Thursday, March 1, 2007

Begin's Living Memorial

Harry Hurwitz's article in The Jerusalem Post on February 27:-

Last week marked the anniversary, on the Hebrew calendar, of the death of prime minister Menachem Begin, who died on March 9, 1992. On this 15th anniversary of his death the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem republished, in Hebrew, a booklet that first appeared 56 years ago and has been out of print for years.

"Menachem Begin - Worldview, National Perspective and Fundamental Principles" contains the philosophy and political program as outlined by the then leader of Herut at his party's second convention, held on February 26, 1951 in Netanya.

As party chairman, Begin began his address by dealing with current affairs, then stopped and said he wanted to discuss the fundamental problem of the Jewish state in its homeland. A few weeks later, the speech was serialized in Herut, the party newspaper, and then published as a booklet.

Remarkably, a strong consistency runs through the booklet, most of which is as relevant today as when it was published. A copy of the original booklet is on display in the Begin Heritage Center.

IMMEDIATELY after Begin's death I advocated the establishment in Jerusalem of a living memorial along the lines of American presidential libraries which I had visited during my three years at our embassy in Washington, DC. I invited a number of key people, like Yaakov Meridor, Eliyahu Lankin, Yechiel Kadishai, Nathan Silver and "Smoky" Simon, to whom I presented the concept of a "presidential library" commemorating Menachem Begin. Begin's son, Benny, was also present at the early discussions.

The idea appealed, though not everyone knew or understood what a presidential library actually was. I elaborated and the idea became more attractive, but then arose the question of funding and I agreed to make two or three trips abroad to test the waters.

The rest is history.

Over the years almost the entire amount required to build our modest but impressive four-floor structure was raised in Israel and abroad. It took several years to secure the magnificent location on which the Begin Center stands. Much help was provided in this effort by the then-mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert, and by the then head of the Israel Lands Authority, Ariel Sharon.

Eventually, the ground-breaking ceremony was held in June 1998, and the center was officially opened in 2004. By that time, Herzl Makov was already functioning for a number of years as its director-general.

WE CAN NOW say that the institute is a splendid success. The number of visitors in our first two years compares most favorably with the US presidential libraries, in actual or relative numbers, and our multifaceted activities have made it a dynamic, living institution. The center's fame has spread far and wide and people abroad make reservations weeks ahead to be sure they get in, especially during the crowded holiday periods.

Our main educational program, the junior Knesset, is now being featured on Israel Television Channel 1 in a six-week series, and the Thursday evening lectures on the weekly Torah portion attract hundreds of excited devotees across the Israeli social and religious spectrum. There is also special interest in our archeological garden, featuring excavations dating back to the First and Second Temple periods.

Israel has reason to be proud of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. But the handful of Begin devotees who created it, myself included, are disappointed that few leaders of this nation, irrespective of party affiliation, ministers, Knesset members, mayors and professors have thus far made the time to come and see for themselves what has impressed, moved and inspired more than a quarter of a million visitors who have experienced, through the center, Menachem Begin's life, deeds, words, leadership, integrity and modesty.