Hanoch Kalai (March 13, 1910 – April 15, 1979) (Hebrew: חנוך קלעי) was a member of Irgun and Lehi, and an expert on the Hebrew language. He spent three months as Irgun's Commander in Chief while David Raziel was imprisoned by the British authorities, until his own arrest.
Kalai was born in Lithuania, the son of Joseph and Pessia Strelitz. In 1924, the family moved to Palestine, where family lived on Herzl Street in Kfar Saba and his father became a bank manager in the town. Following the 1929 Palestine riots, Kalai joined the Haganah. He was also a member of the Betar movement.
Membership of Irgun
On the final night of Passover in 1933, Betar members were attacked while parading in Tel Aviv. In retaliation, Kalai and Avraham Tehomi resigned from Haganah, and together they joined the Irgun. Kalai was appointed Irgun commander for Kfar Saba and Herzliya. During the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine, Kalai demanded an end to the policy of restraint and the beginning of reprisals against the Arabs.
Following Tehomi's split with Irgun and return to Hagana in 1937, Kalai was appointed commander of the newly formed Haifa district Irgun under Moshe Rosenberg. He was later appointed deputy commander of the Jerusalem district under David Raziel. During this period, Kalai also served as a broadcaster on the Irgun's underground radio station, Kol Tsion HaLokhemet.
Kalai's three brothers were also members of Irgun and Betar. Mordechai Strelitz was an Irgun commander in Israel and abroad, and served as liaison between Irgun and Betar. Menachem Strelitz was a member of the Irgun in Kfar Saba, where he conducted experiments with weapons and explosives. He was killed at age 22 on July 17, 1936 when a grenade exploded in his hands in the family home. Mykhael Strelitz was arrested by the British and tortured. He never recovered from the experience.
Leadership of Irgun
Following Raziel's arrest on May 19, 1939, Kalai was appointed as Commander in Chief of the Irgun. At the first meeting he chaired, Kalai decided to act on two fronts: to continue retaliatory actions against the Arabs, and the commencement of operations against the British government following Parliament's approval of the White Paper of 1939. In following this policy, Irgun committed acts of sabotage against the infrastructure, including the post office and the government radio station in Jerusalem. Under Kalai's leadership, the group also assassinated the Palestine Police CID chief Ralph Cairns, to end his harassment of Irgun and in revenge for his alleged torture of Irgun prisoners.
On August 31, 1939, the British arrested him with other key members of Irgun, including Avraham Stern, during a command meeting in Tel Aviv. He was replaced as head of Irgun by Benjamin Zeroni. The detainees were transferred to the Jaffa police station, and then to the Tzrifin detention camp. Kalai and the other prisoners were released on June 18, 1940.
Membership of Lehi
Following his release, Kalai and Zeroni joined Avraham Stern who in July 1940 formed the Lehi (group), where Kalai wrote the new organization's manifesto. Kalai and Zeroni resigned from Lehi in late 1941 following Stern's attempts to form an alliance with Nazi Germany against the British.
In January 1941, the British police posted a £1000 reward for his arrest, and on February 4, 1942 Kalai and Zeroni surrendered. According to Yehuda Lapidot, one of the reasons they surrendered is that no organization would help them, and they increasingly felt like hunted animals. By agreement with the British police, they were never tried, but instead were transferred directly to a detention camp. On October 19, 1944, Kalai was exiled to a Kenyan detention camp along with 250 other detainees, and returned to Israel only on July 12, 1948.
After Israel gained independence, Kalai became a language lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was also an editor and translator to Hebrew from English, German and Yiddish, an editor at the Bialik Institute, a member of The Academy of the Hebrew Language, and the Israel Broadcasting Authority plenum member responsible for Hebrew-language broadcasts. He translated Zorba the Greek into Hebrew, the first title in Am Oved's People's Library imprint. He also translated Virginia Woolf's Flush: A Biography.