Israeli Defense Forces
Leshon Ima – Mother Tongue with Dr. Rachel Zohar Dulin, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer
This month we celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. We are proud that the state of Israel is a beacon of hope to the Jewish people around the world. We are proud of Israel’s achievements in the sciences, in medicine, in technology and in the arts. We are also proud of Israel’s strong military, which protects the Israeli population from constant threats and attacks. And, since defense is the key to Israel’s existence, let us explore the meaning of the word Tzahal, a collective name for the Israeli Defense Forces.
On May 26, 1948 Tzahal was officially declared as Israel’s defense force. Tzahal is an acronym built on three Hebrew words: Tz’vah, meaning army of, Haganah, meaning defense, and Le-Israel meaning for Israel.
To this day, Tzahal is the force, which protects the state and her population by a strong air force, an exceptional navy and an unusually dedicated army.
Tzahal is a merger of different Jewish defense organizations, which preceded it. The Hashomer (the guard), the Haganah (the defense), the Irgun (the organization), and Chyl (the Jewish Fighting Brigade), all of which fought either in pre-state Israel proper or in Europe to defend the unprotected Jewish population.
It should be noted that the groups out of which Tzahal evolved represented the Jewish political and social spectrum. For example, Hashomer was an organization of young volunteers defending Jewish settlements in Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel) during 12 long years of Arab terror (1908 -1920).
The Haganah was established in 1920 to protect the Jewish population from further Arab attacks. It grew in size and by 1929 was an organized force in whose ranks served Jewish volunteers who fought in World War I as well as those who fought in pre-state Israel proper.
Another part of the spectrum was the Irgun, a group that in 1931 separated itself from the Haganah and organized as the underground to fight the British Army and its colonial control of Eretz Yisrael.
Last but not least, we should mention Chyl, a Hebrew acronym for Chativah Yehudit Lochemet, meaning The Jewish Fighting Brigade, a group of volunteers from Israel who joined the British military and in 1944 was recognized as a special Jewish unit. The Brigade fought during World War II alongside the British army, particularly in Italy. The fighters of the Brigade also helped bring Jewish survivors to the safe shores of Israel after the war.
On this Yom Ha’atzmaut, the Day of Israel’s Independence, we salute Tza-hal the force, which succeeded to unite under one flag all Israelis regardless of social and political persuasions, assuring all of us a joyful celebration of the modern miracle of statehood.
Dr. Rachel Zohar Dulin is a professor of biblical literature at Spertus College in Chicago and an adjunct professor of Bible and Hebrew at New College of Florida.