Aliyah Bet & Machal Virtual Museum
North American Volunteers In Israel's War of Independence
Welcome to the Virtual Museum
This Virtual Museum relates the history and most of the names of the approximately 1,500 American and Canadian men and women, including Jews and Christians, who risked their lives in the service of the Jewish people from 1946 to 1949. They served on the ships to smuggle Holocaust survivors through the British blockade into Palestine or as volunteers with the Israeli armed forces.
The volunteers aboard the ships participated in Aliyah Bet ("Immigration B"), the effort to thwart England's extremely-restricted "legal" immigration quotas for Palestine with clandestine immigration. Those serving in the armed forces were known as Machal, the Hebrew acronym for mitnadvei chutz l’aretz – “volunteers from abroad."
The museum is sponsored by American Veterans of Israel, the organization of Aliyah Bet and Machal veterans in the United States and Canada. It draws upon the Aliyah Bet and Machal Archives in the University of Florida Libraries, and also upon the Museum of American and Canadian Volunteers in Israel’s War of Independence located in the University of Florida Hillel, Gainesville, Florida.
Touring the Virtual Museum:
The Story of Aliyah Bet and Machal
When Israel faced a war of survival, 1,500 American and Canadian men and women, Jewish and Christian, came to her aid. In the words of Yitchak Rabin, “they came to us when we most needed them, during those difficult, uncertain days of our War of Independence in 1948.” More..
A Nation Reborn
Sustained by a love for Israel embedded in their religion, and motivated to escape the violent anti-Semitism endemic to Europe, Jews organized political and pioneering movements aimed at re-creating a homeland in Palestine. More..
A Rescue Fleet is Launched
With Holocaust survivors languishing in camps throughout Europe, Americans secretly purchased 12 ships and recruited North American crews to take them through the British naval blockade of Palestine. They were part of the Aliyah Bet (clandestine immigration) movement. More..
Acquiring Arms and Personnel
Threatened with invasion from five Arab nations, Palestinian Jews desperately needed equipment, ammunition and specialized military expertise. They turned to the Diaspora for help. The Jewish and Christian volunteers who answered that call were known as "Machal" (volunteers from abroad). More..
An English-Speaking Air Force
Only a handful of Palestinian Jews had military pilot training. Veterans from World War II — primarily from the U.S., Canada, England and South Africa — manned the hodgepodge of German, American and British aircraft to stop the Arab air and ground attacks. More..
Aiding the Ground Forces
American and Canadian volunteers served in virtually every unit of the Israeli army, contributing military expertise that many had learned in combat in World War II. The men and women of Machal provided important skills in armor, weaponry, medical aid and key positions of command. More..
American Ships, the Mothers of the Israeli Navy
American ships, which had carried thousands of Holocaust survivors to Palestinian waters, were recommisioned as a tiny battle fleet. The first commander of the Israeli navy was an American Annapolis graduate, Paul Shulman. More..
40 Who Gave Their Lives
Among the 4,000 Israeli military deaths were 40 Americans and Canadians, including seven Christians. The toll among North American pilots flying hand-me-down planes was especially high. More..
Names of Volunteers
The Aliyah Bet and Machal Archives at the University of Florida has collected data on most of the 1,250 volunteers from the U.S. and Canada, including hometowns, units or ships in which they served and their duties in Aliyah Bet or the armed forces. More..