#544 (s5768-34 / 24 Nissan 5768)
Safed Liberation Day
During the War of Independence, Rabbi Avraham Zeide Heller donned his Sabbath clothes before joining in the defence.
Safed Liberation Day
In 1948 the Jews of Tsfat (Safed) were outnumbered by Arabs ten to one. The security situation was touch-and-go throughout the early months of the year. Syria supported the Arabs, and the British attempted to foil Jewish military efforts.
War of Independence approached, both the Arab forces and the Jewish forces declared
that Tsfat would be their "Capitol of the North." Indeed, one of the
biggest battles of the war was fought in Tsfat.
The city's population then was about 1500 Jews and 12,000 Arabs with another 40,000 Arabs settled in the surrounding area. The Jewish community was so obviously outnumbered that the British Governor "generously" offered them safe conduct from the city, giving them an hour to pack. Trucks lined up in front of the police station, but the Jews elected to remain.
The Jewish residents of the city were largely elderly religious people. When the war broke out, there were 221 Jews of fighting age, with an additional 136 who were brought in to augment their numbers. 10,700 Arab soldiers were deployed to meet them. Yet, the Jews stood their ground, even in the face of severe food shortages. Tsfat civilians huddled in their homes as the battles raged day after day,
the small contingent of Palmach fighters sent to help defend the residents and
liberate the city were able to surreptitiously enter the town late one Friday
night, the then chief rabbi of Tsfat, Rabbi Avraham Zeida Heller, ordered
the congregants in shul the next morning to go home and cook for the ravenous
fighters on that Shabbat Day. Although very little food was available because
of the Arab blockade, they were able to use the flour of the matzah bakery (today
the Nahalat Naftali Yeshiva and Kollel) that remained from Passover.
For a day they were trapped in the building, unable to retreat the few yards back to the hospital (where the Bar Ilan campus is today) until the following night. In response to the abortive offensive, the Arabs brought reinforcements to Tsfat, positioned artillery on Mount Meron, and began to bombard the Jewish Quarter.
Tsfat's Jewish population was much worse off for the bungled attack. More ominously, Jewish intelligence sources learned that the Mufti of Jerusalem, then in Lebanon, meant to launch an attack on May 11 and establish Tsfat as his temporary capital until he conquered Jerusalem.
New plans were drawn up and four days later (May 10) the Jews launched an attack on three Arab positions: the Canaan and Jerusalem Street police stations and the citadel. The Jews ran up this road, again meeting heavy resistance. This time armed with a light bazooka, they took the citadel.
That same night Tsfat's entire Arab population suddenly fled the city. Why?
old Czech artillery piece, renamed the Davidka, frightened the Arab population
of the city with its tremendous noise. Although it made more noise than damage,
the Davidka is given credit for scaring the Arab population and fighters into
leaving. Due to an unusual rain shower that began shortly after the cannon blast
-how often does it rain in Israel in May?-- the Arabs became convinced that the
Jews had acquired the atom bomb and the rain was the radioactive fallout. So they
fled the city entirely, Arab civilians and soldiers alike, in pure panic, in the
midst of a battle in which they had the upper hand. A miracle! (One which bears
striking similarities to the one described in the Prophets [II Kings 7:3-20, also
the haftorah for the weekly reading of Metzora] of the Syrian abandonment of their
siege of Shomron (Samaria). - yt)
Thus, five days before the State of Israel was proclaimed, Tsfat was liberated. Since then, the 30th day of the Jewish month of Nissan, which is also the first day of Rosh Chodesh for the succeeding month of Iyar, has been joyfully celebrated by its citizens as Safed Independence Day.**
** Editor's note. This date is actually doubly significant in Tsfat -- it is also the yahrzeit-hilula of Rabbi Chaim Vital, the main student of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria and the only one permited to write down his teachings. He is the compiler of Kitvei HaArizal.
Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages.
A 48 page soft-covered booklet containing eleven of his most popular stories may be ordered on our store site.
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