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Picnic Area Named After Hero

Travellers turning off Highway 1 at the Abu Ghosh traffic circle in the direction of Beit Nekofa may have noticed the Keren Kayemet recreation and picnic area there and a stone monument bearing the following inscription:
"The Harry Sabel Recreation Area"

Who was Harry Sabel and why is a Keren Kayemet recreation area dedicated to him? Approaching the fortieth anniversary of his death, it is fitting to remember him and share his story with those who were not fortunate enough to have known him personally.

Harry Sabel as an officer in the British Army

Harry Sabel was born in the East End of London in 1909 to Lithuanian-Jewish immigrant parents, the youngest of seven children.

At the outbreak of World War 11, he volunteered for the British Army before there was conscription in England. The army sent him to Oxford, where he studied modern languages and was posted to Cairo, with the rank of captain in the Intelligence Corps. During his three and a half years in Egypt, he took the opportunity, out of curiosity, to visit Palestine where he was hosted by members of a committee set up to welcome Jewish soldiers, toured the country, including the first kibbutzim, and spent a Pesach Seder at the home of Barney Joseph (later known as Dov Yosef) in Jerusalem. He was tremendously impressed with all the people he met and everything he saw, and it was no doubt that experience that made him into a Zionist. He was attracted by the humaneness of the ideals and by the socialist element in the country and expected that those ideals and the civilized values which he saw in the leaders whom he met would prove to be an example to the world.

On returning to London after the war, he became active in his local community in Ealing, West London, and established JNF, JPA and Zionist societies there. When the War of Independence broke out in 1948, he volunteered for Machal (acronym of Mitnadvei Chutz L'Aaretz – volunteers from abroad who fought alongside the Israeli forces), travelling to Israel illegally via the Haganah training camp in Marseilles. With the rank of Major, he served as commander of military counter-intelligence in the Jerusalem area, under Moshe Dayan, until 1949. One incident he told his family was that his agents reported to him on seeing a suspicious-looking Englishman who was staying at the Eden Hotel. He instructed them to trail this person and discovered, to his amusement, that he was receiving daily reports of his own movements. Security was so strict in those days that the field security agents were unaware of the identity of their own commander!

When the fighting was over, he was joined in Israel by his wife Gladys and their two children, Pamela and Robert, aged twelve and seven.

Harry Sobel in later years

From 1950 to 1951, Harry headed the Government Press Office in Jerusalem. From 1951 to 1953 he served as director of PATWA (Professional and Technical Workers' Aliya) for the British Isles and Northern Europe and later held a succession of senior posts with the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund (KKL) at their head offices in Jerusalem. He also served as head of the Jewish National Fund in South Africa.

Harry was also  active in Hitachdut Olei Britannia (British Immigrants Association) in Jerusalem and one of the people he helped in this capacity wrote to his family, after his death "We shall always remember his kindness and warmth, which meant so much to a new immigrant."

In the 1960's, Harry's voice was familiar to listeners to Israel Radio's early morning English newscast, under the broadcast name of Aryeh Segal. He published numerous articles and leaflets on Zionist subjects and wrote poems inspired by his love for the Judean Hills landscape around Jerusalem.

After his sudden and untimely passing at the age of 69, his colleagues at the Keren Kayemet and elsewhere sent his family many tributes, including the following: "He was a man who immediately endeared himself and made himself beloved to all who knew him. One thinks of the way he smiled, the way he spoke, the generosity with which he always sought to put himself at the service of others. We, too will miss a real "Ish Yerushalayim". And a colleague: "I have lost an old and good friend whom I respected, admired and loved. His passing was untimely but a man's life is not measured by the number of years but how he fills them. Harry was a devoted servant of his people and his contribution to Israel and to Zionism will not easily be forgotten. His greatest qualities were his modesty, his kindness and his tranquility of soul. His passing removes from our midst an example of steadfast loyalty, unselfishness and devotion."
A member of the Foreign Ministry serving abroad wrote: "What a loss to honesty and idealism in Israel. We never had enough Harrys".
Another friend quoted the great poet Yeats: "Think where man's glory most begins and ends and say my glory was I had such friends". He added "Harry Sabel was a happy man. He was happy because he had good fortune and he had an essential wisdom of living, which is a very rare thing. He was a man of great harmony; he achieved a harmony in his life and an inner harmony in his soul".
And another of the many tributes on his passing: "We have lost too soon one who made our world one in which, despite everything, we could believe that kindness, peace and patience existed".

Harry Sabel would have been immensely gratified to know that his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are all living in Israel, have served and are serving in elite Army units (some of them as officers and several who were named outstanding soldiers in their units) and put into practice his fervent hopes and ideals. 

 

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Monday, 30 January 2023

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