The Angel in White

Stand for Israel  |  October 4, 2022

Esther Arditi, The Angel in White
(Photo: IAF)

Queen Esther. Golda Meir. Gal Gadot. All strong and wonderful Israeli women. And as the Jewish state prepares to observe Yom Kippur, we’d also like to introduce you to a hero of the Yom Kippur War, and the only female recipient of the Medal of Distinguished Service, Esther Arditi.

The night of the 29th of November, 1954 was dark and rainy. The lights of the takeoff runway at Hatzor Airbase had shut off as a result of the turbulent weather, and the combat pilot Yaakov Salomon and navigator Shlomo Hertzman realized that there was no other choice–they would have to land the plane without seeing the runway underneath them.

Within a short while, young paramedic Esther Arditi–who had become certified only a week prior–was called to tend to the fallen plane that had burst into flames. The rain, inexperience and stress didn’t stop her. Even when the ambulance that she was steering (without a license) had sunk in mud, Esther continued toward the burning plane. The desperate calls of the rescue crew members, who instructed her to steer clear of the area, did nothing to instill fear in her. Out of the flames of plane remnants she rescued Hertzman, who was badly injured. He told her that the pilot, Yaakov, was lying unconscious in the cockpit.

Arditi ran back to the plane and rescued him as well. Moments after, the fire reached the fuel tanks of the plane and it exploded. Fortunately, Arditi managed to get the injured pilot and navigator into a canal in the area and they were evacuated to a hospital. Navigator Hertzman succumbed to his wounds, and pilot Salomon eventually recovered. For her heroic actions that night Private Esther Arditi received an honorary citation from the Chief of Staff of the IDF, Moshe Dayan, which was subsequently converted into a Medal of Distinguished Service.

[O]n February 20th 2003, Esther passed away while visiting relatives in Italy. She left a legacy of a life in which she moved to Israel at 16, enlisted in the IDF, received the Medal of Distinguished Service, accompanied the Paratroopers division to the Western Wall in the Six Day War and raised a family in Israel.

Because of her heroic actions – carried out while wearing her nurse’s uniform, a uniform she had only just earned the right to wear – Esther was nicknamed the “Angel in White,” and a street in Jerusalem was named as such in her honor.

Even after this heroism, as well as her accompanying IDF troops to the Western Wall in 1967, Esther again served her biblical homeland during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. There, she served as a nurse in a field hospital near the front lines of the fighting for the Suez Canal. For this bravery, she received a special letter of gratitude from Israeli President Ephraim Katzir.

Long after her days of nursing service were over, Esther continued to share her love of the Holy Land – as a tour guide for visitors there to see this land, and people, so dear to us, and so dear to God.