Monday, May 29, 2023

JTS, Betar and the Irgun

From Matt Futterman

I was given permission by a friend to share anonymously this story that was part of a discussion on Zionism and various American religious streams. This story is about the Jewish Theological Seminary from a time before the Conservative Moment was known for being more pro-Zionism than other movements.

“In the 1940s, a group of Betarim requested the use of a classroom at JTS, purportedly to hold Hebrew classes. In fact, the classroom was being used by the IZ"L  ("Irgun") to teach how to break down weapons so that they could be shipped to Palestine. At the time, my mother was working in the Beitar office in NY as personal assistant to Moshe Arens -- then Netziv Betar in NY, but secretly running IZ"L activities in the U.S. -- and she was directly involved in the gun smuggling operation. Many years later, my mother told Dr. Max Arzt (in my presence) that she had a confession to make, and told him how the classroom was actually being used. He replied that no apology was needed.  JTS wasn't fooled and was well aware of what was really going on.

“As an aside, many years later, when I was undergoing a security background check in the IDF, I was asked for the names of people who knew me and my family both in Israel and abroad. When I sat with the investigator, he looked at the list and asked: "Who is Moshe 'Mischa' Arens"?  I replied. "He's our boss". The soldier asked: "What do you mean?" I replied: "He's the Minister of Defense". The investigator seemed surprised and went on to the next name: "Mordechai 'Mordi' Dolinsky"(another of my mom's Betar friends). "Does he live on Rechov Chabad in the Old City?" I said that he did. "Oh, I was in basic training with one of his sons". Interview over. Later, when Mordi was on his death bed at Hadassah Hospital, Mischa came to visit. Mordi took great delight in telling him that while IDF field security seemed to have no idea who Mischa was, they knew who he was.”

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