Esther Cailingold, a woman of valour

By Ted Belman

I recently promoted a new book The Prime Ministers written by one who served them, Yehuda Avner. At the age of 18, in November 1947, Avner made aliya from Manchester and crossed the Mediterranean Sea along with hundreds of survivors looking for a new life in what was then Palestine and soon to be Israel.

Now that I have read a third of the book, I can’t recommend it highly enough. I intend to do a number of reviews of the book but for now wanted to share with you, a letter that Avner included in the beginning of the book that moved me to tears.

He tells the story of Esther Cailingold whom he knew from Bnei Akiva in England. She had made aliya in 1946 at the age of 20. Both she and Yehuda lived in Jerusalem at the time so their paths naturally crossed. When the seige of Jerusalem began she volunteered for the Hagana.

One day she told him she was off to the most dangerous place in Jerusalem, the Old City. Why? Because “the Old City’s Jewish Quarter defenders were desparately in need of reinforcements”. And off she went.

After being herself, mortally wounded, she wrote.

    Dear Mommy and Daddy and Everyone

    If you get this at all, it will be, I suppose, typical of all my hurried, messy letters. I am writing you, to beg of you, that whatever may have happened to me, you will make the effort to take it in the spirit that I want and to understand that for me, I have no regrets. We have had a bitter fight: I have tasted of Gehenom – but it has been worthwhile because I am quite convinced that the end will see a Jewish state and the realization of our longings.

    I shall be only one of many who have fallen in sacrifice, and I was urged to write this because one in particular was killed today who meant a great deal to me. Because of the sorrow I felt, I want you to take it otherwise – to remember that we were soldiers and had the greatest and noblest cause to fight for. God is with us, I know, in His Holy City, and I am proud and ready to pay the price it may cost us to reprieve it.

    Don’t think I have taken “unnecessary risks”. That does not pay when man power is short. I hope you may have a chance at meeting any of my co-fighters who survive if I do not and that you will be pleased and not sad at how they talk of me. Please, please, do not be sadder than you can help. I have lived my life fully if briefly and I think this is the best way – “short and sweet”. Very sweet it has been here in my own land. I hope you shall enjoy from Mimi and Asher the satisfaction you missed from me. Let it be without regrets then I too shall be happy. I am thinking of you all, every single one of you in the family and am full of pleasure and thought that you will one day, very soon, I hope, come and enjoy the fruits for that for which we are fighting.

    Much, much love, be happy and remember me in happiness.

    Shalom and Lehitraot
    Your loving Esther

She died but the letter survived. May she, and all her fallen compatriots, rest in peace

Yehuda Avner later married her sister.

February 26, 2011 | 5 Comments »

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  1. I believe there is a 10-part documentary on you-tube hosted by Martin Gilbert who, upon recounting the vicious battles in Jerusalem in 1948 recounts this letter (verbally) also. If it is the same person (and it sure sounds like the same one) Gilbert added:

    “that as she lay captured and dying in a Jordanian jail/hospital (although I doubt there was much in terms of hospital equipment there and then), she was offered a cigarette by a Jordanian soldier — a typical gesture to a dying soldier.”

    Normally she would have taken it, but Gilbert said that because it was the Sabbath, she refused even this.

    The series is actually fantastic if one hasn’t seen it. It also contains the first ever color film (moving pictures) of life in the days immediately after Israel was declared a country. Really incredible to see.

  2. Israel Spiritual Symposium: What Are We Dying For For?

    “If you want a meaningful life, you have to ask yourself, ‘What am I willing to die for?’ Then, live for it.”

    According to Maimonides, any Jew who is killed because he or she is a Jew is kadosh, holy. Their place in the Next World is among the holy of our nation, even if they died drinking an espresso and chatting about the latest movie in a cafe. And as for the soldiers who die defending the lives of other Jews, the Talmud says that their place in the Next World is on the very highest level, with the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

    Read more

  3. I never knew of these people as individuals, but I salute the memory of their brave deeds and the lives they lived so fully — and for many of them, lost at so young an age — on behalf of the military redemption of Aretz-Yisrael. In more than one sense, my wife and I had the opportunity to live and study in Jerusalem — the re-united Jerusalem of the post 1967 years — because so many of them fought and gave up their lives in 1948-1949.

    Arnold Harris
    Mount Horeb WI

  4. I enjoyed the movie “Exodus” very much but did not understand all it meant until years later. I have come to admire the Jewish people and all they have struggled through and fought for to prevent their enemies from destroying them. It makes me sick to see the lack of support from our government for Israel during this critical time not only in the middle east, but in the world. In 2012 that attitude in our government will change when we have a new president; let us hope that is not too late for us all. May the GOD of Abraham, Issac, and Joseph protect and keep us all.

  5. Esther is alive. The Arabs who live in continual hatred and jealousy of God’s people, they are the ones who are dead.