The Americans Who Fought for Israel

This coming attraction will soon be playing in Los Angeles, but for the moment, you’ll have to go to the University of Florida in Gainesville to see a new exhibit honoring those from the United States and Canada who fought for Israel’s independence in the 1940s.

The central display of the Aliyah Bet and Machal Museum, which opens formally this week, commemorates the deeds of the two groups of volunteers for whom the museum is named. The Aliyah Bet portion honors the 240 North Americans who manned rickety ships and ran the British blockade to bring Holocaust survivors and refugees to Palestine between 1946 and 1948, in a clandestine operation. Among the 12 ships was the famed “Exodus 1947.”

Machal is the Hebrew acronym for volunteers from abroad, or the “Anglo-Saxim,” as they were informally called. About 1,000 North American men and women made their way to the nascent state to serve in the air force, navy and army. Most of the volunteers were World War II veterans and the combat-seasoned fighter pilots who, in particular, formed the backbone of the fledgling Israeli air force.

Early next year, a West Coast replica of the Florida exhibit will be installed at the University of Judaism in Bel Air.

The contributions of the North American volunteers were acknowledged by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in words engraved in the Machal Memorial at the gateway to Jerusalem.

“They came to us when we needed them most, during those hard and uncertain days of the War of Independence.”

Alongside is another inscription from the Book of Joshua: “All those of valor shall pass armed among your brethren, and shall help them.”

In addition to the North Americans, some 2,500 volunteers from 40 countries served in Machal.

The museum is housed in the university’s new Hillel building. It consists of cabinets framing seven large and seven small panels. In documents, graphics and text, the exhibit documents the history of Zionism and American support, arms acquisition and the recruitment of volunteers: Aliyah Bet and navy service; and Machal volunteers in the Israel Defense Forces.

The final panel commemorates the 40 North Americans who were killed in action, among them Col. David “Mickey” Marcus and seven Christian volunteers.

The Los Angeles exhibit, organized by Dr. Jason Fenton, will add an eighth panel on the contributions of some 450 volunteers from the West Coast, and those who “illegally” provided Israel with desperately needed arms and aircraft.

“We are honored to accept the Aliyah Bet/Machal display and we are delighted to provide a permanent home for these historic panels,” said Dr. Robert Wexler, president of the University of Judaism.

Some 100 surviving Aliyah Bet and Machal veterans and their families are expected at the dedication ceremonies, scheduled for Nov. 19 and 20 at the Hillel building.

Main speakers will be Yitschak Ben Gad, the Israeli consul general in Miami, and Ira Feinberg, president of the American Veterans of Israel, the organization that sponsored the $100,000 project. They will be joined by Dr. Ralph L. Lowenstein, dean emeritus of the College of Journalism and Communication on the Gainesville campus, and director of the new museum.

Lowenstein has been the chief catalyst in the creation of the museum and also established the Aliyah Bet and Machal Archives at the University of Florida. An award-winning reporter and author, he fought with an armored unit in Israel as an 18-year-old volunteer, and later served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.

“The North American Jewish communities made important contributions to the establishment of the Jewish state,” Lowenstein said. “This story is not well known in America or Israel. Now, with the establishment of the museums on both coasts, this story is being told.”

A letter in the exhibit summarizes the spirit of the volunteers..

“If anything should ever happen to me, I shall not be sorry that I have come to Eretz Israel,” wrote Ralph Moster, a 24-year-old from Vancouver, Canada, who wrote his mother in June 1948. “I am grateful to you for having brought me into the world at a time that I have a chance to fight for a free land for the Jews.”

Six months later, Moster was killed in action.

For more information on the museum, visit


The ‘Boys’ at the Front


Werner Angress was attached to a U.S. paratroop platoon winging behind German lines on D-Day, when the sergeant told him he’d be the first to jump.

“But I’ve never jumped before in my life,” Angress protested.

“That’s OK,” the sergeant said, “the newest guy always goes first.”

Angress was one of “The Ritchie Boys,” a special Army unit made up mainly of young Jewish refugees from Germany, whose World War II exploits have been recorded for the first time in a documentary by German filmmaker Christian Bauer.

The German-Canadian co-production is one of 12 documentaries still in competition for Academy Award honors.

The Ritchie Boys got their names from Camp Ritchie in Maryland, where the ex-refugees reported for duty at the Military Intelligence Training Camp.

From the beaches of Normandy until the end of the war, the men served on and behind the front lines as interrogators, psychological warriors, authors of anti-Nazi leaflets and broadcasts, experts on the inner workings of the German war machine and liberators of concentration camps.

Urging German soldiers to surrender from trucks equipped with loudspeakers, they became a favorite target of enemy artillery, but they encountered their greatest danger in the Battle of the Bulge.

During a last desperate push, the Wehrmacht infiltrated English-speaking German soldiers in GI uniforms into the U.S. lines. The infiltrators often spoke English with the same German accent as the boys.

In the heat of the battle, the Ritchie boys were likely to be shot by their fellow GIs or, worse, by the Germans.

Ten of the Ritchie veterans, now mostly in their 80s, recall their experiences in the 90-minute film,

Not all the recollections are grim. With the fall of Berlin, some of the boys concocted a story that they had captured Hitler’s personal toilet and latrine orderly, which made headlines across the world.

“The Ritchie Boys” documentary adds a little known chapter to the story of Jewish service in the fight against Nazi tyranny.

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Honoring Community Mitzvahs

Top, left to right, Ilana Weinberg, Larry Weinberg, MarkBorovitz and Barbi Weinberg. Above right, Pauline Ledeen. Above left,Audrey Irmas.

September is awards season in Los Angeles. Evenbefore the Emmys were handed out last weekend, the Jewish FederationCouncil of Greater Los Angeles honored six members of the community,a new arts gallery and its board, and a service program.

The 1997 Community Awards, which recognize outstanding achievementin the Jewish community, were given out during a special meeting ofthe Federation’s board of directors at Sephardic Temple TiferethIsrael.

For only the second time in 20 years, a special award for”outstanding community service” was presented. It went to PaulineLedeen, who began as a volunteer with the Jewish Committee forPersonal Service, the agency that created Gateways Hospital andMental Health Center and, today, is part of Gateways. Ledeen, wholater became an employee of JCPS, has been visiting Jewish men andwomen in county, state and federal prisons for more than 50 years.These days, Ledeen, still indefatigable at 87, spends at least twodays a week, checking computer printouts, looking for Jewish names,visiting Jewish prisoners, keeping the jail staff informed ofupcoming Jewish holidays, and generally looking after the needs ofJewish inmates.

Her offices are located at Gateways Beit T’Shuvah, a halfway housein the Westlake district of Los Angeles (216 S. Lake St.) establishedby JCPS for recovering Jewish offenders. Most are striving toovercome drug, alcohol, gambling and other addictions, and many haveLedeen to thank for being at Beit T’Shuvah.

Though pleased to receive the award, Ledeen said she was sad thatthe achievements of Lou Ziskind, whom she credited with startingGateways in 1953, weren’t recognized as well.

Mark Borovitz, one of the many people rescued by Ledeen during hercareer, was also honored at the Federation event; he received theBarbi Weinberg Chai Award — created by Larry Weinberg to honor hiswife Barbi, a past Federation president. The award, which carries astipend of $1,800, is given to an individual who has made anoutstanding contribution to the enhancement and appreciation ofJewish values.

Ledeen first met Borovitz in prison. “When I came to visit him asecond time, I told him: ‘This is no place for a nice Jewish boy. Youdon’t have to live like this,'” she said. Ledeen suggested that hetalk to the rabbi who served the prison, Mel Silverman. Later,Borovitz served as the rabbi’s clerk, rediscovering his passion forJudaism. After being released on work furlough, he accepted an offerfrom Beit T’Shuvah Director Harriet Rossetto to run the thrift shop.

At Beit T’Shuvah, Borovitz created a 12-step program that usesJewish values as the base, and he started a Torah-study class for theresidents. The Jewish education and outreach director for BeitT’Shuvah, he is currently a rabbinical student at the University ofJudaism.

“This was an honor that was well beyond any experience that I’veever had,” Borovitz said of the award. “It recognized my own personaljourney…and the whole Jewish community that has helped me go frombeing a criminal 10 years ago in state prison to being honored withthe Barbi Weinberg Award.”

Other awards and recipients included:

  • The Lifetime of Broad Service Award — given to Audrey Irmas and her late husband, Sydney. Longtime contributors to the Jewish community, the Irmases contributed, in 1991, one of the largest gifts to the Federation’s Operation Exodus campaign, which helped fund the huge aliyah of Jews from the former Soviet Union. Syd, who chaired the United Jewish Fund campaign in 1979, was finance chair in 1994, when resolving complex claims that arose from the Northridge earthquake became a priority for the Federation. The Irmas Charitable Foundation is also funding a large portion of the new Audrey and Sydney Irmas Campus of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, currently under construction.

  • Isaiah Award — presented to Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles for creating the Citizenship Assistance Program as a response to federal welfare reform legislation, which threatened to eliminate benefits for legal immigrants who weren’t citizens. JFS opened three centers, staffed by trained volunteers, to help refugees and immigrants prepare for the naturalization process.

  • The Jeremiah Award — given to Marcie Kaufman and Lisa Goodgame, USC students who became involved with the second annual student art exhibit at the Hillel Art Gallery. The project inspired USC Hillel to form a permanent arts and culture committee, composed of students, staff and volunteers.

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  • The Micah Award — presented to Marcia Reines Josephy, acting director of the Martyrs Memorial and Museum of the Holocaust and curator of the Federation’s Pauline Hirsh Gallery. Josephy served as the catalyst in bringing “Terezin: Then and Now” to the Martyrs Memorial and Museum gallery.

  • The Cultural Arts Award — given to the “Witness and Legacy” exhibition of contemporary art about the Holocaust, which had its only West Coast showing earlier this year at the Finegood Art Gallery of the Bernard Milken Jewish community Campus in West Hills. Federation/Valley Alliance Executive Director Jack Mayer and the Finegood Art Council Board of the Valley Alliance raised funds and oversaw the extensive construction needed to house the art.

  • The Ezra Award — presented to Dr. Lee Bycel, former dean of Hebrew Union College and immediate past president of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission. Bycel helped implement a program that allows HUC students to intern at South Central Los Angeles social agencies and minority students to become involved in the Jewish community.