Having arrived in Palestine with the British Army in 1938, at age seventeen, Tom Derek Bowden—who died last week—served under the famed and eccentric British Zionist officer Orde Wingate. In 1941, he was dispatched to Vichy-ruled Syria, where he fought alongside Moshe Dayan. Despite being released from service due to injuries, Bowden insisted on rejoining the fight on the European front, where he was eventually captured and sent to Bergen-Belsen. He returned to the Land of Israel in 1948 to fight for the Jewish state’s independence, and then went back to England to take up farming. Stephen Daisley comments on this remarkable life and its “enduring lessons.”
Bowden’s first lesson is his simplest: always be for the Jews. When the world asks you to choose between the Jews and their enemies, or insists on your neutrality in the matter, never hesitate to choose the Jews. Your philo-Semitism will be in the minority most of the time and some Jews will regard it with suspicion, but it is a moral imperative nonetheless. The preservation of Jewish life, community, and peoplehood is a civilizational commandment. No society can be advanced whose Jews aren’t free, equal, and safe.
Another lesson from Bowden’s life is that being for the Jews often requires courage. Few are called on to show the measure of valor Bowden did and he is a useful reminder that, whatever sufferings come with philo-Semitism and Zionism, your inconveniences are minor compared to his. Bowden teaches us, too, that there is no conditional solidarity with Jews. He is no friend who is only there when it’s easy or politically palatable. Zionism and Jewish peoplehood are inextricably linked, and Bowden understood that if the modern Jewish state was strangled at birth it would indeed mean another “annihilation” of the Jews. Bowden fought for Israel for the same reason anti-Semites fight against it: Israel is the home of Jewish strength and Jewish security.