A life-size depiction of the Egyptian soldiers attacking Yad Mordechai.
At first glance, Kibbutz Yad Mordechai seems unremarkable, producing honey sold throughout Israel. But just outside the kibbutz is a field filled with life-size models of Egyptian soldiers, which tell a remarkable story. During Israel’s War of Independence, a few dozen fighters in Yad Mordechai defended the kibbutz from the Egyptian army, a powerful example of the way small communities have played outsized roles in defending Israel from its enemies.
When Yad Mordechai was established in 1943, its Polish-born residents named it after the recently murdered Mordechai Anilewitz, the leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The founders could not have realized that, like their namesake, they were also destined to write a significant chapter in Jewish history.
As statehood drew closer in 1948, the kibbutz became increasingly isolated. Local Arab townspeople blocked the roads to Tel Aviv, making it harder and harder to get supplies. On Seder night of 1948, three weeks before the declaration of independence, a caravan got through to Yad Mordechai, bearing matzot and seven guns. It was the last caravan to get through the Arab siege. Yad Mordechai was isolated.
As one of the southernmost Jewish settlements, on the road from Gaza to Tel Aviv (today’s Kvish 4), Yad Mordechai was one of the Egyptian army’s primary targets when they invaded on May 15th, 1948. The kibbutz sent the women and children to safety in the north, while the men stayed back to defend their homes. 150 men, with only 75 weapons, remained in Yad Mordechai.
For five days, from May 19th to May 23rd, the defenders of Yad Mordechai fought to protect the kibbutz. They were bombed by the Egyptian air force and were greatly outnumbered by the Egyptian infantry, but bravely fought for days. In the fighting, 26 Israelis were killed and 40 were injured. Eventually, the kibbutz fell, but they had saved precious time. The Egyptians needed a few days to regroup, before continuing up the coastal road towards Ashdod. During these critical days, Israel received its first planes, and on May 29th, in the Israeli Air Force’s inaugural mission, four planes bombed the Egyptian army. The Egyptians were shocked, and never advanced further north than Ashdod. The kibbutz was reconquered by the IDF in November 1948. The five days during which the men of Yad Mordechai fought the Egyptian army were critical in ensuring the Egyptians never came close to Tel Aviv.
Though the story of Yad Mordechai is legendary, similar stories took place throughout the War of Independence. From Negba and Nirim in the south to Kfar Etzion and Ramat Rachel near Yerushalayim, many of the most significant battles of Israel’s War of Independence were fought by and in small kibbutzim. Sometimes, the kibbutzim fell, but their heroic efforts delayed the invading forces and allowed the IDF to regroup and ultimately win the war.
A similar dynamic also occurred during Hamas’ attack on October 7. Hamas intended to advance even further into Israel, but they were held up by security teams and brave individuals. Many of these courageous defenders fell, but their heroic efforts gave the IDF time to regroup, and ultimately expel the terrorists from Israel. The spirit of Yad Mordechai, and of small kibbutzim fighting off murderous invaders, lives on today.