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Arthur Szyk and The Modern Maccabees

Arthur Szyk. Trumpeldor’s Defense of Tel Hai. Lodz, 1936

On this Hanukkah, entering week 10 in the war with Hamas, can we not call the men and women of Israel—who fight for the right to Jewish survival—our “modern Maccabees?” Indeed, in the context of Arab terror attacks in the land of Israel in 1920 and again in 1936, Arthur Szyk created a master artwork of heroic Jews destined to be called The Modern Maccabees.

It was one year after the 1935 Nuremberg racial laws were enacted in Germany that Szyk, in Łódź, Poland, painted Trumpeldor’s Defense of Tel Hai. This illumination encouraged Jews in 1936 Palestine to defend themselves against Arab marauders in the same spirit and with the same courage and heroism as did the Jews of the Galilean Tel Hai settlement in 1920, led by the legendary Captain Joseph Trumpeldor. The timing of this painting was simultaneously directed toward the Jews of Germany and Poland, calling upon them to respond heroically toward the antisemitic mobs and chants in their respective countries. The artwork was to be renamed The Modern Maccabees a few years later.

Today, we know what those chants and actions of Arab terror groups of the 20s and 30s have morphed into–the Hamas massacre of 10/7. We know where the seeds of German nationalism of the 20s and 30s led—to the single most traumatic event in Jewish history. It hardly seems surprising then that the Mufti of Jerusalem and Adolph Hitler would adopt each other as friends, as comrades of evil, who had Jew hatred and mass murder as their shared goal. Hatred of Jews, antisemitism, and its physical assault on the integrity of Jewish lives, now as then, has re-invaded our planet. It has forcefully spread as an ancient, medieval, and modern disease throughout our global sphere among differing cultures, peoples and lands, united in common cause. Against this backdrop, Jews and their friends worldwide can look to the modern Israeli Maccabees of our day—the Israel Defense Forces—for inspiration to act Maccabean-like in their own way. By speaking out in defense of their actions and by lending larger than life financial support to organizations that do likewise we prevent ourselves from becoming merely bystanders to history rather than active participants in shaping it.

Arthur Szyk unveiling The Modern Maccabees in the office of the Committee for a Jewish Army. New York, July 1942.

By mid-July 1942, with more than one million of his people murdered by the Nazis, and two and one-half million Jews being starved to death in ghettos while millions more awaited the German extermination camps, Arthur Szyk reinforced his themes of Jewish self-defense and heroism by symbolically renaming his Trumpeldor piece The Modern Maccabees. It coincided with the mission of the Committee for a Jewish Army of Stateless and Palestinian Jews (a group that advocated the formation of a Jewish fighting force recruited from refugees of Hitler Germany and young Jews from Palestine) who would fight beside the allies of America, the United Kingdom, and free Europe. In a broader sense, Szyk’s work of art also called upon these nations directly, led by America, his adopted home, to courageously sustain their mission in defeating the Axis of Evil and thereby rescue Jewish lives.

A single enlarged blowup of this painting, in black and white, was presented to the Committee for a Jewish Army and hung in its New York offices. To mark the occasion, Szyk unveiled his call-to-arms by lifting an American flag covering it.  The artist-warrior understood the symbolism, the strength of the United States, and the role it could uniquely play in defeating the enemies of the Jewish people. Today its warships standing in the Mediterranean do not go unnoticed, shedding light on America’s military standing with Israel and its people amidst the sea of raging waters in the Middle East.

In the bottom center of Szyk’s painting, he has calligraphed the Hebrew words attributed to the first century sage, Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” Surely, the soldiers of the IDF stand on the front lines of self-defense, but which nations and peoples will project moral clarity and physical strength in joining America to stand beside Israel in its fight? Who are the leaders and members of that committee today?

At this hour, the descendants of Szyk’s modern Maccabees, like those Maccabees of the first Hanukkah of old, are prepared to echo the dying words of Joseph Trumpedor: “It is good to die for our land.” To this we may well add: “It is good to live safely in our land.”

Irvin Ungar is the curator emeritus of The Arthur Szyk Society. His book, Arthur Szyk: Soldier in Art, was a winner of the 2017 National Jewish Book Award.

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Israeli Official: ‘Important Operation’ in Yemen Sends Strong Message to Shiite Axis

Drones are seen at a site at an undisclosed location in Iran, in this handout image obtained on April 20, 2023. Photo: Iranian Army/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS

i24 NewsA senior Israeli security official spoke to i24NEWS on Saturday on condition of the retaliatory strike carried out by the Israel Air Force against the Houthi jihadists in Yemen.

“This is an important operation which signals that there’s room for further escalation, and sends a very strong message to the entire Shiite axis.”

“We understood there is a high probability of counter attacks, but if we do not respond, the meaning is even worse. Israel has updated the US prior to the operation.”

The strike on Hodeida came after long-range Iranian-made drone hit a building in central Tel Aviv, killing one man and wounded several others.

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IDF Confirms Striking ‘Terrorist Houthi Regime’ in Yemen’s Hodeida

Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi addresses followers via a video link at the al-Shaab Mosque, formerly al-Saleh Mosque, in Sanaa, Yemen, Feb. 6, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

i24 NewsThe Israeli military on Saturday confirmed striking a port in Yemen controlled by the Houthi jihadists, a day after the Iranian proxy group perpetrated a deadly drone attack on Tel Aviv.

“A short while ago, IDF fighter jets struck military targets of the Houthi terrorist regime in the area of the Al Hudaydah Port in Yemen in response to the hundreds of attacks carried out against the State of Israel in recent months.”

After Houthi drone attack on Tel Aviv, reports and footage out of Yemen of air strikes hitting Hodeida

— Video used in accordance with clause 27A of Israeli copyright law

— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) July 20, 2024

Yoav Gallant, the defense minister, issued a statement saying “The fire that is currently burning in Hodeidah, is seen across the Middle East and the significance is clear. The Houthis attacked us over 200 times. The first time that they harmed an Israeli citizen, we struck them. And we will do this in any place where it may be required.”

“The blood of Israeli citizens has a price,” Gallant added. “This has been made clear in Lebanon, in Gaza, in Yemen, and in other places – if they will dare to attack us, the result will be identical.”

Gallant: ‘The fire currently burning in Hodeida is seen across the region and the significance is clear… The blood of Israeli citizens has a price, as has been made clear in Lebanon, in Gaza, in Yemen and in other places – if they dare attack us, the result will be identical.’

— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) July 20, 2024

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One Part of Cyprus Mourns, the Other Rejoices 50 Years After Split

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan leaves after attending a military parade to mark the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus in response to a short-lived Greek-inspired coup, in the Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus, in the divided city of Nicosia, Cyprus July 20, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

Greek Cypriots mourned and Turkish Cypriots rejoiced on Saturday, the 50th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of part of the island after a brief Greek inspired coup, with the chances of reconciliation as elusive as ever.

The ethnically split island is a persistent source of tension between Greece and Turkey, which are both partners in NATO but are at odds over numerous issues.

Their differences were laid bare on Saturday, with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attending a celebratory military parade in north Nicosia to mark the day in 1974 when Turkish forces launched an offensive that they call a “peace operation.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was due later on Saturday to attend an event in the south of the Nicosia to commemorate what Greeks commonly refer to as the “barbaric Turkish invasion.” Air raid sirens sounded across the area at dawn.

Mitsotakis posted an image of a blood-stained map of Cyprus on his LinkedIn page with the words “Half a century since the national tragedy of Cyprus.”

There was jubilation in the north.

“The Cyprus Peace Operation saved Turkish Cypriots from cruelty and brought them to freedom,” Erdogan told crowds who gathered to watch the parade despite stifling midday heat, criticizing the south for having a “spoiled mentality” and seeing itself as the sole ruler of Cyprus.

Peace talks are stalled at two seemingly irreconcilable concepts – Greek Cypriots want reunification as a federation. Turkish Cypriots want a two-state settlement.

Erdogan left open a window to dialogue although he said a federal solution, advocated by Greek Cypriots and backed by most in the international community, was “not possible.”

“We are ready for negotiations, to meet, and to establish long-term peace and resolution in Cyprus,” he said.

Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960, but a shared administration between Greek and Turkish Cypriots quickly fell apart in violence that saw Turkish Cypriots withdraw into enclaves and led to the dispatch of a U.N. peacekeeping force.

The crisis left Greek Cypriots running the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union since 2004 with the potential to derail Turkey’s own decades-long aspirations of joining the bloc.

It also complicates any attempts to unlock energy potential in the eastern Mediterranean because of overlapping claims. The region has seen major discoveries of hydrocarbons in recent years.


Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, whose office represents the Greek Cypriot community in the reunification dialogue, said the anniversary was a somber occasion for reflection and for remembering the dead.

“Our mission is liberation, reunification and solving the Cyprus problem,” he said. “If we really want to send a message on this tragic anniversary … it is to do anything possible to reunite Cyprus.”

Turkey, he said, continued to be responsible for violating human rights and international law over Cyprus.

Across the south, church services were held to remember the more than 3,000 people who died in the Turkish invasion.

“It was a betrayal of Cyprus and so many kids were lost. It wasn’t just my son, it was many,” said Loukas Alexandrou, 90, as he tended the grave of his son at a military cemetery.

In Turkey, state television focused on violence against Turkish Cypriots prior to the invasion, particularly on bloodshed in 1963-64 and in 1967.

Turkey’s invasion took more than a third of the island and expelled more than 160,000 Greek Cypriots to the south.

Reunification talks collapsed in 2017 and have been at a stalemate since. Northern Cyprus is a breakaway state recognized only by Turkey, and its Turkish Cypriot leadership wants international recognition.

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