In the first years of its existence, Israel heroically defied all odds and many writers like the late Leon Uris captured this promised new spirit of the Israeli people. His 600-page masterpiece Exodus created a sensation in 1957 and propelled him to the highest literary fame. It was a detailed and heroic chronicle of European Jewry from the turn of the last century to the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.
Exodus, while being the epic story of a nation in search of a state, was also the touching love story of Ari Ben Canaan, an Israeli freedom fighter, and Kitty Fremont, an American nurse. who joins Canaan’s fight for a Jewish state.
In 1958, after becoming one of the most popular novels of the century, Exodus was made into a movie by Otto Preminger and introduced Paul Newman as Canaan. It was probably the first time Hollywood has portrayed a Jewish man in such heroic dimensions. The book and film contributed to the mythology of the Israeli fighter as an indomitable and idealistic hero.
But it wasn’t that Israel lacked such men at the time. The founders of the Palmach, the elite Haganah strike force that was the forerunner of the Israel Defense Forces, were men like Moshe Dayan, Haim Bar Lev, Ezer Weizmann, Yigael Yadin, Yitzhak Rabin and Yigal Allon, were all men of heroic proportions and each could have been a prototype for Canaan.
But it was Yigal Allon who came closest to it. Allon, who died in 1980, began life as the Haganah Field Commander in 1936 when he was just 18 years old. In 1941, he was one of the founders of the Palmach, the commando-style strike unit of the Haganah. In 1948 he was appointed lieutenant general and commanded the Israeli forces in the south which “liberated” the Negev in what would become the War of Independence. He retired from the Israeli army in 1950, at the age of 32.