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Volunteers from Abroad - Exhibition Opening


Dignitaries, army leaders and politicians attend opening of Volunteers from Abroad in Israel’s War of Independence  Exhibition


Over 4,500 women and men from 58 countries came to Israel to volunteer in the 1948 War of Independence, bringing with them military experience and expertise that proved crucial in Israel’s victory over the surrounding armies intent on her destruction. The stories of these volunteers from Machal, (a Hebrew acronym for Mitnadvei Chutz L’Aretz;  “Volunteers from Abroad”), are being commemorated in a pioneering new exhibition at Beit Hatfutsot entitled,  Volunteers from Abroad in Israel’s War of Independence that opened with a festive celebration this month. 

The exhibition opening was attended not only by leading dignitaries, army leaders and politicians but also by many of the former volunteers themselves, who expressed pride, nostalgia, and an unwavering and inspiring commitment to the well-being of the State of Israel. South African-born Smoky Simon, the Chairman of World Machal, recalled skill, grit, ingenuity, and determination – as well as his own experiences fighting in World War II – to help create the Israeli Air Force. He also listed some of the vital contributions of Machal volunteers, such as Col. David “Mickey” Marcus who was in charge of the Burma project and was responsible for removing the siege over Jerusalem.  “The Machalniks fought in every branch of the IDF, including Air Force, Navy, Artillery, Armored Corps, Infantry, Medical Corps, Engineers, Communications, Radar and Anti-Tank units,” he said. “Many held key positions of command. The Machalniks played a pivotal role in liberating the Galilee and the Negev.”


Jacky Cohen, South African volunteer pilot, 1948. Courtesy of the Machal collection

Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin congratulated and thanked the Machal volunteers. “Their arrival had a crucial impact on the survival of the Jewish people,” he said. “They were professional and determined. Some paid with their lives. Some returned home. And some fell in love with the land and stayed.”  Indeed, 123 of the volunteers fell in battle.  Brig. General Eli Shermeister, head of the IDF Education Corps, added, “The exhibition beautifully represents their courage, work and sacrifice.”

“Beit Hatfutsot is proud to host this very special exhibition,” said Beit Hatfutsot CEO Avinoam Armoni. “This is a story about the vital relationship between the Jewish People and the State of Israel.”  Stanley Medicks, a former Machalnik who volunteered in 1948, concurred. “Beit Hatfutsot is the ideal place to tell the world our remarkable, heroic story.”  “The value of voluntarism is at the heart of the exhibition,” explained exhibition curator Shira Friedman. “The visitor understands that Machal is part of every aspect of the army.” Indeed, Machal continues to bring hundreds of volunteers to Israel each year. 

British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould and Deputy American Ambassador to Israel Thomas Goldberger also attended the exhibition opening.

The exhibition is co-sponsored by World Machal.