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New nation, new love: Israel's first soldiers forged lasting bonds on the frontlines

Many of the fighters in Israel's most elite pre-independence fighting unit, the co-ed Palmach, fell in love and formed unions that have lasted to this day.

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On May 10, 1948, just five days before Israel declared independence, Mr. Peled – Berman and Ofer's 19-year-old platoon commander - was injured in a battle in the northern Galilee town of Safed. Ofer helped him hobble off the field and after a brief stay in a local hospital, Peled was evacuated to Tel Aviv, where his parents were living. He had no way of contacting his girlfriend, Zimra Flex, who was in Jerusalem and also served in the Palmach.

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But when he awoke in the makeshift ambulance en route to Tel Aviv, he learned they were in Pardes Hanna – the town where Ms. Flex’s parents lived.

Peled, who at the time went by his father’s Polish name of Reisfeld, asked the driver to stop and give him a piece of paper and a pen.

He wrote: “To the Flex family: My name is Elad Reisfeld. I am wounded. I am being taken to a hospital near Tel Aviv. If you know something about Zimra, tell me.” With that, he folded the piece of paper and threw it out the window.

He had never met his girlfriend’s parents. Her mother, a woman of Russian descent, had initially opposed the match since Poles were seen as inferior. But several days later, Mrs. Flex showed up at the hospital and presented Peled with a beautiful bouquet of white flowers.

She ran through hostile territory

Peled was also visited by some girls in the Palmach’s welfare service, one of whom had been with Flex just two days earlier and knew where he could reach her. So he took up his pen again, wrote her of his adventure, implored her to visit him, and concluded with the weighty line: “If we won’t meet now, who knows if we’ll ever meet again.” 

The day the letter arrived, Flex had just walked several hours home from visiting a close friend whose husband was killed. But she had a steely disposition; she was the only girl from her community who went to join the Palmach, which was an underground movement at the time. “I wanted to do my best,” she recalls simply. “I knew that this was the hardest way and the best way to serve my country.”

When she received the letter from Peled, with whom she had fallen in love at first sight, she went to her battalion commander and told him, “Read this letter."

He did, and told her that if she ran, she might catch up with a reconnaissance patrol that was wending its way down through hostile territory toward Tel Aviv. She ran for three hours, found them, and walked with them through the night until they got back across the Israeli lines. She was 20 years old.

He and Flex eventually found each other, with some help from a senior Palmach officer who offered to drive Peled, and were married less than two weeks later. This year they’ll be celebrating their 65th anniversary, like Israel.

Neither she nor Peled knew that David Ben Gurion had declared Israel’s independence on May 15. “We were busy,” says Peled simply.

Comrades Alisa and Pinhas became Mr. and Mrs. Ofer two years later at Palmachim, a kibbutz on the shores of the Mediterranean that they had talked of establishing on that cold winter night in February 1948, when they slipped off the Mt. Canaan base to begin their romance.

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