Esther Shawmut Friedman, former Haganah medic, dies at 89

Esther Shawmut Friedman, an American volunteer who worked as a medic in the Haganah, died on March 7. She was 89. 

Born and raised in Boston, Shawmut Friedman joined the U.S. Navy WAVES in 1943, serving as pharmacist’s mate in Navy hospitals during World War II. After her discharge from the Navy, she worked as a youth organizer for Habonim and as a recruiter for Land and Labor for Palestine, which secretly enlisted World War II veterans to serve in the Haganah or to sail ships smuggling Jews into Palestine.

After an attack on medical personnel on Mount Scopus in 1948, Shawmut Friedman left for Palestine. Sailing aboard the Pan York, she jumped ship with other volunteers in the Mediterranean near Bat Galim. Caught in the riptides of Israel’s coast, she was rescued by a young sabra, Aaron Friedman, who pulled her out and carried her to safety. She would go on to serve as a combat medic in the Israel Defense Forces’ 8th Armored Brigade during the battle for Beersheba and other engagements. Four years after her rescue, she ran into Friedman, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s bodyguard, as they shared a sherut (group taxi) ride. The couple married in November 1954. 

Back in the United States, Shawmut Friedman served as the Southern California region executive director of the Zionist Organization of America, regional director of the State of Israel Bonds for the San Fernando Valley, director of BBYO and president of Machal West for nearly 20 years.

She is survived by husband, Aaron; daughter Shari (Howard) Lesnick; and grandsons, Maxx and Ben.

Shawmut Friedman was laid to rest at Eden Cemetery on March 10 with military honors.

N.J. man accused of spying for Israel

The arrest this week of a retired a New Jersey man on charges of transmitting classified information to Israel two decades ago shows how the Jonathan Pollard spy case continues to haunt the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Ben-Ami Kadish, a former U.S. Army engineer, was scheduled to appear Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan. He is facing four charges of conspiracy to share classified information with Israel.

From 1979 to 1985, Kadish allegedly “borrowed” documents from the library of the Army facility in Dover, N.J., where he was employed and shared them with the science affairs consul at the Israeli consulate in New York.

The Justice Department says the documents included information on nuclear weaponry and plans for upgrading the F-15 combat aircraft. Kadish allegedly told FBI agents that he shared the documents to help Israel; he was not paid by Israel for his services.

The science affairs consul is not named in the Justice Department’s complaint sheet, but an archival search reveals him to be Yosef Yagur. The complaint sheet notes that “co-conspirator-1” — Yagur, who is not charged — also received information from Pollard.

Israel recalled Yagur and his Washington counterpart, Ilan Ravid, in November 1985 to avoid their involvement in the Pollard investigation.

The Pollard case for a short time devastated U.S.-Israel relations. In its aftermath, Israel swore never to run a spy again, and Americans broadened their information sharing with Israel to keep the Israelis from temptation.

This week’s arrest of Kadish — who lives in a retirement community in Monroe, N.J., and is active in his local Jewish community — begs the question of why U.S. federal authorities are still pursuing Pollard-related leads more than 20 years after the fact.

Pollard, a civilian U.S. Navy analyst, was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 after pleading guilty to the spy charges.

Yagur on Tuesday refused to answer reporters’ questions. Israeli officials said they knew nothing of the case. Officials at Israel’s consulate in New York declined to comment.

It is not clear from the complaint sheet filed Monday that Kadish was the original target of this investigation. The sheet notes that a grand jury subpoena was issued on March 21, a day after Kadish’s first interview with agents, but does not say whether the subpoena sought his testimony as a witness or as a target. In any case, detectives did not immediately serve the subpoena.

Instead, the complaint sheet says that at the March 20 interview, federal agents presented Kadish with evidence that he shared 30 to 100 documents with Yagur between 1979 and 1985. Kadish allegedly first met Yagur in the 1970s when Yagur was employed by Israel Aircraft Industries. They were introduced by Kadish’s brother, also employed by IAI, the complaint sheet says.

At that meeting, Kadish acknowledged sharing some of the documents with Yagur, the complaint sheet says, and acknowledged that he did not have the authority to share such documents.

That evening, Yagur allegedly phoned Kadish and implored him not to cooperate. The complaint sheet says that in a conversation in Hebrew, Yagur said, “Don’t say anything. Let them say whatever they want.” He also said, “What happened 25 years ago? You didn’t remember anything.”

The next day, Kadish allegedly downplayed his ties to Yagur in a second interview with FBI agents. He said that over the years the two had maintained nothing more than a social relationship, with phone calls, e-mails and occasional visits; Kadish and Yagur had met in Israel in 2004.

More crucial, Kadish allegedly denied having been in touch with Yagur the previous evening.

That alleged lie could prove critical to Kadish’s prosecution: It allows prosecutors to expand the conspiracy from 1985 to March 20 of this year, when Yagur allegedly urged Kadish to lie.

There is a 10-year statute of limitations on the crimes outlined in the complaint sheet. Without the alleged lie, the government’s case would be flimsy.

Kadish, a Connecticut native who grew up in pre-state Palestine, served in the Haganah, Israel’s pre-state defense force and the precursor to the Israel Defense Forces.

According to the New Jersey Jewish News, he has remained active in the Jewish community since his retirement, particularly at the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County.

Gerrie Bamira, executive director of the federation, said that “Ben-Ami Kadish, his wife and neighbors have in recent years been supportive of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County and our work in the community.”

“We maintain our belief that individuals are innocent until proven guilty,” Bamira added.

Kadish is also an ex-commander of the Jewish War Veterans Post 609 in Monroe. Moe Eillish, the quartermaster of that post, said of Kadish, “He was a good man.”

Kadish and his wife, Doris, raise money for charitable causes through annual gatherings in their sukkah, according to a 2006 story in the N.J. Jewish News.

JTA staff writer Ben Harris in New York contributed to this report.

Passover in Palestine — memories of seders in an Israel on the cusp of statehood

On the eve of Passover 1948, Rabbi Moshe Saks, known as Bud to his family and friends, was stationed in Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood, trying to figure out how to get Passover supplies and ammunition to the embattled Haganah soldiers in the Makor Haim neighborhood.

A rabbi from Baltimore who had served as a chaplain for two years in the U.S. Army during World War II, Saks arrived in Palestine in November 1947, with his wife, Frances. He planned to study for a doctorate at Hebrew University under the G.I. Bill. When the War of Independence broke out later that month, he instead became a quasi-social worker and chaplain for the fledgling Haganah military organization.

“It was a time when the very existence of the Zionist movement was in doubt,” says Saks, now 87 and living in the German Colony neighborhood of Jerusalem, his home since 1974. “But it was also a period when people felt they ought to be here. As for me, there was no model in which to think of this task the Haganah had given me. But they wanted me to go from place to place and talk to people.”

Makor Haim was the frontline of defense for southwest Jewish Jerusalem, as it was surrounded by large Arab villages and far from the city’s other Jewish neighborhoods. Saks had been involved in sending a convoy of supplies from Talpiot to Makor Haim, but the British Army turned back the convoy. As part of his responsibilities, Saks was told by his superiors to prepare a seder for the remaining members of the community and soldiers stationed in Talpiot.

Several days before the holiday began, Saks and his wife came across Shmuel Yosef Agnon, or S.Y. Agnon, the Hebrew fiction writer who had been living in Talpiot since 1924 and continued to do so, in defiance of the British. Agnon was in his yard, trying to uproot a tree with some help from a neighbor. On the spur of the moment, Saks asked him to lead the seder that would be held at HaYozem, the local pensione that was functioning as the Haganah’s headquarters in Talpiot.

Agnon, the celebrated novelist, didn’t have “the feel for leading a group of young people in a seder, and his Hebrew wasn’t as beautiful as that of the young man from the Old City who led the second shift,” Saks says. “But he was such an important role model and writer.”

There also wasn’t much in the way of food or matzah either, Saks remembers. Given the siege of Jerusalem that had begun in December 1947, and lasted until July 1948, the mayor of Jerusalem, Dov Yosef, had instituted a rationing program intended to save the city. For Passover, however, a convoy made it through carrying Passover supplies, and a special ration was instituted for families, including 2 pounds of potatoes, half a pound of fish, 4 pounds of matzah, 1.5 ounces of dried fruit, half a pound of meat and half a pound of matzah flour.

As Zipporah Borowsky, another young American who had arrived in Palestine in 1947, wrote in a letter to her parents in New York: “In a way, I am lucky, not having to wait in the long lines for the meager rations of meat and fish that are being distributed to the heads of families. But, we did get a small ration of potatoes, margarine and wine, and, with all the stuff I’ve been saving from packages you’ve sent, I should be fairly well-stocked for the entire holiday.”

Borowsky, who now has the last name of Porath and lives in Savyon, outside Tel Aviv, collected her memories and letters of that tumultuous first year in a book, “Letters From Jerusalem 1947-1948” (Jonathan, 2005). In the letter to her parents written after the seder, she says that everybody in Jerusalem had guests for the seder, what with 100 drivers in town who brought the last convoy to the city, and hundreds of soldiers far from home.

She attended a friend’s family seder, where “the herbs were truly bitter herbs, plucked from the fields, like the greens we now eat with our daily fare. The charoset tasted every bit like the Egyptian bricks it was supposed to represent — although, in these times, there’s no way of knowing what it was made of…. Despite the terrible food shortage, a meal of sorts was served, simple but plentiful, with kneidlach [matzah balls] made from something that tasted like nuts.”

When the youngest child at the seder, a 5-year-old boy, asked the four questions, Porath writes, he didn’t “merely recite … but asked them, in the most natural way … as if he really didn’t understand and wanted to be told why a seder in besieged Jerusalem was different from any other.”

For Danny Angel, now 79, whose family’s bakery eventually became the largest in Israel, what stands out from that particular Passover was the fact that there were no eggs or vegetables.

“We lived in Bayit Vegan, and we went into the fields nearby to pick marrow, to serve as the green on our seder plate,” says Angel, who was 19 and a Haganah soldier in Jerusalem throughout the entire war.

It was a difficult Passover, Saks remembers. A leading Haganah soldier was killed in Makor Haim on the eve of Passover, adding to “the mood of the seder; it was a very painful experience,” he said.

Within weeks, of course, times had changed, and the establishment of the state of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948. In November 1948, the Saks’ had their first child, Noam, and returned to the States in 1949 until their aliyah 25 years later. Tzipporah Borowsky returned to the U.S. briefly as executive assistant to the Israeli consul general in New York, and later married Joseph Porath, then Israel’s assistant military attache, returning to live in Israel, where “the Passover seder in our home was very much Israeli style, with an American accent.”

For Saks, and his son, Noam Zion, who has lived in Israel since 1973 and raised his own family in Talpiot, Passover has always been a holiday of tremendous ritual and historical importance.