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A Surprising Veteran of Israel’s War of Independence

April 30, 2019

Standing with Israel on Yom HaZikaron – Israel’s Memorial Day

“You’re doing the right thing, son,” his mother said as they stood at the door.

The young man left his home in England and headed for what was still called the “British Mandate of Palestine.” Since 1922, the British had been responsible for the area and were charged with helping establish a Jewish homeland there. In 1947, they turned the matter over to the United Nations. 

Until it gained sovereignty, the would-be State of Israel was forbidden to buy or manufacture ammunition or formally build the infrastructure for an army. Meanwhile, Arabs were already attacking and fighting to drive the Jewish people out. They had to defend themselves – to protect their lives as well as the Land that God had given them long ago, and the United Nations was about to return to them. So, they called on the Diaspora – Jewish people living outside the Land. And volunteers came from all around the world.

The young Englishman left his home and family to fight in a volunteer army thousands of miles away to gain and preserve a Jewish homeland. His proud mother supported his decision.  “My mother, bless her, gave me a kiss and wished me good luck. A kiss, and out the door,” he said with a sigh.

Barely 20 years old, he went to war and faced head-on the challenges of being a combat soldier. “We had to take a hill,” he remembered. “How do we take a hill which is full of Egyptian infantry and backed by artillery? At 4:30 one morning, a surprise attack. We were halfway up the hill before they knew what was coming, and,” he said, “we took it.” Astonishment still ringing in his voice, he added, “I think it was a miracle. We took it!” The next day, reinforcements arrived, and the volunteer Jewish army held the hill.

Being a part of creating and defending a Jewish state still moved the English soldier more than six decades later. “That feeling of a homeland at last,” he said, “where nobody could kick you out – it was yours! It was a marvelous feeling.”

That young soldier was interviewed in his eighties by Toldot Yisrael, a project telling the stories of soldiers from Israel’s War of Independence. His name was Vidal Sassoon, the famous British-American hairstylist and entrepreneur. 

Unlike Vidal Sassoon, thousands of soldiers didn’t survive Israel’s War of Independence. In new battles through subsequent years, thousands more were added to the rolls of those who gave their lives to build and defend the State of Israel. 

On Yom HaZikaron (YOHM Ha-Zee-kar-OHN), Israel’s Memorial Day, the State of Israel stops to honor those who lost their lives for the cause of Israel’s freedom. Two sirens sound. The first marks the beginning of the holiday in the evening, and the second signals the reading of public prayers during the day of commemoration. The blasts are two minutes long, and for that time, all Israel stands still. Traffic stops, commerce stops, everything stops, and Israel stands in silence to honor the fallen.  

As we rejoice that God has kept His promises to bring Israel back into the Land He gave them long ago, we recognize this prophetic fulfillment did not come without cost. And we stand with Israel on this day commemorating their losses, both early and recent.

Yom HaZikaron begins at sunset on May 7, 2019, and ends at sundown May 8. 

Vidal Sassoon’s story is part of a Toldot Yisrael video called The Volunteers: Answering the Call of History.

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