Almost as soon as I returned to my base after Shabbat we were told that we were going on another trip – educational, mind you – with the destination being a secret. I wasn’t feeling my best on the morning of the trip but I tagged along nonetheless and in the end was glad to have done so. Still not knowing where we were headed, I finally overheard my commanding officer ask the bus driver if he knew how to get to the Lehi Museum in Tel Aviv, somewhere I’ve been wanting to go for a while now.
Whether the driver knew how to get there or not, approximately two hours later we were walking through the streets of Tel Aviv headed for the Lehi Museum, located in an obscure building in the Florentin neighbourhood. The fascinating part about the seemingly odd location of the museum is that it contains the apartment of Lehi’s founder and leader Avraham “Yair” Stern, his final home before he was murdered by undercover British policeman on February 12th 1942.
Stepping further back in time, Lehi was founded in 1940 as a resistance group against primarily the British Mandate government, which according to Lehi was the biggest hitch in the plans for a Jewish homeland. Far more radical than the other groups (such as Haganah and Etzel), Lehi was also known as the “Stern Gang” and carried out numerous attacks on both the British troops and international diplomats, earning themselves hefty bounties offered by the British government. At the museum I learned that, in the hands of the British, many of the captured members of Lehi were sent to various countries in Africa as expulsion, including Kenya and Sudan, once it became clear that local imprisonment wasn’t enough of a deterrent. One story that our guide told us was of two Lehi operatives who were captured and kept in a local prison. The two men decided that they would blow themselves up, along with as many British soldiers as possible, on the day of their execution. With copious amounts of ingenuity, they constructed a grenade inside of an orange, lining the inner walls of the peel with shrapnel. However, much to their dismay, a rabbi offered to be with them at the gallows so they had no choice but to scrap their plan lest they blow up the rabbi as well. So, the night before their would-be hanging, the two Lehi operatives stood together, orange grenade against their chests, and ended their lives.
On the top floor of the museum is the aforementioned apartment where Avraham Stern was killed. Kept exactly as it was some seventy years ago, the room’s only modern accessory is a flat-screen TV which depicts the story of his assassination in A/V form. I’ve always wondered when visiting cities with historical significance as to the previous “happenings” that may have occurred at that location fifty, a hundred, or even 2,000 years ago. I’m sure there are hundreds of people living in Tel Aviv who own apartments once used as safe houses and meeting rooms by the Palmach or Etzel, for example, who spend their whole lives never knowing what incredible stories the walls could tell should they be granted the power of speech. However, despite the Zionist glory and grandeur, Lehi was definitely not exempt from human losses and this remembrance room located beside Avraham Stern’s old room portrays the fallen from Lehi’s ranks:
As soon as our tour was over we were given a few minutes to poke about and then we were rushed out. From the museum we walked through the streets of Tel Aviv, in some of the strongest wind I’ve ever encountered, until we boarded our tour bus. I thought that our trip was over and that we were heading back to base but I was wrong… Next destination: The Olympic Experience:
Just to firmly announce my beliefs – something I tend not to get into on this blog, I am fundamentally against the Olympics. I don’t agree with the whole idea, especially its Hellenistic founding, and I think that every time Israel participates in the modern Olympics the outcome is more bad than good (ie BBC scandal of 2012, Munich Massacre of 1972, etc). That being said, I still must hand it to the designers of The Olympic Experience for creating a very interesting showcase – particularly the audio-visual presentation, which is state-of-the-art.
There were some notable parts, which I enjoyed, such as the video about the Munich Massacre which included an interview with Esther Roth-Shachamorov who was one of the female athletes representing Israel that year. Our guides were quite enthusiastic about the Olympics and several of us tried the hands-on activities, as if to compare oneself to the physically prepared bodies of the athletes that participate in the Olympics.
However, despite the glamour of the Olympics and the ultra-modern design of the “Experience”, the topic didn’t appeal to me much so I am at a loss as to what to write. If the Olympics does, in fact, interest you, then by all means, go check this place out. But if you share in my beliefs, perhaps you’d agree that the Lehi Museum was the highlight of the day.
Until next trip (which at this rate may be this week)!