Smoky and Myra with two of their grandchildren, Tom Peleg and Ben Tick, who are currently

serving in the Israel Navy. This was taken on Yom Hazicharon in May 2008 at the Machal Memorial.





At a ceremony which took place at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem on 23rd December 2008, Smoky Simon received a 2008 Begin Honor Award for his contribution to the Israel Air Force during the War of Independence, for his contribution to the State of Israel in the field of life insurance, and for his ongoing dedication to the Menachem Begin Heritage Foundation serving as Honorary Treasurer.


Smoky Simon arrived in Israel on 9th May 1948, with his wife Myra, as a volunteer to fight in the struggle for the creation of the State of Israel.  He had previously served as a navigator-bombardier in the South African Air Force and the Royal Air Force during World War II and brought this expertise with him.  He signed on for service in the IAF the day after his arrival, on 10th May and flew 24 operations.  In June 1948, he was appointed Chief of Air Operations in the IAF and also served as the IAF’s Liaison Officer to the United Nations Commission until his discharge from the IAF in October 1950. 


In the early years of the State, Smoky helped found the World Machal Committee, representing Overseas Volunteers who fought in Israel’s War of Independence (more than 4,000 volunteers from 56 countries), which operates from his personal business address.  He has served as volunteer Chairman of the Committee since its inception.


In February 1962, Smoky formed a partnership with Moshe Wiesel to establish the largest life insurance and pension brokerage firm in Israel - the Simon & Wiesel Insurance Agency.  His working career continues to this day, and he is now in his 88th year.


Smoky Simon’s philanthropic activities are widely recognized, as is his outstanding personality, marked by generosity, kindness, integrity, modesty, and a genuine belief in the goodness of his fellow-man.  Among other deeply engrained traits and exemplary attributes of this very special man, is his abiding faith in the future of the State of Israel and in God Almighty.



Smoky’s speech delivered at the Begin Center Award Ceremony:


            I could never have dreamt of, or aspired to, becoming a recipient of the Menachem Begin Award of Honor.  I thank the Committee most sincerely for bestowing this honor and privilege upon me.

            I grew up in the small town of Winburg in the Orange Free State in the heart of South Africa.  As the Jewish community consisted of less than 30 families, I never had the opportunity of joining a Zionist youth movement.  I had never even heard of the names of Betar, Herut, or Menachem Begin.  It was only after I was discharged after five years of service with the South African Air Force in World War II,  that I first heard of the courageous exploits of the Etzel (Irgun Tzvai Leumi), led by Menachem Begin in the war against the British Mandatory Authority.

            After serving as Chief of Air Operations in the Israel Air Force during the War of Independence and for two years thereafter, my wife Myra and I returned to South Africa and settled in a new pioneering town called Welkom (the Afrikaans word for Welcome), and that is where my connection with Menachem Begin started in October 1957 when he was on a visit to South Africa.  At my request, Harry Hurwitz, of blessed memory, arranged for Menachem and his beloved wife Aliza to visit our small Jewish community of between 50-60 families, and on that occasion, Menachem presented me with an autographed photograph of himself.  This photo not only graces my office, but his picture appears whenever I open and close my computer, which gives me the opportunity of not only saluting Menachem each morning and evening, but we also have dialogues on the issues of the day.

            Interestingly, my first indirect connection with Menachem occurred in June 1948 when the ill-fated “ALTALENA” ran aground on the shore of Tel Aviv, opposite the Dan Hotel.  The Air Force was put on standby to attack the ship if necessary.  The response of the Machal aircrews (the volunteers from abroad) was immediate.  We informed Aluf Aharon Remez, Chief of the Air Force, that we would disobey any command to attack the ship or its personnel, as we had not come to Israel to fight Jews.  We told Remez that we were prepared to be court-martialed or discharged from the service, and the standby order was promptly cancelled.

            It is a matter of great regret that so many Israelis, as well as so many Jews living abroad, are simply not aware of the role played by Menachem and the Etzel on the stage of Israel’s history.  Just consider for a moment, that at the age of 34, Menachem Begin had the audacious courage to declare war on Great Britain, despite the fact that there were 100,000 trained British troops stationed in Palestine.

            Menachem’s cause of fighting for a free, independent, and sovereign Jewish State was on behalf of the entire Jewish People, and here I would like to paraphrase the words of Winston Churchill, “In this fight for a free and sovereign Jewish State, never has so much been owed by so many to so few – to the fighters of the Irgun Tzvai Leumi led by Menachem Begin”.

            Menachem’s strength and character of steadfast endurance and persistence were absolutely legendary.  When he was incarcerated in the Russian correctional labor camp, how he stood up to his interrogators with such pride, courage, and dignity.  How he endured the trials, tribulations, and insults during his 29 years in Opposition in the Knesset.  And yet, despite hardships and setbacks over decades, his personal and national courage was unyielding.  If only our modern leaders could share Menachem Begin’s faith in the spiritual destiny of the Jewish People.

            And how he loved his fighters in the Irgun, where each soldier was like a son unto him, and in more recent years, how proud and exuberant he was when the Israel Air Force totally destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in June 1981.  And, then, when this great man finally reached the pinnacle of the political pyramid by being elected Prime Minister of Israel in May 1977, he looked upon himself “as a servant in the service of the Jewish People”.

            I look upon Menachem as a modern Patriach.  He has, not unlike his mentor Jabotinsky, created generations of descendants and followers who continue to be imbued with reverence, admiration, and adoration for one of the greatest Jews of the 20th Century.

            Happily, thanks to the vision and initiative of our dear Harry Hurwitz, the Menachem Begin Center will serve to immortalize this great Jewish leader for many years to come.


Ladies and Gentlemen, I truly could not have wished for any greater honor than having the Menachem Begin Award of Honor bestowed upon me. 


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ESRAmagazine documents and illustrates the life of the English-speaking community in Israel. It keeps readers in touch with the community, with each other, and involves them in life in Israel. Cont...

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