The Book and the Sword: Remembering two Americans who loved Zion and the Jewish People

Shira Kassell became a poet of Jerusalem. Joshua Stampfer fought in the Haganah. Both are symbols of US Jewry's contributions to Israel.

Tags: Zionism
Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Sovereignty = Zionism = Stability
Sovereignty = Zionism = Stability

Much separated the worlds of two extraordinary Israeli Americans who passed away within the last two months. She expressed her feelings in words, he in actions, she died in Jerusalem, he in Portland, Oregon. Neither was a household word, nor did they wish to be. But both were known to many (although not to one another) and respected by all who were cognizant of their achievements. Both were true lovers of Zion and the Jewish people, each in a special way, and both are deserving of a few minutes of our time in appreciation.

Shira Twersky-Kassell, a descendant of the Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, was raised in an American home that combined Torah study and hassidism, but was open to the outside world. Shira was named for the date of her birth, Shabbat Shira (a word meaning both poetry and song, the Shabbat itself named for the Torah portion of the Song of the Sea read on that day). No one could have prophesied that she would spend her life creating shira, poetry, giving a mystical level of meaning to her name. Raised in New York, Twersky-Kassell earned a B.A. in ancient languages and journalism, moved to Israel in 1969, and wrote all her poetry from that date on, except for one book, in Hebrew.

In 1988, Twersky-Kassell was awarded the Newman Prize for her book Shachrur (Blackbird"). She published two additional volumes of Hebrew poetry, The Secret Life of Birds (Sifriat Hapoalim 1995) and Yoman Shira Besulam Hageula, A poet's diary, on the ladder of Redemption (Bitsaron 2005|), and in English, Legends of Wandering and Return, Bitsaron 2014.

A deep love of Israel and its varied birds, which to her symbolized its spirit and voice and that of Torah and Jewish tradition, are the motifs of her poems .

She dated her great love for Israel from the year 1957, when, as a Journalism student visiting the country, ten years before the walls dividing Jerusalem came down, she was an English news editor for Israel Radio. "There I heard many stories of the Old City, where Jews and Arabs once shared lives," she wrote in her blog, Shira: A Poet's Diary."I wrote poems about this haunted city and imagined what lay hidden under the arch-covered streets and alleyways on the other side of the walls."

Shira Twirsky-Kessel was laid to rest in the Jerusalem she loved , the city where her son David, a physics lecturer at The Jerusalem College of Technology (Machon Lev) and his family have made their home. The following is one illustrative stanza of the poetry that is her gift to us:

In Jerusalem

the city where a golden key

was dropped by ladder-climbing angels

lifting off from Ya'akov


one of His thousand names

that our lips are permitted to form

welcomes the Jew on each Sabbath eve

Then we leave Creation be

and do not interfere – as was in Eden

before we stole the fruit of ill-use

and drank the bitter waters of contention

On Shabbat, Gifts of Grace and Offering

are placed on altars of luminescent stone,

and not one tear falls to wound one blade of grass

In the real Jerusalem, heart of wholeness

twilight is an opal-golden key...

Excerpt from Shalom- The Seventh Gate by Shira Twersky-Kassell)

Shira Twersky-Kassell

Born in the Old City of Jerusalem, Joshua Stampfer was the scion of illustrious Jewish families.

On his father’s side, he was named for his great-grandfather Yehoshua Stampfer, who walked from Hungary to Jerusalem in 1869 at the age of 17 and was one of the original founders of Petach Tikva.

His maternal grandfather, Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, was Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem for several decades.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel and a close friend of Rabbi Frank, served as Stampfer’s sandek at his brit milah.

When he was two years old, however, Joshua Stampfer's family moved to the US. where his father served as a rabbi in Akron, Ohio, but Stampfer's love for Israel caused him to return to Israel to study at the Hebrew University in 1947.

A passionate Zionist, he was soon recruited by the Haganah and was drafted to take part in the mission to bring supplies to the besieged Etzion Bloc south of Jerusalem. At the last minute, the commander decided not to send him, saving his life, as local Arab forces ambushed the mission, killing all 35 (Lamed Hey) participants. in one of the worst tragedies of Israel's War of Independence.

Stampfer fought for Israel's existence, but believed that his mission in life was to help keep American Jewry loyal to Israel and Judaism, later serving, as many observant rabbis did in those days, as rabbi of Conservative Congregation Neveh Shalom in Portland, Oregon for over 40 years and shaping Jewish life in the Pacific Northwest. He founded Camp Solomon Schechter in Washington, established the Oregon Holocaust Resource Center and the Institute for Judaic Studies, built the Oregon Jewish Historical Society and helped found the Oregon Jewish Museum.He left a legacy of five children, 20 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren, some of whom have made their home in Israel. A grandson,Shlomo Tanchum Stampfer -who accompanied his father Professor Shaul Stampfer to the funeral in Portland - as well as several cousins, live in the Etzion Bloc he wished to save.

Joshua Stampfer - “You'll Go Next Time"