OBITUARY : Shlomo Shragai

Those who saw Shlomo Shragai towards the end of his 96 years in Jerusalem, bent and needing constant assistance, could hardly believe that this was the same handsome man, vigorous and inventive, who played such a crucial role in the immigration of Jews from Eastern Europe and Islamic countries to the fledgling state of Israel after the Second World War.

A passionate believer in Orthodox Judaism and religious Zionism, he left his native Poland in 1924 to work as a pioneer in the Jewish homeland of Palestine. He worked for a time on building roads, before his abilities were recognised by the Mizrachi national religious party.

By settling in Palestine he had challenged the views of the larger non- Zionist religious party, Agudat Israel, and others who feared the influence of the secular Zionist leaders and were prepared to wait for the coming of the Messiah for the re-establishment of the Jewish state. As a Talmudic scholar and fervent believer he was able to convince many other young people to follow his example.

Arriving in London after the Second World War as a representative of the Jewish Agency, the executive arm of the World Zionist Organisation, Shragai shared with local and Israeli Zionist leaders the shock of being, as they saw it, betrayed by the new Labour government led by Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin. Feeling that Christian leaders would understand the Zionists' religious longing for their ancient homeland, Shragai sought the aid of the churches but there was little hope that the Government's policy could be reversed.

With his profound attachment to Hasidism, the joyful, fervent and emotional religious movement which had won over most of Eastern European Jewry, Shragai was captivated by the discourses of the Hasidic scholar Rabbi Berish Finklestein at his London Shtibl (a small synagogue) and the two became firm friends.

When the State of Israel was established, followed by the invasion of the Arab armies, Shragai voiced his belief in an ultimate victory and stressed that sacrifices were inevitable.

As head of the Aliya (immigration) department of the Jewish Agency, Shragai intensified his efforts to bring survivors of the Holocaust to Israel. He persuaded the Polish Communist leaders to allow the emigration of a section of the remnant of the community which once numbered over 3.5 million. His discussions with Soviet officials proved less fruitful but led to a trickle. Finally there was a mass exodus.

In 1950, Shragai was elected Mayor of Jerusalem, a city which he loved with a rare intensity. During his two-year term he displayed an open-mindedness and sensitivity to the needs of its citizens, religious and secular, which was acknowledged even by his political opponents.

With the possibility of massive immigration from Islamic countries, Shragai made a number of dangerous clandestine trips to Arab capitals to organise the local Jewish communities. Hundreds of thousands of Jews left these countries, almost transforming overnight the young state of Israel.

Quietly spoken, with his small beard and piercing eyes Shragai looked more like a Talmudic scholar than a party leader. He shied away from compliments. However members of the Mizrachi movement admired him greatly and he was elected its Honorary World President. Last year it was planned to make a special presentation to him to mark his unique services to party and state, but by then he was too ill to accept any honour.

Joseph Finklestone

Shlomo Zalman Shragai, politician: born Gorzkowice, Poland 31 December 1898; married (three sons, one daughter); died Jerusalem 2 September 1995.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes