DECEMBER 1948: MENACHEM BEGIN'S FIRST US VISIT (PART 2)
This week we present Part 2 of the three-part series on Menachem Begin's first visit to the United States based on a recent donation of archival materials given to the Begin Center Archives by Mrs. Estelle Friedman.
In response to our previous article, we received emails from David Krakow and Estelle Friedman informing us of the name of the young man in the picture last week with Menachem Begin and Mrs. Jabotinsky. It was Seymour (Simcha) Rosenberg at the age of 24 who replaced Moshe Arens as Natsiv of American Betar in September 1948. The picture was taken at the Diplomat Hotel in New York. We also heard from Mr. Rosenberg's daughter, Meira, who confirmed the information. We thank them for taking the time to write and contributing details to the material in our archives.
We invite our readers to convey to us any additional information about this visit and, of course, our Archives awaits any historical records related to Menachem Begin (letters, documents, pictures and newspaper clippings) you possess which can be scanned and returned, if need be.
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In The Jewish Ledger dated December 8, 1948, Simon Bloom describes Menachem Begin, his speeches and his first visit to the US. He says:
I had no idea of the type of person I was expecting to see, but considering the exploits of the Irgun, and the fact that it was they who made it so uneasy for the British that they got out of Palestine, I wasn't prepared to see a 'melamed'.
That was my first impression of Begin. That's what he looked like and that's what he talked like. But don't get the wrong idea, because I use the word 'melamed'. I don't mean a man with a long beard. … It's the appearance of Begin that gives the feeling, hard to shake off, that the man is a dreamer, an idealist. And he must have as the core of his inner-drive the same burning convictions which shaped the life of another dreamer of another faith, Ignatius Loyola. …
During that span, from my first to my last attempts to pigeon-hole him, I find myself still of the conviction that here is a dreamer who will continue to make events and shape destiny. …
He gave his talk to his audience extemporaneously. He seemed to be reading a speech part of the time, but there was no reading. It was his manner of talking. At times he would lift his head and gaze aloft at the audience. On one such occasion he said softly, "Now you have seen what a 'terrorist' looks like," referring to himself. "I will tell you about another terrorist, but he is not here, only his picture and spirit are here." He turned reverently to the picture of Dov Bel Gruner which flanked the dais on one side with the pictures of Jabotinsky on the other. …
[In referring to the men who joined him on the tour of the US, Begin said,] "These heroic soldiers will be good citizens in the land of Israel tomorrow." … "Our war was a war for survival. What would have happened to us if we did not wage that war is no longer a secret. It is public knowledge now that the Jewish Agency had accepted the Morrison Plan on condition that it be given the right to distribute the monthly quota of four thousand immigration certificates. And this we know too, that the British would have been very happy to exterminate us completely in Palestine. Were it not for our war of liberation, we would have been left in a ghetto, without arms and helpless and on D-Day we would have met in the heart of Asia, the same fate which our brethren met in the heart of Europe. …
[In the words of another member of the delegation in regard to the time when the Haganah was turning in wanted Irgun members,] There was resentment in the Irgun about the wanted [men] to fight back against the Haganah. This would mean civil war. Begin said the decision was up to the eight [commanders]. They could fight back against the Haganah if they wanted. If they did that they might destroy the nation. Or if they didn't make that choice, then the Irgun might itself be destroyed. It was a dramatic scene as Benjamin described it. Here in their hands eight men held perhaps the destiny of a nation. Could they fight back against the Haganah or should they risk their own destruction and perhaps with that destruction the one factor that would drive the British out of Israel.
The thing that made their minds up for them were the other words that Begin said. Solemnly he told them if you decide to fight against the Haganah, you will fight without me. I will walk out now and you are free to choose from among yourselves a new commander. The choice is yours – civil war and disunity among all our people without me at your side, or my continuation as commander and the avoidance of bloodshed among our own people. We have but one enemy and that enemy is Britain.
Menachem Begin was asked at the Newark press conference a question "Of what significance is the proposed acceptance of the state of Israel in the UN to the Freedom party [the Herut Party] and to the future of the state of Israel?" He answered, "I don't think it will be accepted and if it will be it will not be to the advantage of Israel because it can only be on a compromise basis and it will necessitate the surrender of additional territory by the Israeli government. …The UN has shelved the application for membership, but due to the difference in time, the shelving was not known then.
December is a very special time in Jerusalem. For the third year in a row, the Menachem Begin Heritage Center has participated in the initiative—Hamshooshalayim--of the Jerusalem Municipality to encourage tourism to Jerusalem in December. "Hamshoosh" refers to the Israeli slang term of a long weekend—Thursday, Friday, Saturday (i.e., Hamishi, Shishi, Shabbat). For three weekends in December, entrance to many museums, tourist sites and other entertainment options are free of charge or at a discount. On Fridays, many special walking tours of the city are provided, some of which are free of charge and some at a discount. Both English and Hebrew tours are available.
The Begin Center was fully booked last Thursday night from 9:00pm to 12:30am and is fully booked for the next two weeks. So many people requested reservations that due to limited space in the museum, some were unfortunately unable to get a reservation.
Not only tourists from abroad attend Hamshooshalayim events. Many people have come from all over Israel to participate. And many of those people have come especially to the Begin Center.