New Beit Hatfutsot Exhibition Honors Overseas Volunteers in War of Independence

May 21, 2012 – Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People, will host a groundbreaking exhibition celebrating the contribution of Jewish volunteers from around the world in Israel’s War of Independence in 1948. This riveting exhibition will open to the public on June 1, 2012.

In November 1947, following Britain’s decision to submit the question of Palestine to the UN, the War of Independence broke out. The establishment of a professional army was one of the goals facing David Ben-Gurion, chairman of the board of the Jewish Agency and architect of the state-in-the-making. However, there were not enough soldiers among the Jewish community of the necessary caliber. The ‘Haganah’ helped Ben-Gurion recruit Jews with military experience and capabilities from around the world. These were known as ‘Machal’, or overseas volunteers – and most were Jewish veterans of World War II who responded to the challenge and came to join the Zionist struggle.

Most of the volunteers were from English-speaking countries and significant ‘Machal’ operations were primarily carried out by the Air Force. The ‘Machalniks’ also made a significant contribution in naval, medical, infantry, tank and artillery units. Some volunteered for humanitarian reasons, while others came simply seeking an adventure following WWII.

There were over 4,500 ‘Machalniks’, among whom 123 lost their lives, including four women. After the war, most of the volunteers returned to their countries of origin, while approximately 500 remained and settled in Israel.

“The exhibition is a visual story of the brave and determined Jewish men and women who responded to an immediate need and came from around the world to aid the newly-created State of Israel during its War of Independence,” said Irina Nevzlin Kogan, president of the NADAV Foundation, which supports Beit Hatfutsot. “It is a remarkable example of global Jewish peoplehood and the mutual responsibility and dedication we have towards one another.”

The exhibition emphasizes the significance of the role the ‘Machalniks’ played in the establishment of the State of Israel and will showcase original art by Nachum Gutman, Ludwig Blum, Ardyn Halter and Sol Baskin, as well as photos taken during the war. In addition, a short documentary film will be screened.

The exhibition is displayed in partnership with MACHAL – Association of Overseas Volunteers, 1948.

photo courtesy Yaakov Bril