From the Counsels of Our Heart

Stand for Israel  |  October 25, 2022

Levi Eshkol speaks at farewell party for David Ben-Gurion, 1963
(Photo: Fritz Cohen/GPO)

Of Israel’s many founding fathers, Levi Eshkol is among the most inspiring, and he’s this week’s Israeli You Should Know. Born October 25, 1895, in a shtetl in present-day Ukraine, Eshkol joined the burgeoning Zionist movement as a boy and made aliyah (immigrated to the Holy Land) at 19.

A New Olim

Once in then-Ottoman Palestine, Eshkol worked building irrigation tunnels for orchards, then served in the Jewish Legion during World War I. After the war, he founded Kibbutz Degania Bet, which became his home. Levi Eshkol also helped found the Haganah, the precursor to today’s Israel Defense Forces (IDF), helping prepare the Holy Land to become the modern state of Israel.

During the earliest days of Hitler’s Nazi regime, Levi Eshkol lived in Berlin, where his work allowed tens of thousands of European Jews make aliyah, escaping the horrors of the Holocaust to come.

Founding Israel

Returning to the Holy Land at the onset of World War II, Eshkol served in the Haganah high command until Israel won her independence. During this time Eshkol laid the foundation for the IDF, and served as the Israeli Ministry of Defense’s first Director-General.

Many Jews from around the world flocked to the new Jewish state. And Levi Eshkol solved the problem of what to do with them, settling the new olim (immigrants) on the farms needed to feed this young nation, saying:

“We didn’t know exactly what to do with these Jews. Then we interjected from the counsels of our heart, and from the experience that we had amassed thus far, and said: A desolate country, a desolate people; these two things must cause one another to blossom. From this, the idea was born to launch an extensive agricultural settlement operation and absorb a large part of the immigrants.”

A Great Leader

After serving many roles in the Israeli government, Levi Eshkol at last led Israel as her third Prime Minister, beginning in 1963. Eshkol served in this role throughout the Six-Day War, which saw Israel reunify the Holy City of Jerusalem.

The war took a toll on Eshkol’s health, however, and he died of a heart attack in February 1969. Laid to rest on Mount Herzl, Levi Eshkol became the first Israeli Prime Minister buried in the Great Leaders of the Nation, as he truly served as one of Israel’s great leaders and founding fathers.