Saturday marked the 68th anniversary of the passing of a great man, one whose
contributions to the establishment of the State of Israel and its defense cannot
And though his name graces numerous streets, thoroughfares
and educational institutions throughout the land, Orde Wingate’s unique role in
helping to lay the foundation for the revival of Jewish sovereignty has
nonetheless begun to fade from public memory.
Just ask any young Israeli
about Wingate, and they will most likely think you are referring to the
institute for physical education and sport in Netanya, rather than the man for
whom it was named.
This is a grave injustice, one that simply cannot be
allowed to occur. We are doing a great disservice to history, and to ourselves,
by not doing more to remember him.
Put simply, Wingate was a Christian
warrior for Zion, a man whose biblical passion and beliefs propelled him to defy
the pro-Arab sentiments of the day and embrace the Zionist cause. He set a noble
example of unapologetically fighting terror, staunchly rejecting appeasement
both as a policy and a world-view.
In 1936, at the height of the Arab
terror campaign known as the Arab Revolt, Wingate was serving as a captain in
British intelligence. Assigned to British units posted in Mandatory Haifa, he
quickly came to admire the Jewish people and their determination to reclaim the
land that had been promised to them by the Creator.
training Jewish volunteers, who served in active defense units that came to be
called the Special Night Squads. They launched daring missions to protect Jewish
communities from Arab terrorists, often undertaking operations that penetrated
deep into Arab villages.
Wingate drew on his deep love and profound
knowledge of the Bible, employing strategy and tactics he had distilled from
studying the campaigns of Joshua, Gideon and King David. As an officer, he
emphasized the need for preemptive strikes, and insisted upon taking the fight
to the enemy’s territory. Both of these principles later came to serve as
central tenets of Israel’s defensive posture and military
Wingate organized special training courses at Ein Harod, where
some of the future leaders of Israel’s military were schooled. He dreamt of one
day leading a Jewish army, and befriended various Zionist leaders such as Chaim
Weizmann and Moshe Sharett.
To Jews living in pre-state Israel, Wingate
came to be known as “Hayedid,” or “the friend,” but many of his British
colleagues looked askance at his fondness for the Jewish cause. Fellow officers
criticized him, forcing Wingate in 1939 to submit a formal appeal in which he
wrote, “I am not ashamed to say that I am a real and devoted admirer of the
Jews.... Had more officers shared my views, the [Arab] rebellion would have come
to a speedy conclusion some years ago.”
As a result of his stance,
Wingate was unceremoniously recalled to England, where the authorities went so
far as to bar him from ever returning to the land of Israel.
outbreak of World War II, Wingate was assigned to Ethiopia to counter the
Italian fascist occupation of the country, which he did with great
He was then sent to Burma, where he led a group of jungle
fighters in the battle against Japanese forces. It was there, on March 24, 1944,
that Wingate, by then a major-general, died in a tragic plane crash. He was just
41 years old. In his short life, Wingate had managed to win Britain’s
Distinguished Service Order three times.
More importantly, however, he
won the gratitude of the people of Israel.
When word of his death reached
Jerusalem, a memorial service was organized for him at Yeshurun Synagogue and a
special version of the Kel Male Rachamim prayer was even composed on his behalf.
“Remember unto him his love for the words of your prophets concerning the return
of the House of Israel to its Holy Land,” the text of the prayer said, adding,
“May the name of Orde Wingate be remembered in the book of redemption of the
House of Israel for eternity.”
David Ben-Gurion said that had Wingate
lived to see the establishment of the State of Israel, he would have surely been
asked to lead its nascent military. And in his autobiography, Chaim Weizmann
referred to Wingate as the “Lawrence of Judea,” highlighting his “passionate
sympathy – one might say his self-identification – with the highest ideals of
Zionism.” Each year, the Jewish War Veterans of the USA hold special ceremonies
in America and Israel to honor Wingate and his legacy.
It was at one such
event in 1995 that then-chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau told a poignant story,
noting that while stationed in Burma in 1943, Wingate had written to a friend to
say that he had not forgotten the Zionist cause. “You promised not to forget
us,” Rabbi Lau said, “and we promise not to forget you, not us, nor our
children.” In light of all that Orde Wingate, a British officer and
Bible-believing Christian, did for our people, that is one promise that we
should all strive to keep.
May his memory be for a blessing.
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