Wartime – Jewish Legion

The Jewish Legion was the name for five battalions of Jewish volunteers established by the British Army as the 38th and 39th Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers during the First World War. The Jewish Legion fought mainly in Palestine, which at that time was under Turkish rule. It was initially formed as the Zion Mule Corps through the efforts of Vladimir Jabotinsky when the Ottoman Turks entered into World War I against Britain and her allies. At the same time, members of the Zionist movement around the world saw an opportunity to promote the idea of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine; therefore, supporting the formation of the Jewish Legion.

At the beginning of the war, the British government opposed the participation of such as group of people in Palestine, but in 1917 ultimately, the formation of a Jewish regiment was officially announced. The Legion was made up of Jewish men from different countries such as Britain, Russia, the United States and Canada. These volunteers served on the Gallipoli front from 1915-1916 and also in the Jordan Valley in 1918.

The Jewish Legion was a unique regiment who had been awarded in late 1919 a distinctive cap badge; a menorah. After the war, some of the members returned to their respective countries while others settled in Palestine.

According to Vladimir Jabotinsky’s book The Story of the Jewish Legion (New York, 1945), 5000 volunteers came from North America. Of these, approximately 300 came from Canada. This album, which is preserved in the JPL Archives, was collected to commemorate but some of the Canadian volunteers of the Jewish Legion.

The Album of the Jewish Legion

This album was originally created by Leon Cheifetz, a Montrealer and member of the Jewish Legion.  Cheifetz joined the Legion while still under the age of 18.  In Montreal he was an active member of the Poale Zion, Canadian Jewish Congress, Histadrut and he was also involved with the Keneder Adler newspaper.  Cheifetz took it on to research and collect materials on Jewish Legion members, including Canadians.  He was directly involved with the establishment of the Museum of the Jewish Legion in Israel. 

It is unclear when this specific album of the Jewish Legion was given to the Jewish Public Library by Cheifetz.  Each page of the album includes a concise biography of the soldier, written by Cheifetz.  To view the biographical entries, please open the PDF version of this album.