Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hannah Senesh - Why?

I became fascinated with paratrooper Hannah Senesh when we went into rehearsals with this past season's DAMES of the DANCE 4 - The Promised Land. One of the numbers, choreographed by Tekoa's brilliant choreographer/dance teacher Tzila Lensky, told the World War II story of young Hannah Senesh - her arrival in British Mandate Palestine, her adaptation to Israeli life, her joy here, and then her determination to join the hard-fighting Palmach and her self-sacrifice in leaving behind her new happy life in Eretz Yisrael on Kibbutz Sdot Yam to return to Hungary in an attempt to save her fellow Jews.

You can read Hannah's complete biography at the website of the Hannah Senesh library/museum: .

A Visit to Sdot Yam
I actually visited Sdot Yam this week. The kibbutz is just Gan Eden, everything Hannah or any teenager from grey, damp colorless Europe would imagine if she dreamt of Israel. When Hannah came there, it was a hill of sand above the Mediterranean Sea. But with the hard work, blisters and love of so many teenage pioneers, it became a colorful island of potential realized.

There are many heroes of the Jewish people, B"H. There are not enough awards or ceremonies to present rightful due to all those who have given their time, their lives, their beings for the benefit of the Jewish people, the land of Israel and the Torah of Israel.

Most of them make their mark and quietly fade away, never seeking fame or glory and never knowing it.

Hannah didn't want to be famous, but from the age of 13, she wrote a diary of her thoughts and feelings that revealed the deep treasure of a person that she was. Hannah wasn't someone we had to wonder about, make up stories about or guess what she thought about things, or how we acted. We know just about everything about her, because she wrote everything down. She wrote about her family, about being a kid, then a teenager, about Zionism, about her love for Israel. She wrote about idealism and kibbutz life - its difficulties and its dreams. She wrote poetry that is read today here in Israel by teenagers her own age. And Hannah wrote about her desire to return to her native Hungary and save as many young Jews as she could from the Nazi's Final Solution.

She was determined to do anything she could, even parachute into enemy territory to save anyone she could from the Nazi extermination.

I'm sure you know that at age 23 Hannah was caught during her secret mission to Hungary, tortured and executedby firing squad. Throughout her torture at the Nazi's sadistic hands, even after the arrest of her mother, Hannah never revealed the names or whereabouts of her fellow Palmach soldiers.

Hannah was buried in Europe, but reinterred during a military funeral in the Mt. Herzl Military Cemetery.


My first question is WHY did she return to Europe - a continent in flames. (I seriously would appreciate anyone writing to me about this question.) Her mission was surely impossible. Her chances of making a difference there were slim to none. And yet, she and more than 30 other Palmach paratroopers dropped down into enemy-occupied Europe and spread out in different cities and countries to contact the underground, the partisans and give hope to any Jews who might have heard that they were on the ground at least trying to fight back.

She was part of a new enterprise in Eretz Yisrael - building up a kibbutz. She could have helped to create a better society. She had given so much and had so much more to give for her people right here in Israel. And yet she went back.

My real question is WOULD YOU? Would I? If you felt there was a chance that you could sneak back into your native land in its time of trouble, and bring out 50, or even 100 Jews, would you? Even if you had the best cover, the most brilliant plan, even if danger didn't lurk around every corner, would you go on a mission to bring more Jews to Israel? (Okay, not Europe today, but Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan?) Even if you didn't have to parachute, would you consider returning to your birthplace and try to bring Jews back to Israel, the birthplace of our nation?

It's something that I have not stopped thinking about since the moment Tzila Lensky's girls donned their ballet shoes. Could only a Hannah Senesh, who thought about, wrote about, believed in life and the future of Am Yisrael commit such an act of heroism?

I actually think there are many Hannah Senesh's who have done incredible things that have changed our people for the better. I just wish I knew who they are.

And I still wonder, would I have had the courage? Would you?

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