Michael Halperin (1860-1919)

Michael Halprin was born in Vilna in the year 1860 into a very wealthy and learned family. He received a traditional Jewish education and from a very early age became a fervent nationalist and public benefactor and one of his earliest acts was to take steps to care for Jewish prostitutes and help them make a new life for themselves. He also set up a co-operative workshop in which he engaged Jewish workers who were miserably employed in privately-owned undertakings.

Following the pogroms of 1880, he devoted himself full-time to the Hibbat Zion ("Love of Zion") movement and in 1 885 decided to emigrate to Eretz Israel. On the eve of his departure he entered the synagogue, took a Scroll of the Law in his hands and swore to devote all his wealth to the well-being of Eretz Israel and took an oath "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand lose its cunning".

Upon his arrival in the Holy Land he participated in the redemption of the soil of Yesud Ha-Maala and purchased the soil of Nes Ziyyona with the intention of founding a workers' village on the site but was unable to carry out his plans because of financial difficulties. On the day that Nes Ziyyona was officially founded, Michael Halprin appeared on the scene bearing a blue and white flag in his hands and accompanied by a company of horsemen.

When in 1891 a ban on the entry of Jews to the Holy Land was declared he demonstrated against the edict by riding the streets of Jaffa on an Arab holiday carrying the Zionist flag and accompanied by a troop of horsemen loudly singing the hymn of the First Aliya 'Carry the banner to Zion, the banner of the camp of Judah"". When the group reached the hill on which Nes Ziyyona stood, he drew his sword and cried out "I dedicate this sword to the Lord" and cut his right hand, drawing blood, to signify that only through the sword and bloodshed could Eretz Israel be redeemed.

About the same period, Michael Halprin founded the first Workers' Organization in Eretz Israel and declared open war on the officials of Baron de Rothschild for their actions in the colonies that were under the aegis of the Baron. This led to open rebellion against the Baron's officials and as a result, Halprin was forced to leave the country for a few years, returning in 1898. He took part in a number of Zionist Conferences abroad where he appeared dressed in a red shirt "as befits a representative of the Zionist proletariat."

He then spent a number of years in Europe and returned to Eretz Israel in 1906 swearing that he would never again return to Russia. He returned a poor man, having spent or wasted all his wealth and took a job as a night watchman, first in Jaffa, and then when Tel Aviv was founded, at the Herzlia Gymnasium.

Halprin was an effective orator and also wrote a number of Yiddish dramas and poems full of love for the Land of Israel, but all his manuscripts went up in flames in the attack on Tel Hai.

He founded "Ha-Shomer" (the Watchmen's Organization) and the Poale Zion (Zionist Workers) Party and devoted himself full-time to these organizations.

When in 1918 Allenby began the conquest of Palestine and volunteers formed the Jewish Legion, he went to volunteer but was turned down on account of his age. Scarcely a few months before his death he began to consider the possibility of organizing a Jewish army to conquer the country so that it could provide a refuge for all persecuted Jews.

During and after the war he suffered greatly from ill-health and poverty. He went to live in the Upper Galilee but there he was sick, alone and forsaken. He died in Zefat in the year 1920 and was buried at Mahanayim.

A village near Nes Ziyyona was named after him - Giv'at Michael (Michael's Hill) and a street in Tel Aviv bears his name.

Bibliography: http://www.eilatgordinlevitan.com/vilna/vilna_pages/vilna_stories_halperin.html