From her beginnings as a British officer and Haganah operative to her later years as an ambassador and Knesset member, Esther Herlitz shaped the essence of the young State of Israel. Herlitz came to Palestine with her family in 1933 and joined the Haganah as a teen. In 1943 she joined the British Army’s Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), training Jewish recruits, while working for the Haganah. When finally discharged from the ATS in 1947, she served in the War of Independence as deputy commander of a unit of 150 women during the siege of Jerusalem. She then joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1949, and by 1950 was first secretary of the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC. She took a leave of absence from diplomatic service and from 1960–1964 she headed the Tel Aviv Cultural Committee, establishing public libraries and language programs for new immigrants. She served as Israel’s ambassador to Denmark from 1966–1971 and created the Israel Voluntary Service in 1972. In 1973, newly elected to the Knesset, she became the first female member of the Committee for Foreign Affairs and Defense, and in 1975 she also joined the Commission on the Status of Women, where she spearheaded a liberal abortion law. Indefatigable even in retirement, she served on the Jerusalem board of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion for 25 years, stepping down in 2012.
More on Esther Herlitz
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Esther Herlitz." (Viewed on January 22, 2020) <https://jwa.org/people/herlitz-esther>.
Help us elevate the voices of Jewish women.