Streetwise: Sderot Ariel Temes, Jerusalem

Were his life not cut tragically short, Palmahnik Ariel Temes would likely have become a great Israeli leader.

Beit Hakerem 88 248 (photo credit: Mark Schulman )
Beit Hakerem 88 248
(photo credit: Mark Schulman )
Every day I walk my son to school through a shortcut that takes us from Rehov Bialik to Kikar Denya in the heart of Jerusalem's Beit Hakerem neighborhood. Sderot Ariel Temes is by no means as busy or a mess from construction on the light rail system as nearby Sderot Herzl. In fact, it's not even a boulevard but a short, leafy pedestrian walkway. But after doing a little research about the person for whom the street is named, it became clear that this unassuming path deserves the respect of a grand avenue. Ariel Temes was one of 23 naval commandos who took part in the very first mission of the Palmah (the elite unit of the Hagana). The goal of the mission was to destroy the oil refineries near Tripoli in Lebanon which were reported to be supplying fuel for German planes. The French colonies of Lebanon and Syria were under the pro-German Vichy government at the time, and Allied forces feared that the Nazis could use Syrian airstrips as springboards for attacks on Egypt and to threaten oil supplies from Iraq. Unfortunately, the small boat carrying the newly formed strike force that left Haifa on May 18, 1941, disappeared without a trace. The target was never hit and the crew never found. Although there was some speculation that the boat was sunk by a submarine or came upon enemy fire, the events of the mission remain a mystery. "Ron Arad [the IAF navigator taken captive after his plane went down over Lebanon in 1986], of course, is the most well known Israeli MIA, but many forget that the 23 soldiers from this early action are still officially considered missing in action," said Ephraim Schlein, a local expert on Beit Hakerem history who lives on Sderot Ariel Temes. "These guys were the best of the best at the time. It was such a big shock to lose them right from the beginning." Despite the early loss, Palmah operations continued, becoming the celebrated force that played a major role in the founding of the state. Palmah leaders included Yitzhak Sadeh, who set up the elite unit, as well as Yitzhak Rabin, Moshe Dayan and Yigal Allon. Ariel Temes might have been on that prestigious list had his mission succeeded and his life not been cut short at 21. According to information from the Defense Ministry archives, Temes grew up in Beit Hakerem and was a leader in the scouts. In high school he joined the Irgun Zva'i Leumi, the Revisionist group lead by Ze'ev Jabotinsky and later Menachem Begin. When the group split in 1940, he joined the Hagana. A year later he was recruited by the Palmah. "Ariel was the first person from Beit Hakerem to fall in action," said Schlein. "This was a major blow to the community. You have to remember that back then the neighborhood was very small and like one big family." Several years ago a woman who knew the Temes family told Schlein that Ariel's mother only learned about her son's disappearance from a news clip shown at the beginning of a movie. Sixty years ago this was the only way to get news about what was happening in the war. Several years after the doomed mission, the boulevard and a memorial in Beit Hakerem were dedicated in honor of Ariel Temes. A poem written by Ariel's father, David, one of the first teachers in Beit Hakerem, is inscribed on the memorial: "At the gates of the country, the enemy stood. Out to the battle went my dear son, out to fight in defense of the homeland. And there he fell. My hero. My beloved son." (Translated by Saul Kelner.) "For a long time this memorial served as symbol of self-sacrifice and bravery for the next generation in Beit Hakerem," said Schlein. "People knew the words of the poem by heart; it was like a code for all those who grew up in this neighborhood." As Beit Hakerem grew from a small garden community planned in the 1920s by the Bauhaus architect Richard Kaufmann to the expanded neighborhood that it is today, many have forgotten about the early founders. As a third-generation resident of Beit Hakerem, Schlein tries to remind people of the neighborhood's history in a walking tour he gives several times a year through the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. His tour, which follows parts of the Jerusalem Trail, usually begins or ends on Sderot Ariel Temes. In addition to the personalized memorial to Temes in Jerusalem, several streets around the country, including in Tel Aviv, are named after the lost Palmah commandos, as is the naval academy in Acre. An Aliya Bet ship, which brought 790 Jewish refugees from Italy to Palestine on August 13, 1946, was also named after the group.