Jewish Journal

Esther Shawmut Friedman, former Haganah medic, dies at 89

Posted on Mar. 13, 2013 at 4:05 am

Esther Shawmut Friedman, an American volunteer who worked as a medic in the Haganah, died on March 7. She was 89. 

Born and raised in Boston, Shawmut Friedman joined the U.S. Navy WAVES in 1943, serving as pharmacist’s mate in Navy hospitals during World War II. After her discharge from the Navy, she worked as a youth organizer for Habonim and as a recruiter for Land and Labor for Palestine, which secretly enlisted World War II veterans to serve in the Haganah or to sail ships smuggling Jews into Palestine.

After an attack on medical personnel on Mount Scopus in 1948, Shawmut Friedman left for Palestine. Sailing aboard the Pan York, she jumped ship with other volunteers in the Mediterranean near Bat Galim. Caught in the riptides of Israel’s coast, she was rescued by a young sabra, Aaron Friedman, who pulled her out and carried her to safety. She would go on to serve as a combat medic in the Israel Defense Forces’ 8th Armored Brigade during the battle for Beersheba and other engagements. Four years after her rescue, she ran into Friedman, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s bodyguard, as they shared a sherut (group taxi) ride. The couple married in November 1954. 

Back in the United States, Shawmut Friedman served as the Southern California region executive director of the Zionist Organization of America, regional director of the State of Israel Bonds for the San Fernando Valley, director of BBYO and president of Machal West for nearly 20 years.

She is survived by husband, Aaron; daughter Shari (Howard) Lesnick; and grandsons, Maxx and Ben.

Shawmut Friedman was laid to rest at Eden Cemetery on March 10 with military honors.

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