Ben­jamin Dunkel­man: fight­ing for the Jews and Is­rael

The Canadian Jewish News (Montreal) - - News - — SHERI SHEFA

Given his con­tri­bu­tions to pre-state Is­rael, both as a kib­butznik and a Machal vol­un­teer, it’s not a stretch to say that Is­rael wouldn’t be the same to­day, if not for the late Ben­jamin Dunkel­man.

The son of Pol­ish im­mi­grants, Dunkel­man was born in Toronto in 1913, to Tip Top Tai­lors founders David and Rose Dunkel­man. But it was Rose – an ar­dent Zion­ist who opened their es­tate to vis­it­ing lead­ers of the Zion­ist cause – who un­doubt­edly in­flu­enced her son’s com­mit­ment to Is­rael.

Dunkel­man first be­came ac­quainted with life in Pales­tine, when he vol­un­teered to work on a kib­butz in 1931, at age 18.

Although he re­turned to Toronto the fol­low­ing year to help with the fam­ily busi­ness, he re­turned again to pre-state Is­rael in the late 1930s, to help de­velop set­tle­ments.

When the Sec­ond World War broke out, Dunkel­man didn’t hes­i­tate to en­list. Af­ter be­ing re­jected by the Royal Cana­dian Navy be­cause of his Jewish faith, he joined the Queen’s Own Ri­fles of Canada.

Among his many ac­com­plish­ments that raised him through the ranks from pri­vate to ma­jor by the end of the war, Dunkel­man was part of the sec­ond wave to land on Juno Beach on D-day, June 6, 1944. Through­out his ca­reer, he earned a num­ber of com­men­da­tions, as well as a Dis­tin­guished Ser­vice Or­der for his ser­vice in the Hochwald cam­paign in Ger­many. Two months later, Hitler com­mit­ted sui­cide and the war was ef­fec­tively over.

Dunkel­man was of­fered com­mand of the Queen’s Own Ri­fles af­ter the war, but opted in­stead to re­turn home and im­merse him­self in the fam­ily busi­ness.

But it wasn’t long be­fore Dunkel­man jumped back into bat­tle – this time, as a mem­ber of the Machal, a unit of for­eign Jewish and non-jewish vol­un­teers who fought for Is­rael’s in­de­pen­dence.

In ad­di­tion to re­cruit­ing Cana­di­ans to join the Ha­ganah, Dunkel­man was in­stru­men­tal in break­ing the siege of Jerusalem, which was com­pletely cut off from sup­plies and on the verge of star­va­tion. His ef­forts helped es­tab­lish a route that al­lowed much-needed sup­plies into the city.

Dunkel­man also led the army di­vi­sion that cap­tured the Galilee and the city of Nazareth. Gesher Ben, a bridge on the Le­banese bor­der, was named in his hon­our.

These sto­ries and more are de­tailed in Dunkel­man’s 1976 mem­oir, Dual Al­le­giance, but there was one story that Dunkel­man chose to omit, one that was brought to light af­ter the book’s pub­li­ca­tion, by his ghost­writer, the late Peretz Kidron.

Ac­cord­ing to Kidron, Dunkel­man chose to omit a story that de­tailed his role in sav­ing the civil­ians of the Arab city of Nazareth from ex­pul­sion, fol­low­ing their sur­ren­der in July 1948.

“Haim Laskov (came) to me with as­tound­ing or­ders: Nazareth’s civil­ian pop­u­la­tion was to be evac­u­ated! I was shocked and hor­ri­fied. I told him I would do noth­ing of the sort – in view of our prom­ises to safe­guard the city’s peo­ple, such a move would be both su­per­flu­ous and harm­ful. I re­minded him that scarcely a day ear­lier, he and I, as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Is­raeli army, had signed the sur­ren­der doc­u­ment in which we solemnly pledged to do noth­ing to harm the city or its pop­u­la­tion,” he wrote.

Dunkel­man’s wife Yael, also a vol­un­teer in the army, whom he met and mar­ried dur­ing the 1948 Arab-is­raeli war, told the Toronto Star in 2015 that Dunkel­man was “a lov­ing per­son. He was a hu­man­i­tar­ian – that was the essence of it.… The idea of forc­ing civil­ians from their homes was never some­thing he would ever be able to do.”

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