Tuvia Book
Author, educator, Tour-Guide, artist

Leonard Cohen and the Yom Kippur War

I often ask my Birthright participants what would they do if they were safely ensconced on their university campus in North America and they heard that the Jewish state was under attack? Would they drop everything and come? That is the real Zionist litmus test.

Leonard Cohen’s “moment of truth” came in one of Israel’s darkest moments during the surprise attack launched against Israel by Egypt and Syria in 1973 known as the Yom Kippur War. Whilst the Jewish world in the Diaspora was shocked and deeply concerned most stayed put, a few, including Leonard Cohen, dropped everything and came.

Luckily, a well-known Israeli singer spotted Cohen, who had hoped to volunteer on a kibbutz to replace those who had been called up, and drafted him to entertain the troops in the Sinai. He stayed after the conclusion of the War and toured hospital wards and comforted the wounded. This was his defining moment as a Jew and a Zionist and he will never be forgotten. Many could have come, but only a few did.

Leonard Cohen entertaining IDF troops during the Yom Kippur War.  (Courtesy IDF)

Cohen’s work is infused with Jewish scripture. He used the Bible and scriptures because all the most important and beautiful things have already been said, so that the best that he could do is repeat them, which he did with his own unique nuances. The song “Who By Fire?” is based on the words of the Hebrew prayer, “U’netanneh Tokef” recited on the Jewish High Holy Days. It was natural, he once said, for him to draw on the “biblical landscape” for much of his work, including such classic songs as “Hallelujah,” “Who By Fire,” and “If It Be Your Will.”

He wrapped up his final concert in Israel in front of a packed crowd of 50 000 with the Priestly Blessing in Hebrew. This is the only blessing where the priest is commanded to bless his people “with love.” This is very applicable for Leonard Cohen, a lover of his people, his land and of peace.

About the Author
Dr. Tuvia Book was born in London and raised in both the UK and South Africa. After making Aliya at the age of 17 and studying in Yeshiva he volunteered for the IDF, where he served in an elite combat unit. Upon his discharge he completed his BA at Bar-Ilan University, as well as certification in graphic design. He then served as the Information Officer at the Israeli Consulate of Philadelphia, while earning a graduate degree in Jewish Studies. Upon his return to Israel, Dr. Book graduated from a course of study with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, and is a licensed tour guide. Tuvia has been working in the field of Jewish Education, both formal and informal, for many years. He has guided and taught Jewish students and educators from around the English-speaking world for some of Israel’s premier educational institutions and programs. Tuvia has been guiding groups for Birthright Israel since its inception and, in addition, has lectured throughout North America, Australia, Europe and South Africa. Tuvia served as a Shaliach (emissary) for the Jewish Agency for Israel as the Director of Israel and Zionist Education at the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York (Jewish Education Project). He was a lecturer/educational guide at the Alexander Muss Institute for Israel Education (AMIIE) in Israel for a decade. Tuvia has lectured at both Bar Ilan University and Hebrew University. He is the author (and illustrator) of the internationally acclaimed Zionism curriculum; “For the Sake of Zion; A Curriculum of Israel Education” (fifth edition, 2017, Koren) and is at present working on his next book, a history of the Jewish people. Tuvia has a doctorate in Israel education. His dissertation title is: “Through the Soldiers’ Eyes: Exploring the Influence of a Birthright Mifgash on the Israeli Soldier Participants.”
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