Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Lion Hunter of Zion

(Cross-posted at The Times of Israel)

In his youth, King David proved his heroism by slaying a lion. He went on to put his life on the line for the Jewish People and become a hero for all Israel. Three thousand years later, another lion-hearted lion-slayer also put his life on the line for the Jewish People and became a hero for all Israel. He wasn’t even Jewish, but he was one of the greatest friends and supporters that the Jewish People ever had – and his experiences with lions assisted in numerous ways.

Colonel John Patterson was an Irish soldier and engineer assigned to Kenya by the British Empire at the turn of the twentieth century. His job was to supervise the construction of a bridge over the Tsavo river for a massive railroad project. Unfortunately, railroad workers were constantly being slaughtered by the most notorious man-eating lions in recorded history. Two maneless but huge lions, working together, were estimated to have killed and eaten well over a hundred people working on the railroad.
Night after night, Patterson sat in a tree, hoping to shoot the lions when they came to the bait that he set for them. But the lions demonstrated almost supernatural abilities, constantly breaking through thorn fences to take victims from elsewhere in the camp, and seemingly immune to the bullets that were fired at them.

Patterson was faced with the task of not only killing the lions, but also surviving the wrath of hundreds of workers, who were convinced that the lions were demons that were inflicting divine punishment for the railroad. At one point, Patterson was attacked by a group of over a hundred workers who had plotted to lynch him. Patterson punched out the first two people to approach him, and talked down the rest!

After many months, Patterson eventually shot both lions. He himself was nearly killed in the process on several occasions, such as when one lion that he had shot several times suddenly leaped up to attack him as he approached its body. He published a blood-curdling account of the episode in The Man-Eaters of Tsavo, which became a best-seller, and earned him a close relationship with US President Roosevelt.

Upon returning to England, Patterson was a hailed as a hero. When World War One broke out, however, Patterson traveled to Egypt and took on a most unusual task: forming and leading a unit of Jewish soldiers, comprised of Jews who had been exiled from Palestine by the Turks. As a child, Patterson had been mesmerized by stories from the Bible. He viewed this task as being of tremendous, historic significance. The unit, called the Zion Mule Corps, was tasked with providing supplies to soldiers in the trenches in Gallipoli. Patterson persuaded the reluctant War Office to provide kosher food, as well as matzah for Passover, and he himself learned Hebrew and Yiddish in order to be able to communicate with his troops. The newly-trained Jewish soldiers served valiantly, but the campaign against the Turks in Gallipoli was ultimately unsuccessful, and the Zion Mule Corps was eventually disbanded.

In 1916 Patterson joined forces with Vladimir Jabotinsky to create a full-fledged Jewish Legion in the British Army, who would fight to liberate Palestine from the cruel reign of the Ottoman Empire and enable the Jewish People to create a home there. The War Minister, Lord Derby, succumbed to anti-Zionist agitators and attempted to prevent the Jewish Legion from receiving kosher food, from serving in Palestine, and from having “Jewish” in their name. Patterson promptly threatened to resign and risked a court-martial by protesting Derby’s decision as a disgrace. Derby backed down and Patterson’s Jewish Legion was successfully formed. During training, Patterson again threatened the War Office with his resignation if his men (many of whom were Orthodox) were not allowed to observe Shabbos, and again the army conceded. Meanwhile, Patterson brought Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook to address and inspire his troops.

Patterson clashed repeatedly with antisemitic officers in the British Army. Once, when a visiting brigadier called one of his soldiers “a dirty Jew,” Patterson demanded an apology, ordering his men to surround the brigadier with bayonets until he did so. The apology was produced, but Patterson was reprimanded by General Allenby. On another occasion, Patterson discovered that one of his Jewish soldiers had been sentenced to execution for sleeping at his post. Patterson circumvented the chain of authority and contacted Allenby directly in order to earn a reprieve. The reprieve came, but a notoriously antisemitic brigadier by the name of Louis Bols complained about Patterson’s interference to General Shea. Shea summoned Patterson and, rather than discipline him, revealed that his children were great fans of The Man-Eaters of Tsavo. The Jewish Legion fought well, and Palestine was liberated from the Turks. But Patterson himself was the only British officer in World War One to receive no promotion at all – a result of his outspoken efforts on behalf of the Jewish People.

After the war, Patterson dedicated himself to assisting with the creation of a Jewish homeland. The achievements of the Jewish Legion gained sympathy for the cause, but there was much opposition from both Jews and non-Jews. One Jewish delegation, seeking to explore an alternate option of creating a Jewish homeland in Africa, was dissuaded after reading The Man-Eaters of Tsavo. Meanwhile, against Patterson’s strenuous efforts, Bols was appointed Military Governor of Palestine, and filled the administration with antisemites who attempted to undermine the Balfour Declaration and empowered hostile elements in the Arab world.

When World War II broke out, Patterson, now an old man, fought to create another Jewish Legion. After great effort, the Jewish Infantry Brigade was approved. Aside from fighting the Germans, members of the Brigade succeeded in smuggling many concentration camp survivors into Palestine. Many other survivors had been cruelly turned away, and Patterson protested this to President Truman, capitalizing on his earlier relationship with Roosevelt. This contributed to Truman’s support for a Jewish homeland.

Patterson spent most of his later years actively campaigning for a Jewish homeland and against the British Mandate’s actions towards the Jews in Palestine. Tragically, he passed away a month before the State of Israel was created. The newly formed country would not have won the War of Independence without trained soldiers – and the soldiers were trained by veterans of Patterson’s Jewish Legion and Jewish Infantry Brigade. Colonel John Patterson had ensured the survival of the Jewish homeland. But his legacy lived on in another way, too. Close friends of his named their child after him, and the boy grew up to be yet another lion-hearted hero of Israel. His name was Yonatan Netanyahu.

Further reading:
John Patterson, The Man-Eaters of Tsavo (free download)
John Patterson, With the Zionists in Gallipoli (free download)
John Patterson, With the Judaeans in the Palestine Campaign (free download)
Denis Brian, The Seven Lives of Colonel Patterson: How an Irish Lion Hunter Led the Jewish Legion to Victory 

27 comments:

  1. OUTSTANDING POST.

    DF

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  2. Thanks. I'm debating whether it's suitable for inclusion in The Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom, or if it's too disconnected from animals. I'd be interested to hear peoples' thoughts on this.

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  3. Wow, and what an ending! Thanks for the post.

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  4. I'd read about Patterson before- Ben Hecht, who worked with him, describes him as being as brave in the face of anti-Zionists as he was in the face of lions- and have walked past the street in Jerusalem that bears his name, but I did not know all these details. The last line brought me to tears.

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  5. By the way, all due respect, I don't think this belongs in the Encyclopedia.

    What *would* belong is a discussion of how David killed lions and bears when those animals don't live in Israel anymore (answer: the climate was different back then), and what species of lion and bear are being discussed.

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  6. Already written!

    Where does Hecht write about him?

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  7. excellent post. my money is on zero votes in the 'kefira' column for this one!

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  8. Might could use him to illustrate "גיבור כארי "

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  9. Hecht writes about him in his autobiography (which some biographers point out may not be 100% literal truth), "A Child of the Century". The last section of the book deals with Hecht's work to save Jews during World War II and establish a Jewish army and state. One section is about Patterson and how Hecht got him to speak before an audience made up of assimilated Hollywood Jewish bigshots. They didn't take his remarks well, but Patterson persisted in delivering them.

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  10. Yoel B: R' Slifkin has a very different, and inspirational, interpretation of "Gibbor Ka-Ari."

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  11. Great post, if a bit unusual for this blog.

    > the campaign against the Turks in Gallipoli was ultimately unsuccessful

    There’s an understatement. Gallipoli was a disaster that cost Churchill his job as First Lord of the Admiralty.

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  12. Wow .

    Very good post . Thanks for it.

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  13. Thank you for an outstanding post - once again. You inspire me!

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  14. Thanks for the tremendous post!
    ari

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  15. Fascinating! Really enjoyed this too.

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  16. Adam form ManchesterApril 18, 2013 at 12:35 AM

    question for Nachum; where is the road which is named after him?

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  17. Natan thanks for writing about the Col. It took awhile but I located the forgotten resting place of his cremains in L.A.

    http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=patterson&GSfn=john&GSmn=henry+&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSob=n&GRid=15815142&df=all&

    A small group of us have been trying to bring him to where he wished to be - with his men of the Jewish Legion, at Moshav - Avihayal, near Netanya.

    It is a debt of honor yet to be paid.
    Jerry Klinger

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  18. Hi Jerry, please can you email me? zoorabbi@zootorah.com

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  19. Adam- Patterson street meets Emek Refaim near the latter's northern end, in the German Colony neighborhood. There's a whole line of streets either parallel to Patterson or meeting it named for non-Jewish Zionists- Zola, Masaryk, Smuts, Lloyd George, Wedgewood, and Deedes. (There's a new Martin Luther King nearby, which may be related. Balfour and Wingate are in the next neighborhood over. The other street near Patterson is Cremieux, but he was Jewish.)

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  20. Greetings, Rabbi Slifkin. A great blog you have. A devoted reader over a year now, I've been lurking about, a wall flower intimidated by the high calibre of your posts and the brilliance of the folks commenting here.  Alas, this lurker couldn't resist opining on whether to include this wonderful piece in your encyclopaedia, so here we go.

    Seeing how you have both a unique beast and a unique Jewish issue in your piece, methinks it would be a shame not to include this story, at the very least in its own "box" somewhere in the entry. We of course relate to animals through our human filtres and clever and deadly Man-hunting lions would be very much on topic. So would be a biographical snippet on a remarkable fellow who, like the remarkable state of Israel, went against the stream, faced overwhelming opposition and accomplished what may rightly be called miracles. And, in the way of an honest disclosure, I should add that as a non-Jewish "philosemite," I and others of my ilk would find an inclusion of Patterson's noble deeds quite encouraging and -- forgive the trite neologism -- um, empowering . Few of us are of that man's calibre, even fewer of us have his courage and while those hurdles we face are usually petty in comparison, we do get a nasty taste every now and then of ridicule and hostility what with the current ideological and political climes being such as they are. But after all's said and done, I suspect it'll be your editor who'll have the final word on this issue.

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  21. Nachum - is that the one labelled "Peterson" on google maps?

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  22. Matthew: That's the one.

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  23. Many great and interesting things about this post. However, I want to point out one subject since it's not obvious and very much overlooked.

    This once again points to the disproportionately large role played by Torah observant Jews (Orthodox/traditional/religious Jews, whatever you want to call them) in the founding of the modern Jewish statehood. And my intention here is not to take away credit from Patterson, as he has to be one of my favorite people in history. Just to point out something else. As the last point makes clear, the men of the Jewish legion and Jewish infantry brigade had to train the Jewish soldiers to defend against the Arabs in warfare.

    So ask yourself, why did Patterson have to demand kosher food? Why demand Shabbos observance? The followers of Jabotinsky and what became his "revisionist faction" were traditional, observant Jews.

    This fact is ignored not only in the official histories which sought to downplay or completely bury the role of revisionist political rivals to the labor zionist establishment, but also by haredi/orthodox histories and perspectives which ignore the role of their own people in the historic events and accept the edited and often simplistic accounts of labor zionism wholecloth as unadulterated fact. It is taken for granted that "secularists did all that" but it's a generalization that really doesn't stand up to scrutiny of all the various groups and events that led to statehood.

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  24. I'm very much belated in saying "WOW! Absolutely Excellent post!!! Thank you for writing and posting it. That last line was a big one.

    I'm not sure about including it in your Encyclopedia. It depends if there are other interesting stories dispersed throughout.

    The post certainly deserves to be in print, I'm just not sure your Encyclopedia is the right book to put it into.

    Thank you again for a SUPERB piece!!

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  25. Student V:

    RE: Col. Patterson's demand for Kosher food.

    There were observant Jews in the Zion Mule Corp. It is a mistake to generalize and say that all the Jews, or even the majority, were religious. Many Jews fought in the Mule Corp and the Legion for Zionist ideals not religious ones. Many Russian émigré Jews refused to join the British army because it was an ally of the Russians. They did not want to die helping the Tsar. They volunteered to fight to free Palestine from the Turks. Some did it for religious reasons and were opposed by the majority of traditional and non traditional Rabbinic leadership. (The Messiah had not come, they said, and we could not force him by taking Palestine before God's time. Herzl had faced the identical problem.) The British Army was not interested in accommodating the needs of the Jews. Senior staffing were adamantly against special considerations, even the designation of the Zion Mule Corp, that Patterson Commanded, and later the Jewish Legion, as warranting a separate designation insignia that was Jewish. The Jewish Legion was never officially called the Jewish Legion but units of the Royal Fuselliers. They were known in the British army as the Jew Legion.

    Patterson demanded and fought for Jewish equality in the British army. He fought for his men. It cost him his career and much more. He was opposed by the assimilated Jews in England who argued that Jews were British and not a separate people. They feared for their own identity and security as British Jews. The British Army had no problem offering Muslim units, Hallal food, or Hindu units Hindu food but the Jews were almost too much for them. It took Patterson's courageous demands and willingness to sacrifice all for his men to get the British army to consider Jewish needs as equal to other units.

    As Hitler came to power, Patterson joined with Jabotinsky to create the Bergson Group in the U.S. They screamed at the top of their lungs about the Holocaust to largely deaf Jewish ears. As outsiders they were opposed by establishment Judaism, religious and not, including the establishment Zionist leadership all jockeying for self affirmation and positions in Jewish leadership. The Rabbi's march on Washington in 1942 was a shinning star that is rarely mentioned today.

    Some religious Jews did do their part in the struggle for the establishment of the Zion Mule Corp, the Jewish Legion, the later Jewish Brigade and ultimately the IDF. They were not overwhelmingly represented. Patterson's demanding kosher food for his men is not proof.

    And you are right, their stories have not been told.

    It goes to a basic issue in Israeli life and Zionist history. Jews that served, fought and died did so as Jews, generically, not as religious or non-religious Jews. Much like the nearly forgotten story of the great Aliyah Bet Ship the Exodus; There were many ships but only one ship, the Exodus, was known around the world, as the "Ship that Launched a Nation."

    In Israel the Exodus is given no special designation or memory. Her rusting hulk, scuttled in Haifa harbor is entombed under tons of concrete and steel of the Haifa port extensions. There is not a single specific, unique memorial to the meaning of the Exodus and the establishment of the State in Haifa, or anywhere in Israel. The rest of the veterans of the Aliyah Bet said - nu what were we borsht. They had a point. They too had stories to tell but only the Exodus told the story to the world.

    So it is with the religious Jews of the Mule Corp, the Legion and on. They have a story that should be told but they also are only a part of the whole. It was the goy, Patterson, who stood and fought for the Jews, while the Jews fought each other. Patterson street, at the top of the German Colony, is pretty much it. We could do much better if Israel chooses.

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  26. "Many Jews fought in the Mule Corp and the Legion for Zionist ideals not religious ones."

    But it is a mistake to assume the two things are mutually exclusive, when they are not. The same mistake that underlies the exclusion of the role of religious Jews in that period of history from both the "official history" side and the haredi or religious side which concedes it.

    I get your point that there were Jews who were simply operating as Jews at that time ie: " Jews that served, fought and died did so as Jews, generically, not as religious or non-religious Jews." But that is a big part of my point!

    The "Jewish establishment" as a general rule, doesn't get it- never have and never will. They are in their positions due to factors that do not correlate with the hearts and minds of the "jewish street" so to speak.

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