Moshe & Meir - 60 Years Later
Received via e-mail from the Temple Institute:
Mot Kedoshim: The Death of the Righteous
Iyar 8, 5767/April 26, 2007
"And Samson said: 'Let me die with the Philistines.' And he bent with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead that he slew at his death were more than they that he slew in his life." (Judges 16:30)
The year was 1947. Their original plan was to blow themselves up at the gallows, taking with them as many of the enemy British jailers as they could. When it became clear that they could not carry out their plan without also endangering the rabbi who was to accompany them in their final moments, a last minute change was made. Nineteen year old Meir Feinstein, a member of the Etzel underground, and 19 year old Moshe Barazani, a member of the Lechi underground took the hollowed out orange peel in which they had smuggled explosives into their cell, placed it between them, sang the traditional Adon Olam, embraced, and lit the fuse. A huge blast was heard throughout the Jerusalem Central Prison. The British guard raced to the cell. But it was too late. The two boys had robbed the British Mandatory Government of the fruit of its relentless policy toward the Jews. They were to have been the first two Jews to be hung to death in the holy city of Jerusalem, all the other eleven olei hagardom - "those who went up to the gallows" - had been or were to be hung in the northern city of Acco (Acre). The courage of the two boys, with the help of G-d, snatched from the bloody jaws of the British their "victory" of executing Jews in the holy city.
Meir Feinstein and Moshe Barazani were buried in twin graves on the Mount of Olives. Their story became legend in Israel. When Menachem Begin, Israel's sixth Prime Minister died in 1992 his final wish was to be buried in a simple grave alongside the two boys. Thus the legend remained. Until recently.
Several months ago, Thomas Goodwin, the British guard whose life Feinstein and Barazani had spared by asking his to leave their cell just moments before they blew themselves up, so that (as they explained to him), they could pray, passed away. Before he left the boys' cell, Meir Feinstein handed him his Tanach (Hebrew Bible). Of the two British jailers that kept watch over Feinstein and Barazani, Goodwin was admired by the two as "the good jailer" because of the humane and respectful manner in which he treated the condemned men. Only after the two had taken their own lives did he notice the inscription Feinstein had addressed to him, both in English and in Hebrew:
"In the shadow of the gallows, 21.4.47. To the British soldier as you stand guard. Before we go to the gallows, accept this Bible as a memento and remember that we stood in dignity and marched in dignity. It is better to die with a weapon in hand than to live with hands raised. Meir Feinstein"
It had been Thomas Goodwin's wish to return the Tanach to the Feinstein family, and after he died, his son Dennis made contact with the office of the Prime Minister of Israel, which directed him to the Feinstein family in Jerusalem. I had the privilege of being invited to attend the ceremony on Thursday evening, April 20th (the 2nd of the Hebrew month of Iyar), when Dennis Goodwin and his mother presented the Tanach to Meir Feinstein's nephew Eliezer. The ceremony took place in the very prison where the two were held, adjacent to the Russian Compound in Jerusalem. The former prison is now the Underground Prisoners Museum, dedicated to preserving the memory of the underground members who fought and died for the Jewish people's independence. The day was the 60th anniversary of the boys' death.
The following Monday, Israel's Memorial Day for its fallen soldiers, a small group of people visited the graves of Feinstein and Barazani at the Mount of Olives, where Eliezer Feinstein and Moshe Barazani's brother recited the Kaddish prayer. In a private moment, Eliezer Feinstein remarked that over the past few days he had repeatedly looked through his uncle's Tanach. Each time he opened it, it opened automatically to Judges, chapter sixteen, and the verse: "And Samson said: 'Let me die with the Philistines.' And he bent with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead that he slew at his death were more than they that he slew in his life." (ibid) Thus testifying to the two boys' original plan to blow themselves up at the gallows.
The long history of the Jewish people is lined with the names of martyrs who fell for the right of every Jew to live his life in freedom and dignity and in accordance to the will of the G-d of Israel. Some names are household names in Jewish homes the world over. Others not. There is no better time to consider their selfless acts of courage than on Yom Atzma'ut - Israel Independence Day. For without their willingness to give of themselves entirely for their people, the Jewish nation would not be dwelling today in the land of Israel.
The challenges facing Israel today are enormous. A new generation of Feinsteins and Barazanis, willing to give their all for the people of Israel, the land of Israel and the Torah of Israel, is rising up. We see them in their hilltop villages, ("outposts"), manning the barricades at Amona, astride the ruins of Chomesh, and yes, fulfilling the commandment of "My Holy Temple you shall revere" (Leviticus 19:30), by ascending the Temple Mount. As we stride toward tomorrow we will surely achieve the hope of our people:
"The hope of two thousand years,
To be a holy nation in our own land,
The land of Zion : Jerusalem."