Israel's first 'Wonder Woman' Tamar Eshel celebrates 101st birthday

The oldest living former MK said "I never wanted to be a hero.”

Portrait of former MK Tamar Eshel, at her home in Jerusalem on August 30, 2016.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Portrait of former MK Tamar Eshel, at her home in Jerusalem on August 30, 2016.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Despite an exciting life in which she chaired the UN Commission on the Status of Women, fought the Nazis and founded Na’amat, an Israeli and international women’s organization affiliated with the Labor Zionist movement, former MK Tamar Eshel was expecting a low-key day on her 101st birthday.

Eshel, the oldest living former MK, spends her days residing in the Nofei Yerushalayim nursing home in Jerusalem. Thus, it came as a surprise to her when Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy, Knesset Director-General Gil Segal and other Knesset officials visited her on Sunday to celebrate her birthday.

Levy called her the “Wonder Woman in the Knesset.”

“Your contribution to the state and the struggle for women’s rights in Israel and around the world is invaluable,” he said.

“I never wanted to be a hero,” Eshel said. “It’s important for me to say to everyone: Be who you are and not who they want you to be.”

But after celebrating her 100th birthday with only her nuclear family due to coronavirus restrictions, this commemoration was long
overdue.

Displaying extraordinary ambition and bravery, the 16-year-old Eshel joined the Hagana as a signals operator at the start of the 1936-39 Arab riots.

Throughout her time in the Hagana, she often would prepare grenades and dismantle pistols. She eventually took part in defending Beit Yisrael, Neveh Ya’acov and other Jerusalem neighborhoods.

Her extraordinary life will be part of an upcoming exhibit at the Knesset Museum set to document the lives of former MKs.

“During World War II, she volunteered in a factory producing machine-gun turrets for fighter jets and was promoted to head of the production line,” said Moshe Fuksman-Sha’al, director of the Knesset Museum. “She was the only woman in this challenging role.
“In early 1943, she volunteered for the British Army as a driver in Scotland. In August 1944, she was transferred to Egypt. She was initially stationed with British military intelligence in Cairo but was removed from the position when her connections with Palestine became known.”

After the war, Eshel went to Marseille to be in charge of Aliyah D, a department that sent survivors of death camps to Palestine with forged papers.

After the partition plan, she returned to Palestine and became an officer in the Hagana intelligence service. She later joined the
Foreign Ministry and worked in what would become the Mossad.

After several years as a prominent voice in women’s organizations, she was elected to chair the Council of Women Workers in 1974.

Eshel was known as “the warrior for women.” Her many accomplishments include chairing the Subcommittee on Battered Women, pushing for the establishment of the Committee on Reform in Treatment of Rape Cases and establishing Na’amat–Movement of Working Women & Volunteers, a single body made up of three separate women’s organizations.

She also lobbied for a change in the attitude of the Israel Police toward domestic violence and for changing the law regarding abortions.

In her post-Knesset life, Eshel volunteered for various organizations, including Hadassah-University Medical Center, the National Council of Ethiopian Jews and the Beit Tzipora Centers.

Eshel has six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

The first actress to play Wonder Woman, American actress Lynda Carter, happens to share Eshel’s birthday.