-Nazi regime. There, she helped smuggle the Jewish population to freedom. At the end of October, the enclave was occupied by the Nazi army, and Reik was captured, along with another paratrooper, Rafa’el Reisz, and a group of several hundred Jews they were trying to save. A few weeks later, the entire group was murdered. The kibbutz was established in 1949 by a group of Hashomer Hatzair members who immigrated from Czechoslovakia. Today, it has about 1,000 residents.
3. Moshav Alonei Abba
Located in the northern Jezreel Valley, was named after Abba Berditchev, a paratrooper who was captured in Slovakia and executed in the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria in January 1945. In 1948, a kibbutz by the name of Neve Ya’ar was established by a group of Zionist youth from the BaMa’avak youth movement of which Berditchev was a member. Three years later, the founders declared the kibbutz a cooperative moshav and changed the name to Alonei Abba, in memory of their friend. Today, the moshav has about 1,000 residents.
4. Kibbutz Netzer Sereni
Located east of Nes Ziona and south of B’er Ya’akov, is named after Enzo Sereni. Sereni, a native of Rome, was significantly older than the rest of the paratroopers and had already performed numerous missions on behalf of the Jewish Yishuv. In fact, he was the one who organized and mobilized the entire group of paratroopers. In 1944, Sereni was captured after parachuting into northern Italy. He was ultimately murdered in the Dachau concentration camp. In 1949, Holocaust survivors from the Buchenwald camp founded the kibbutz, which was first named Netzer, and later renamed Netzer Sereni. It currently has about 900 residents.
Moshavim that commemorate the fallen of the Golan Heights
Two moshavim in the Golan Heights are named after IDF casualties. The first – Neve Ativ, is known to almost every Israeli ski enthusiast, as it is considered a necessary crossing point on the way to the Hermon site and also serves as a popular accommodation for vacationers. The moshav is located at the foot of Mount Hermon, at an altitude of about 1,000 meters above sea level. Today, the settlement numbers about 130 people.
The name of the settlement consists of acronyms for the names of four Egoz patrol fighters who were killed in 1968 as part of their military service. Three of them – Avraham Hameiri, Tuvia Sherkinger, and Yair Allegranti were killed in a military operation near the oil road in the northern Golan Heights and Benjamin Hadad was killed in an ambush in the Beit She’an Valley.
Moshav Avnei Eitan, a religious moshav in the southern Golan Heights of the Hapoel Mizrahi movement, is named after seven fallen members of the moshav’s founding nucleus, all members of the Scout tribe “Mesuot” which operates in Jerusalem. The seven are Avner Gaborin, a Nahal officer killed in the Yom Kippur War on the Sinai front, Bnei Hanani and Yehuda Arieh, Nahal officers killed in the Yom Kippur War on the Golan Heights, Ilana Bola, Yona Sober and Tamar Nechama Dror, three girls from the unit who were killed by a mine explosion during the training period in the Ramat Magishim fields and Ashar Nagar – a group member who died of a serious illness. The moshav was established in 1978 and currently has about 750 residents.