When the official U.N. Partition Plan went into effect in May 1948, the 1,700 residents of the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City were cut off from the rest of Jewish Jerusalem. Their defense was placed in the hands of a small troop of barely trained members of Hagana, Etzel and Lehi fighters. Among them was a young woman whose dedication and courage was truly representative of the very special men and women who made the State of Israel possible.
Esther Cailengold was born in Whitechapel, England, in 1925. Raised in a traditional home that was ardently Zionist, it was not surprising that after she completed her degree in English at Goldsmiths College, University of London, Esther applied for a teaching position at the Evelina de Rothschild school in Jerusalem.
Esther arrived in Jerusalem in December 1946, and joined the Hagana less than a year later. Shortly thereafter, she quit her teaching position to serve in the army full time. In the spring of 1948, the British were told that Esther was going to the Old City to teach the children. Instead, she acted as a military liaison between the many outposts in the city.
After the declaration of the State on May 14, 1948, the Jordanian army attacked the Jewish Quarter. The Jews of the Old City held out under siege for nearly two weeks under siege. As the Jordanians moved in, they began destroying Jewish houses and buildings. Esther was injured by a falling building, her spine broken. There was no medical aid available and no pain medication.
Two days after she was injured, the Jewish Quarter surrendered. Esther, along with the other injured, was moved to the Armenian School. Even in a situation of pain and danger, Esther was faithful in her observance of Shabbat, even refusing a cigarette that would have helped ease the pain. That Shabbat afternoon, Esther passed away.
Esther Cailengold, and the other fallen heroes of Jerusalem, were given posthumous commendations.