Israel’s forgotten fighters: The Canadians who served in Israel’s 1948 war

Machal fighters from Canada
Irving Matlow, second from right, stands with fellow Canadians (left to right) Bob Eisen, Isadore Weinsweig, Walter Leff and Al G. Rosenberg before departing for Israel to fight in the Machal during Israel's War of Independence. (Photo courtesy Ontario Jewish Archives)

In 1947 and ’48, thousands of foreign military personnel—including 300 from Canada—flew to the emerging State of Israel to fight for its survival against hostile Arab forces. Most volunteers were experienced Jewish veterans of the Second World War. Their vital military skills helped reinforce existing troops in prewar Palestine, then later the State of Israel; in the case of the air force, they actually helped create it. These fighters were known as the Machal, a name derived from Hebrew, meaning “volunteers from abroad”.

Decades passed before Israel officially recognized the Machal’s contribution. Today, very few of them are still alive. But two of the last surviving Canadian Machal veterans are marking an important milestone this week: it’s the anniversary of their arrival in Israel, in July 1948, right in the middle of the country’s War of Independence.

Bill Novick is 97; Irving Matlow is a couple years younger. Both veterans join us on The CJN Daily podcast to share stories from the war, explain why they went and discuss how it changed their lives.

What we talked about:

The CJN Daily is written and hosted by Ellin Bessner (@ebessner on Twitter). Victoria Redden is the producer. Michael Fraiman is the executive producer. Our theme music is by Dov Beck-Levine. Our title sponsor is Metropia. Find more great Jewish podcasts at

The best is yet to come.

This website—the one you’re on right now—is just the tip of the iceberg. The CJN is building a whole new platform, which will be launching summer 2021. Jewish Canadians will be able to find community events, listen to relevant podcasts, connect with national networks and, of course, read breaking news stories, in-depth analysis and unique perspectives that matter. Subscribe to our newsletter, and follow us on social media, to be the first to see our newest iteration go live.