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In this week’s kvutsah we take a look at the Meraglim (spies) that were sent to check out Eretz Yisrael, and then focus in
Way before Tom Cruise was given his mission impossible, twelve men were given a difficult and challenging task. These men were sent to spy out the
1) Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, 2) “Send out men for yourself to explore the Canaánite territory that I am about to give Bnei Yisrael. Send out one man for each patriarchal tribe. Each one shall be a person of high rank.” 3) Moshe sent them from the
However, most of the spies (ten to be exact) choose to be honest with the Jewish people and tell them what they saw there. A country surrounded by enemies who are mightier and more numerous than they are. They tell the people of the dangerous nations who they would live amongst. They are so insistent on not entering this country they begin to exaggerate somewhat in telling the people that...
32) …“The land through which we have passed to spy it out is a land that devours its inhabitants. All the people that we saw there were huge! 33) …We were like grasshoppers in our eyes and so we were in their eyes.” (Bamidbar 13 32-33)
Understandably the Jewish people believe what they hear and they turn to their leaders, Moshe and Aharon, shocked and hurt at the thought that Hashem would want them to be in such a country. They cannot understand why they should want to go to such a place.
At that point, the remaining two spies, Calev and Yehoshua speak out against the other ten spies and try to reason with the Jewish people who are in a state of panic. They try to reassure the Jewish people that they are entering a country that is indeed flowing with milk and honey, but Am Yisrael are not interested. The ‘story’ continues with Bnei Yisrael being punished and interestingly we are told that the Meraglim return and talk about Eretz Yisrael on Tisha B’Av.
As we see in the account of the Meraglim, these weren’t random blokes that were picked off the streets to check out Eretz Yisrael, these were the cream of the crop, the nesiyim (princes) of each tribe that were hand picked and sent off. It would appear that not much has changed since then – well, if we look at the spying game on a rather simplistic level at least. I mean James Bond, and even to an extent, Austin Powers, spying seems to be quite a glamorous life style. The funky suits, the fast cars, the latest gadgets, everything – it’s so cool!
Or is it? How often do we stop and think about what spying actually means. The whole concept is mental! It is possibly one of the most dangerous things you can get yourself into. Placing yourself in enemy territory, alone… No help, no one you can truly trust, always wary not to give yourself away, and constantly looking over your shoulder and wondering what if…
We will soon take a glimpse at a ‘case study’ of one of Israel’s most famous spies, Eli Cohen, but before we do so, let’s consider one thing quickly. An integral part to a role as a spy is being someone you are not - taking on a new persona.
Earlier in the year we learnt together how a name is more than something people call you. Remember this?
There are 3 names by which a person is known…
The name which his parents give him.
The name which others call him.
The name which he gives himself.
A name is a word that sums up so much of who you are and what you stand for. Taking this into consideration, imagine taking on a new name, and with it a whole new identity. It’s starting to sound really scary!
A person’s identity is their individuality – it is what makes you, you! What else makes you the person you are? And do you think that changing things about your identity changes things that are integral to your personality? So many questions! Think about it. If it doesn’t make a difference though, taking on a new identity is definitely something very tricky to do. So, let’s learn from the master…
Eli Cohen 1924-1965
Eli Cohen was born in Alexandria, Egypt, on December 26, 1924. He was one of 8 children and the first boy for his proud parents. Eli was received his education at Maimonides School where he was already singled out as an exceptional pupil. He continued his studies and soon also began to learn languages including Arabic, French and Hebrew. He was quite a solitary, reserved figure; content with reading rather than playing football, but after receiving a camera as a bar mitzvah present he soon took a keen interest in photography – a hobby that would prove to be invaluable in later years. Other pastimes that helped develop his powers of perception and observation were spotting and learning to recognise different makes and vintages of cars, and looking at an object for a limited amount of time, covering it and then trying to draw it as accurately as possible.
In 1944 Eli joined the Zionist Youth of Alexandria, which he worked tirelessly for. After a year the Egyptian authorities forced him to leave his university degree and he had to move underground to continue his Zionist work. After Israel’s declaration in 1948, there were severe repercussions on Jews in Arab countries and Egypt’s Jewish population realised that they had to get out. Eli’s mission was clear. He and a friend worked on mass emigration, which is how he managed to get his family as well as thousands of others into Israel and how he was nearly killed. Eli Cohen arrived in Israel on February 8, 1957.
Eli Cohen, at 29, offered his services to the Israeli Intelligence Services but was rebuked twice. He wasn't even drafted into regular service, but was placed in a reserve Israeli Air Force formation as a logistics clerk. On August 31, 1959, he married a beautiful Iraqi-born Jew, Nadia Majald and he worked as an accountant. By 1960, however, Israeli Intelligence was ready to take another look at Eli Cohen. Eli, after all, was born in an Arab country, had oriental features, was known to be selfless and fearless in pursuit of a cause, and had knowledge of Arabic, English, and French. The border with Syria was heating up as well. One day in 1960 Israeli Intelligence approached him about working for them again. At first he refused. But within a month he had lost his Tel Aviv-based accountancy job. When Intelligence came by a second time, he jumped at it.
The Israeli Secret Service can roughly be split up into the following sections – there may be more, but if I told you, I’d have to kill you…
· The Intelligence and research Service, known as Mossad, whose agents work mostly abroad.
· The Army intelligence Service called Modi’in. This is the military branch of the Secret Service concerned with the operations of the armed forces hostile to Israel.
· Israel’s Internal Security service called Shin Bet (the initials of sherutei habitachon – security services), which is the counter espionage service inside Israel.
· A Research and Information Department that forms an integral part of the Foreign Ministry.
· An Investigation Branch of the Israeli Police Force
(‘The Spy from Israel’ p29)
Eli Cohen began an extensive and exhaustive training for the Mossad. He was taught high-speed evasive driving techniques, Weapons proficiency (especially with a wide variety of small arms), topography, map reading, sabotage, and, most importantly, radio transmissions and cryptography. These skills were instrumental in ensuring the safety and survival of one Kamal Amin Ta'abet (or Ta’abes): Eli Cohen's new identity. Intelligence created a completely new identity for him. Kamal Amin Ta'abet was born in Beirut, Lebanon, to Syrian Muslim parents. His father's name was Amin Ta'bet, and his mother's Sa'adia Ibrahim. According to his fictional biography, in 1948 "the family moved to Argentina, where they opened a successful textile business." Kamal Amin Ta'abet's (Eli Cohen) return to Syria would ostensibly be the fulfillment of a lifelong patriotic dream.
Cohen arrived in Damascus in February 1962, posing as a businessman from Argentina who had returned to his native land. At the end of 1961 Syria dissolved its union with Egypt, which had lasted a mere three years. The Ba'ath party was rising to power and Eli Cohen wanted to be there when it actually took power. He carefully cultivated contacts with the Ba'ath leadership, which included the Syrian military attaché in Argentina. He continued his social life, spending a lot of time in cafes listening to political gossip. He also held parties at his home, for high-placed Syrian ministers, businessmen, and others, who used Eli’s apartment for well for flirting and the like... At these parties such highly placed officials would talk freely of their work and army plans. Eli, who would pretend to be drunk, remained sober and listened carefully and even provided advice asked for by government officials! Eli became the most sought after bachelor in the Syrian capital. He did not object, to the idea of a ladies' man reputation but there was a dodgy time when his mates wanted to marry Eli off, but it passed.
With time he was taken even more into the confidence of the highest echelons of power. When the Ba'ath took power in 1963, Eli was firmly entrenched in Syrian high society. Meanwhile, every few days he transmitted important information to his Israeli handlers via a radio transmitter he had hidden in his room. He was also able to report on various specific projects that he had been asked to look into. He was able to find out from his friends how the Syrians planned to divert water away from Israel. Due to this information, the Israeli Air Force was able to obliterate the Syrian plans for the diversion scheme by shelling and bombing the bulldozers and other equipment used for the scheme in early 1964.
Eli's connections enabled him to be taken to the Golan Heights - a major strategic asset for Syria from 1948-67. The Golan Heights defences were top-secret and closed only to top military staff. Nevertheless, Kamal Amin Ta'abet (Eli Cohen) succeeded in visiting each and every position. With senior staff officers acting as guides, Eli Cohen was provided an in-depth intelligence briefing of monumental proportions. They even photographed Eli on the Golan Heights, looking over into Israel, alongside the most high-ranking Syrian officers. He remembered and passed on to Israeli Intelligence the positioning of every piece of Syrian artillery; tank traps, designed to impede any Israeli attack, were also identified and memorized for future targeting. One of the more famous aspects of his spying regarded a trip he took to the Golan Heights. As the Syrian Army officer explained to Eli the fortifications the Syrian Army had built, Eli suggested that the Syrians plant trees there to deceive the Israelis into thinking it was unfortified, as well as to provide shade and beauty for the soldiers stationed there. The Syrian officer readily agreed - and Eli immediately passed the information onto Israel. Based on the eucalyptus trees, Israel knew exactly where the Syrian fortifications were. This is just one example of how invaluable Eli’s work was in helping Israel for the 6-day war (1967).
Periodically Eli would return to Israel to speak with his Israeli handlers and visit his wife and small children. Altogether, he returned to Israel three times between 1962 and 1965.
The saddest part of Eli’s story is his capture, mostly because it completely by chance. The Syrian government had been provided with irrefutable proof that an illegal transmitter was being used in Eli’s district, as it had been used during a power cut. They managed to pin point where the transmission was coming from and caught Eli Cohen. He was tortured, but he wouldn't give away any incriminating information about Israel. His captors later remarked on his noble bearing and his courage despite the horrific Syrian interrogation methods. He then underwent a show trial - his verdict was predetermined.
World leaders, wealthy individuals, the Israeli government, the Pope, and others all intervened on his behalf, but to no avail. He was hanged on 18th May 1965. He wrote a last letter to his wife before he mounted the scaffold in the central square in Damascus to a seething crowd. He was 41 years old and left a widow and 3 daughters and a son. The execution was broadcast on Syrian television. After his execution, a white parchment filled with anti-Zionist writing was put on his body and he was left hanging for six hours.
What is perhaps most amazing about Eli Cohen is that he was genuinely loved by so many of the top Syrian leaders. He genuinely fitted into life in the Syrian capital and he was never suspected of being a spy until the very end. It is for these reasons Eli Cohen is known as Israel's greatest spy. Through his nearly four years as a spy in Syria Eli Cohen succeeded in sending a steady flow of extremely valuable back to Israel. To this day Syria refuses to return the remains of this Israeli hero for burial in his own country.
Mission Impossible – to learn about the 12 Meraglim (spies)
· Learn the text
· Mission Impossible – a trigger has to be entering the room singing the theme tune and ducking and diving (sensibly) and then giving your kvutsah a ‘mission’. (This can be expanded and used as a huge sviva tochnit tying in the different aims, and looking at different aspects of Eli’s espionage e.g. ID games and memory games.) If you do this, make sure you keep it fitting in with the Meraglim!
· Spy around Israel – Make a huge board game / map of Israel. When chanichim land on certain towns they have to perform a task to gain points e.g. in Yaffo they could have a passing oranges under their necks race (single sex), in the Negev they can have camel (piggy back) races carefully etc.
To consider taking on a new identity
· Give each chanich a passport or identity card with a name, date of birth, country of origin and a few other random facts. They must take on this identity throughout the kvutsah, and if questioned at any point throughout the kvutsah about themselves they must answer correctly or face a forfeit – oooh
· Mr. & Mrs. – Give 2 chanichim characters. Send one out of the room and ask the other some questions that they must answer in character. Then bring the chanich/a back in, ask them the same questions and see if they give the same answers.
To learn about Eli Cohen
· Factual Bingo – Make each chanich / pair a board with facts about Eli Cohen on (the boards should not be the same although make sure some main facts e.g his new name are on every one.) The madrich/a reads out facts and if they have it on their board the get to cover it up (remember to bring small scraps of paper to cover squares with). The first to finish shouts out ‘bingo’ and wins. You can play a few times and then ask them to try and order the facts on their boards.
· Treasure hunt (so they are spying out for clues…) with facts about Eli on them. Make sure emphasis is placed on the facts they collect about Eli rather than the treasure hunt. (and as always, make sure you don’t disrupt other kvutsot and that only one kvutsah is running around at once – accompanied by their Madrichim!)