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Jewish Leaders: Levi Eshkol
By Murray Zalman - February 9, 2009


Levi Eshkol (Photo: Al Gilbert)
Levi Shkolnik was born into a wealthy Hasidic family in 1895 in the Kiev district of the Ukraine. He later changed his name to Levi Eshkol. He had a traditional Jewish upbringing and education when he was 16 joined the "Tzeirei Zion" movement. In 1914, he immigrated to Israel and worked as an agricultural laborer and political activist. He founded a workers commune in Petah Tikvah and during the First World War I he joined the Poalei Yehuda Federation on behalf of the "Hapoel Hatzair" party and became involved in fighting for farmers who were suffering because of the war and the harshness of Ottoman rule. From 1918-20 he was a member of the Jewish Legion of the British Army.

Eshkol was a member of the group which founded the settlement of Degania Bet in 1920 and he was also part of the group that established the Histadrut, the National Federation of Jewish Laborers in Israel, and later joined its agricultural center. In 1930 he also participated in the founding of the left leaning political party, Mapai. He was often sent to Germany to raise capital for Jewish settlement and to help Jews transfer their property to Israel. In 1937 he participated in the establishment of "Mekorot", the Jewish Community's water utility, and served as its chief executive until 1951. In 1944 he was elected Secretary of the Laborers Council in Tel Aviv, a post which he held until 1948.

Eshkol was also heavily involved in the development of Haganah, the Jewish settler’s defense group, and the forerunner of the Israeli army. From his early days he was a member of the Haganah Command and served in this role from 1940-48, being mainly responsible for purchasing, equipment, and mobilization.
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