Areyah Kaltmann

From Liberating the Kotel to Teaching the Alef Bet – the Life of Abe Halon

Abe Halon, 77, liberated the Kotel as a sergeant in the 66th Battalion in the Six Day War. He lived as a proud Jew in Ohio, where he shared his love for art and Israel with the Jewish community (Photo by CPP, Cr. Rinat Halon Photography)

Three times a day, Jews from all four corners of  the earth direct their prayers toward the old city of Jerusalem. In the heart of the city’s Jewish quarter is the Western Wall—the Kotel, the only remnant of the glorious ancient temple still standing today. Our sages say the Shechinah, G-d’s divine presence, never left the Western Wall.  Amid the wall’s worn stones and whispered prayers, Jews find spiritual connection not only with each other but with generations past. From the most learned Torah scholar to the most secular Jew, from the soldier on active duty to a plainclothes civilian, from Ashkenazi to Sephardi – all divisions dissolve amid the wall’s awesome and holy energy.

Yom Kippur – Pastel on paper 11X14 – a drawing by Abe Halon – 2020

For 1,900 years, Jews were not allowed access to Judaism’s most sacred sight except on rare occasions, and were often barred from praying there openly. In fact, the wide plaza that welcomed guests and pilgrims was built over with homes, leaving only a small alleyway where the wall could be accessed, seen, and felt.

This all changed in 1967, when during the Six Day War, Israel defeated the combined forces of the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian Armies, and the old city of Jerusalem was returned to Jewish hands for the first time in two millennia. The Kotel was open for Jews to pray freely and proudly once again. Perhaps not since the revelation at Mount Sinai had the Jews been united as they were then. One of the brave people who made that possible and who touched the hearts of so many in our Jewish Community is Abe Halon, who passed away on May 19 at the age 77.

Born in 1946 in what would soon become Israel, Abe, was among the pioneers who grew up in the newly reborn Jewish state. As a young soldier serving in the IDF, Abe became a sergeant in the 66th battalion, 55th Paratroopers brigade, the unit that famously recaptured Jerusalem under renowned general Uzi Narkiss. Abe’s heroic participation in the reunification of Jerusalem — likely the most significant Jewish historical event in 2,000 years— combined with his warm and gentle demeanor and humble smile, is truly astonishing.

Abe Halon, Right, in uniform while fighting in the 1967 Six Day War

You would never know when you met Abe that you were interacting with a literal hero. A fixture at the Lori Schottenstein Chabad Center of Columbus, where he would join us every week for Shabbat prayers, Abe (or Avraham ben Dov as he was known when called up to the Torah) joyfully shared his time and talents with the Columbus Jewish community. Abe was beloved by the campers of our Camp Gan Israel, who looked forward each week to his art class, where he taught them realistic portrait drawing. He also volunteered every Sunday to teach Hebrew, his mother tongue, to the children at Chabad’s Hebrew School, including to my own daughter, who now lives in Israel and remembers Abe fondly.

Happy Jewish New Year – Pastel on paper 11X14 – 2020 – by Abe Halon

Abe shared his name with Avraham Avinu, the forefather of the Jewish people and the first Jew. There are many parallels between Abe and our biblical patriarch. Avraham Avinu was famous for being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac to serve G-d on Mount Moriah, the same location where 3,700 years later Abe Halon risked his life to recapture the Western Wall.

It was no coincidence that Abe took part in an event of such magnitude. There is a concept in Judaism known as Divine Providence — the idea that G-d takes an active role in the workings of the universe. Every atom, every gust of wind, and every falling leaf are guided by G-d’s hand. So too are many of the events in human affairs. Abe’s remarkable wartime story is one of the clearest examples of Divine providence I know of. Abe’s paratrooper unit was originally stationed in the Sinai peninsula, but was diverted to Jerusalem just in time to receive orders to retake the city. While there, the 19-year old soldier assigned to defend Abe was killed by a sniper while walking right next to him. Abe told me he had no idea why his life was spared, but he eventually went on to lead his unit to recapture the holy site of the Kotel.

Black and white sketch – Jew & 10 Commandments – by Abe Halon – 2023

In Likutei Sichos Volume 14, the Lubavitcher Rebbe stated that every soldier in the Israeli army is a “Tzaddik” – a righteous person, because they put their lives on the line to protect the men, women and children of Israel. The Talmud states in tractate Sanhedrin that “good things come from good people”, meaning if something good happened, it must have come from a very special soul. Abe’s soul was indeed special and handpicked from 1000s of years of Jewish history to redeem this great unifying treasure for the Jewish people.

When Abe got sick, I came to visit him and he told me that when his unit first entered the old city of Jerusalem, he walked right past the Western wall without recognizing it. It was just an unassuming wall behind a row of houses. Only later, his commanding officer told him that they had passed the magnificent Western wall. Just like the Kotel wasn’t originally appreciated for its greatness, so too when you met Abe, you wouldn’t know that he was a man of great accomplishments.

Kidnapped by Hamas, Prismacolor Pencils 11X14, 2023, by Abe Halon

Following his army service, Abe studied electrical engineering at the Ohio State University and worked in the field of information technology, becoming a leader in IT organizational management and process efficiency optimization. He wrote two books on Performance-Based Accountability and Cost Allocation Analysis, which are standards in the industry. One of his colleagues wrote of him on his LinkedIn: “Abe’s knowledge on unit costing and showing what an IT organization costs to run is beyond anything that has come up in the industry.” I have no idea what any of that means, but it suffices to say that Abe was exceedingly resourceful and brilliant.

Chaos theory states that a butterfly who flaps its wings in Hawaii can cause a Tsunami in Japan. So too can our actions and kind deeds have far-reaching impacts. Most of the Jewish people today do not know Abe’s name, but are indeed indebted to him for the great service he performed 57 years ago. Despite his great accomplishments, Abe selflessly and humbly devoted himself to others. I remain moved by his courage, kindness, generosity, love for life, Israel and the Jewish people.

Grandparents, by Abe Halon, 2021

To watch this the eulogy delivered on May 20, click this video.

To see a gallery of Abe’s artwork, please visit this link.

All images used with permission of the Halon family.

About the Author
Rabbi Areyah Kaltmann is the Director of Chabad Columbus at the Lori Schottenstein Chabad Center. For over three decades, Rabbi Kaltmann and his wife Esther have put their heart and soul into serving the Columbus Jewish community. In addition to directing Chabad Columbus, the Rabbi and his family also operate LifeTown Columbus — which teaches essential life skills to more than 2,100 Ohio students with special needs in a 5,000-square-foot miniature city, Kitchen of Life — which fosters social-emotional skills for young people through culinary arts, Friendship Circle Columbus, the Jewish Business Network, and dozens of other programs. Areyah and Esther have adult children who serve Chabad of Downtown Columbus, oversee Chabad’s many programs and enthusiastically serve people throughout the state.
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