Sara Baruch explains the inspiring story of one man’s hope and defiance, and the festival that has evolved from it.
Operation Dogo takes place every year on 18th January. In this operation masses join the private custom of eating the falafel of Holocaust survivor David “Dugo” Leitner. He was born in Hungary in 1930, and on Passover 1944, Dugo and his family transferred to the Nirjhaza Ghetto, in his hometown.
The family was soon sent to a camp in Auschwitz. Dogo was cut off from his family but managed to survive in the camp. On 18th January, 1945, only 14 years old, Dogo marched with 60,000 prisoners on the death march from Auschwitz, when anyone who stopped was shot to death.
When his eyes almost closed and he was about to give up, he remembered his mother, Golda, who had told him as a child that in the land of Israel there were round ‘bilkelach’ rolls growing on the trees. The thought of that bun gave him hope and strength to continue the march.
The march ended in the Mauthausen camp. After it he transferred to the Gontskirchen camp from where he was liberated. Dogo made Aliya to Israel and was one of the founders of Moshav Nir Galim in south-central Israel, adjacent to the city of Ashdod.
On one of his trips around Jerusalem he arrived in Mahane Yehuda market where he saw falafel balls frying in oil. When he looked at them, he saw the ‘bilkelach’. Since then, every year on 18th January, he eats as much falafel as he can, until he cannot eat anymore.
For him, it is his revenge and a celebration of the fact that he is still alive, that he is in the land of Israel and thus fulfilled his mother’s dream and, of course, of that he is no longer hungry.
In Nir Galim, a falafel eating festival is held every year, and schools and youth movements all over Israel mark the day. In 2019, President Reuven Rivlin shared a falafel lunch with him, and in 2020 he continued the tradition together with Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi.
One of the beautiful things we can learn from Dogo is that he took something as simple as a portion of falafel and turned it into a symbol of victory and he invites us all to join in this victory.
I invite you all to join the amazing Dogo tradition, eat falafel on 18th January, and upload a photo to social media along with the sentence ” ” or # Do not forget to tag me on Instagram @ Sarab_shlicha or on Facebook @Sara Baruch Shlicha.