A HAGANA MEMBER STANDING ON GUARD NEAR THE TRUMPELDOR MEMORIAL AT TEL HAI.
A HAGANA MEMBER STANDING ON GUARD NEAR THE TRUMPELDOR MEMORIAL AT TEL HAI. Photo by Zoltan Kluger, Government Press Office

November 21, 1880

Joseph Trumpeldor is born in Pyatigorsk, Russia, where collective communal life grew in popularity. He combined his interest in Zionism with the establishment of agricultural collectives in the Land of Israel.

Drafted into the Russian Army in 1902, he fought in the Russo-Japanese War. Despite losing his left arm, he went back into battle and was decorated for his bravery. Captured by the Japanese, he spent nearly two years in Japan as a prisoner of a war camp, where he organized a Zionist group among the other captured Jewish soldiers.

Joseph Trumpeldor
Joseph Trumpeldor Center for Israel Education

In 1912, he went to the Land of Israel to begin to put into practice his concepts of communal settlements. He began working at Kibbutz Degania and helped in organizing defense units of the Jewish settlements in the Galilee. Upon the outbreak of World War I, he was deported to Egypt for refusing to accept Ottoman citizenship. In Egypt, he organized the “Zion Mule Corps,” a force of 700 Jewish troops who had also been deported. Trumpeldor regarded this unit as the precursor to a Jewish military force which would someday liberate the Land of Israel. Trumpeldor and the Zion Mule Corps would fight alongside the British at Gallipoli in World War I.

Following the war, he returned to Russia where he both advocated for the establishment of special Jewish regiments within the Russian Army and established the He-Halutz movement, which trained Jewish youth for settlement in the Land of Israel.

Returning to the Land of Israel in 1919, while defending the Upper Galilee Jewish settlement at Tel Chai from Arab attack, he was killed along with seven other Jewish pioneers. His dying words were: “It’s good to die for our land.” His words and actions elevated him to the status of a national folk hero. Thereafter, the Zionist idea of working the land became increasingly intertwined with defending it with one’s life.

Find more details at the Center for Israel Education