Israelis You Should Know: Esther Cailingold

The Fellowship  |  July 28, 2017

A black and white image of Esther Cailingold
Israelis You Should Know: Esther Cailingold

Lived: June 28, 1925 – May 29, 1948

Known for: A British-born schoolteacher, Cailingold fought for Israel during the 1948 War of Independence and was killed during the battle for Jerusalem’s Old City.

Why you should know her: Born to a Jewish family of Poland extraction in London, England, Esther studied English but also developed a fervent belief in Zionism. This was due to her father having founded Poland’s Young Mizrachi movement. It was said that “Esther was a Zionist…before she knew of any formal movement or heard her first Zionist speech.” This only strengthened as she became aware of Hitler’s rise to power, growing anti-Semitism throughout Europe, and the horrors of the Holocaust. Esther’s staunch Zionism ultimately led her to make aliyah (immigrate to Israel) in 1946 in order to teach English in Jerusalem.

Esther arrived in Jerusalem before Israel’s independence, and thus witnessed street violence against Jews, curfews and other restrictions against the city’s Jewish residents, and attaks on Jewish property. This led her to join the Haganah (the precursor to today’s IDF) in 1947, while still teaching full-time. The next year, however, Esther quit her teaching job and made being a soldier for Israel her full-time occupation. She not only performed her military duties, but acted as the Haganah’s English-language announcer.

At the same time, Esther was posted to the garrison that defended Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter, the most vulnerable of the city’s Jewish areas. It was here where a small force of Jewish soldiers would hold out for two weeks against overwhelming odds. And it is here where Esther Cailingold would lose her life.

Esther entered the Old City, under the guise of a teacher, on May 7, 1948, reporting to the Haganah commander. Her role was to supply the Jewish Quarter’s outposts with arms, ammunition, food, and water. Over a week later, during the enemy’s first sustained attack on the Jewish Quarter, Esther was wounded. But after receiving a field dressing, she returned to her duties.

Then, on May 26, the Arab Legion arrived and began to shell the Jewish Quarter. Unable to move from house to house delivering supplies because of the heavy shelling, Esther instead began to defend the Quarter as a gunner. Alas, a building she entered exploded and Esther’s spine was shattered. She was taken to the Jewish Quarter’s hospital, but when it, too, came under fire, she was moved to another area. All the while, Esther remained conscious, talking to others, reading the Bible, and praying.

After the Jewish defenders were forced to surrender two days later, Esther and the other wounded were again moved. Early on the morning of May 29, 1948, she fell into a coma and died.

Along with the 38 other brave fighters who died defending the Old City, Esther Cailingold was posthumously enlisted in the IDF, and her body was interred at the Mount Herzl military cemetery. May her memory be a blessing.

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