Sunday, January 31, 2010

We Are Investigating This

A Rabbi Marc Gopin has claimed this in a Jerusalem Post interview:

What was it like growing up in the shadow of Rabbi Soloveitchik?

I miss that Orthodox piety so much, it's gone. My hassidic family attached itself to a holy man who was a mitnaged. Rabbi Soloveitchik was my life. My father gave me over to him; my father loved me intensely but wasn't a man of words. The Rav was uncomfortable with the idea of being a holy man. His ideal man was a learned teacher; he did not worship other people or want to be worshiped, but did worship our capacity to think. In the study of the sacred, the irony is that you get attached to people who liberate you and cause you to think for yourself.

We were Eastern European Jews in an isolated community in Boston. Most of the children were children of professors, doctors, lawyers. I came from a simple, pious family. There was tension between the spiritual ideal of study for study's sake versus ruthless competition to get into Harvard. What Rabbi Soloveitchik's ethical monotheism was teaching me was not being practiced.

What changed to pull you away from this world?

When Menachem Begin became prime minister, Rabbi Soloveitchik was shocked. He refused to go hear him when he came to speak 100 feet away at Yeshiva University. I asked why? He looked at me cautiously and said, "Why should I listen to a person who blew up people in a hotel?" referring to Menachem Begin's blowing up the King David Hotel [in 1946].

We had similar values and it was a turning point for me when he said that. It also made me a little crazy. I felt like the word from this inner sanctum was that everything outside was a problem. He and I understood that sometimes war was necessary to defend life. But I also understood at that moment that a man building on the philosophies of Hermann Cohen could not support Lehi.

In 1982, when I heard about Sabra and Shatilla in Lebanon, it was also a turning point. It was right before Yom Kippur. Rabbi Soloveitchik called Menachem Begin and insisted on an investigation. I was still taking care of him. I wrote a poem at the time to this effect: "I looked around everywhere and in the halls of the kollel and saw bullet holes and all were oozing blood." I couldn't get it out of my mind. I could always feel [the pain of tragedies] even if I wasn't physically present. The Holocaust is inside of me all the time. But this is different - [allowed to happen] by a Jewish army. It was a secret place of pain that left me and Rabbi Soloveitchik feeling betrayed.

I also read about Deir Yassin. It started to alienate me that Jews debate these things among themselves as if they are being rational, but it is not rational to talk only with people who were not there. I realized I was hearing only half the story. People think they are scientific because they read newspapers but have never met a survivor. I made a decision to understand the reality of Israel's wars from more than one perspective. Doing this, I started to lose my community, but all I was doing was fulfilling my obligations to my community by engaging in honest investigation.

Rabbi Soloveitchik said if you are afraid of knowledge, the problem is with you, not with the knowledge. I applied these words to my study of conflict, after deciding there was a black hole in the study of Jewish conflicts with Arabs. From the 1980s until today, I have been on a journey to discover my enemies.

We are investigating this as it would seem to contradict the relationship the Rav had with Begin stemmining back to Brisk and his suggesting the Rav for the Chief Rabbinate position in the 1950s and his later conferring with hims on the issue of moving the Holocaust Day to Tisha B'Av.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Begin on "Palestine"


Statement in the Knesset by Prime Minister Begin on the Cairo conference, 28 November 1977

We want the peace to be between ourselves and all our neighbours. And again: let these things be heard in Damascus and in Amman, in Beirut and in Baghdad, and in all the Arab capitals from the Atlantic Ocean to the Persian Gulf…And we want peace with King Hussein so that we may be able to build our lives together, and to think how to open a new era for this country… We propose to all of them that they should send delegations...

(Interjection: The Palestinian people as well?)

Mr. Wilner, listen to me now, please. I am talking to you as one Jew to another. Listen and don't interrupt. I speak Hebrew. That word you used is not Hebrew, it is jargon. When the first British High Commissioner was here and it was necessary to decide what name for the country could be stamped on the coins - those with a hole in them -then in English, of course, they engraved "Palestine" - there was no doubt: in English the name of the country was Palestine, and in Arabic, "Filastin" - there is no doubt about it, that is the name of the country in Arabic. But it had to be decided how it should be in Hebrew, and they said: Of course, "Eretz Yisrael."

That has always been the name of the country, since days of old, in all generations. But there were protests: How can we say "Eretz Yisrael" so expressly? And then, that British High Commissioner found a compromise. He would write "Palestina", which is not Hebrew at all, but he would add in parentheses, "Aleph Yud" - so the Jews read it "Eretz Yisrael" - and those who did not understand so well read "Palestina (Ai)". And now do you know the origin of this word? And I speak Hebrew, my dear sir, not Sovietish.

(Interjection: Is there a Palestinian people or not?)

There is an Arab people.

(Interjection: A Palestinian people?)

I have already told you: I speak Hebrew, not Sovietish. When you are in Moscow you can speak in your own language.

Mr. Speaker,
We have set foot on the road to the establishment of peace. I ask the House to give its blessing for this road on which we are going to go. And I have an appeal to all the members of the Knesset, without distinction between most of the parties. Dear friends, honoured rivals, ladies and gentlemen, members of the Knesset:..There is no need to compete in "concessionism." We are not in exile, but in our homeland, not in the ghetto, but in our sovereign state. It is not fitting that there should be competition as to who is a more peace-loving Jew and who is a less peace-loving Jew.

The truth is that we all want peace with all our hearts and all our souls. We want peace, we pray for it and long for it, and we also hope to bring it about. True we have straightened our backs in the Land of Israel. We shall not grow arrogant, but we shall not bow our heads either. We shall insist on our people's rights, on its security and peace, and with God's help we shall succeed in bringing true peace to our people and our neighbours, because peace is necessary to us and also to them.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Jerusalem A Century Ago - Near and Around the Site of the Begin Center

Emeq Refain and Derech Bet Lehem spread out to the left and the train station can be seen in the center. The Begin Center location can be seen as bare, just right & low of center.

No. 5 is the train station and No. 7 is the Sham'ah neighborhood where the Cinematheque is today. Between the two, from top to bottom, can be seen what is today Nahon Street.

A view from approximately the Mt. Zion Hotel is today looking north-east to the Sultan's Pool area. The Begin Center is now at the left-center.

A view from the opposite direction, from near Jaffa Gate looking south at the Sultan's Pool and the area where the Begin Center now is located.

Same view from an earlier period before World War I.

and a map and detail of the area of the Begin Center in 1924:-

From Haiti Back to Menachem Begin

Haiti recalls Menachem Begin and the Vietnamese boat-people episode here:-

Amos Radian, Israel's ambassador to the Dominican Republic, who also represents the country in Haiti, suggested to the foreign ministry that Israel adopt about 50 children treated in the hospital who appear to have been orphaned. The foreign ministry said it would examine the legal aspects of the proposal. In the meanwhile, according to Israeli TV, the ministry is preparing to erect a youth village for hundreds of orphaned children in Haiti and plans to staff it with volunteers, counselors and mostly female soldiers from the army's education corps.

A Vietnamese refugee who found a new life in Israel spoke with Israel Radio this morning about finding safe haven and the difficulty of growing up looking different from those around him. Huong was 9 years old in 1977 when then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin granted entry to the boat of refugees on which he was a passenger. "I feel for these children," he said of the young Haitians. "There's nothing like a child waiting for a hug, a kind word or just someone by his side after all he's been through."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Monday, January 11, 2010

Yet Another Begin Reminisce by Yehuda Avner

Another Yehuda Avner "Bygone Days" column:

Bygone Days: When sanctity was profaned

There is a strand within ultra-Orthodoxy which, try as one might, it is impossible to reason with. I do not speak of the haredi mainstream but of those zealot sectarians who feel so threatened by the fast change in scientific-technological society, and so fearful of the festering breakdown of moral mores beyond their ghettos that the intensity of their anger can become one letter short of actual danger. Hate becomes their fuel, and fear their barricade against new knowledge. When, in debate, one casts doubts on what they hold to be rigid beliefs, you are not simply making a rhetorical point, you are threatening their whole universe, and that provokes venom, and quite frequently, irrational public fury.

Take the incident of the demonstration against Prime Minister Menachem Begin in March 1979. To the standing ovation of a galaxy of dignitaries assembled on the north lawn of the White House, and to the fervent acclaim of the world media, prime minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat put their signatures to the Egyptian-Israel peace treaty. On the following day, a Thursday, the prime minister flew to New York for an extended weekend that turned into a hero's welcome - public rallies, receptions, interviews and dazzling black-tied and evening-gowned banquets. Begin reveled in it all.

His Sunday program began with a CBS interview on Face the Nation, while in the prime minister's Waldorf Astoria suite another camera crew was setting up equipment for an interview of an entirely different kind. It was to be a documentary for posterity - a relaxed soliloquy in which Begin would be given all the time he needed to talk candidly in depth about his life and times. Brainchild of Rabbi Alexander Schindler, head of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the footage was intended for archival purposes, to be released at some unspecified future date. He and Begin were old friends, having worked closely together during Schindler's chairmanship of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

AS I sat with Schindler going over his notes, awaiting the prime minister's arrival, a demonstration was beginning to form on Park Avenue below. Mention had been made that the police had granted a permit to a group of haredim who were protesting an archeological dig in Jerusalem at a location called "Area G." Human bones had allegedly been uncovered at the site, thereby rendering the ground hallowed. The group in question were disciples of the avidly anti-Zionist New York-based Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, many of whose followers were associated with a zealot sect called Natorei Karta - Aramaic for the Guardians of the Walls. To these most ultra of ultra-Orthodox Jews, the State of Israel was, by its very existence, a secular blasphemy, a man-made obscenity, a sinful obstacle along the road to ultimate divine redemption.

The NYPD had assured us that while microphones would be used for speeches, the volume would not reach Begin's suite, 38 floors above. Looking down I could discern the cordoned-off area where the demonstration was beginning to assemble, between 49th and 50th Streets, directly in front of the hotel. A mobile speaker's platform was positioned in the center of the block, on the southbound lane, and from the height where I stood everything was in miniature. Hundreds of tiny beings, all garbed in black - black pie-shaped, broad-brimmed hats, black kaftans, black beards - were gradually filling the cordoned off block in what seemed to be absolute silence. No street noise penetrated the multipaned windows of the hotel suite; it all looked so neat, so symmetrical, so choreographed, like a velvet tapestry embroidered by an invisible hand energized by the crowd.

The design was sprinkled with spots of dark blue, these being the policemen posted in no particular pattern. They wore no crash helmets, nor did they carry shields or batons. Jewish demonstrations were never violent, it was said. There was nothing sinister about the feel of it all. Indeed, I could not but marvel at the innocent civility of the occasion, how this great metropolis was taking in its stride an anti-Zionist, haredi demonstration on a Sunday afternoon in the very heart of Manhattan, and shrug it off as just one more community of New Yorkers doing their own thing in their own way, as the law provides.

UNAWARE OF the protesters below, Begin entered the lounge and greeted Schindler warmly. Seeing me staring out of the window, he asked what was attracting my attention. When I told him, he strode over to look down.

"Nu, nu," he said, "thank God America is a free country where Jews can demonstrate without fear."

He then clapped his hands, placed himself in a chair facing the camera and said with alacrity, "Shall we begin?" And the camera rolled.

Schindler began by asking him about his home life as a youngster, his early years as a Zionist, his trials as commander of the Irgun underground, his frustrations as a politician and his aspirations as a statesman. The most personal and difficult questions he left to the end - those about the fate of the Begin family during the Holocaust; what their slaughter had done to him as a man and as a Jew. And, yes, where was God?

As Begin began to explain the meaning of kiddush Hashem - the sanctification of the Almighty's name even in the hell of the Holocaust - the sound system below was turned up full blast, and a speaker was heard damning Begin as a Nazi, and calling upon the United Nations to dismantle the Jewish state And then the single voice gradually amplified into a chorus which swelled into a howl, and the howl into a roar, as hundreds of far-off voices from the street below welled up yelling in unison a chilling curse in a rhythmic beat: "Begin, yemach shimcha! Begin, yemach shimcha!"

And as the protesters called down the wrath of God upon the prime minister to obliterate his name from the face of the earth, he did not stop talking about his ani ma'amin - his credo - why, despite all the suffering, he remained a believing Jew. And as he said these words the rant of hate rose and grew, until Begin ordered the camera to stop.

He sat there head bent, lips compressed and trembling, and fists clenched so tightly against the arms of the chair that his knuckles went white, as if seized by some private infernal Holocaust reverie.

Little by little, the din died down, and amid the hush that settled on the room he went on to dwell at length about his undiminished belief in Elokei Yisrael - the God of Israel - ending off in almost a whisper, "After the Holocaust, there is no command more supreme than that a Jew should never curse another Jew, should never lift a finger against another Jew and should endeavor to love his fellow Jew as himself."

The writer served on the staff of five prime ministers, including Menachem Begin. His book, The Prime Ministers - an Intimate Narrative, is due out in the spring.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Pictures of the Begin Center Area form the Previous Century

The Train Station main building:

From the Sultan's Pool looking south (St. Andrew's Church, just above Center site, top-center)

On Hebron Way, looking south towards Sultan Pool, Begin Center, off left:
King David Hotel and the YMCA Building:

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Altalena Pictures

Found here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Begin Center Dinner Report

From Greer Fay Cashman's Grapevine:

· IT WAS somehow appropriate that the 10th anniversary of the Begin Heritage Center should take place during the Christmas period, one of whose focal points is peace. After all, it was Prime Minister Menachem Begin who signed the country's first peace treaty with an Arab state. On hand were Begin stalwarts such as Yehiel Kadishai, Yehuda Avner and Meir Rosenne, but unfortunately there were no members of the Begin family. The late Harry Hurwitz, to whose vision and tenacity the BHC owes its existence, was represented by his wife Freda. Oddly, very little was said about Begin, while Hurwitz, who had been Begin's close friend and ally from 1946 until Begin's death in 1992, and who himself passed away in October 2008, received only a passing mention.

The man of the hour was Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, who had come to talk about the way in which the country was overcoming the global economic crisis. He was particularly proud of the fact that in a review of global economies, the investment bank Barclays Capital had pronounced Israel to have the strongest recovery story. Steinitz was also proud of the fact that even though such a measure has been broadly criticized by economists, the Knesset passed a two-year budget.

A punctual man, Steinitz, who was running a fever, had a good excuse for not attending. In fact, he came early and, during the cocktail reception, waited for his turn at the microphone so that he could go home. He spoke without notes, and considering how he felt, he was remarkably good on his feet. Had he not been able to deliver, either Rosenne or Avner could have easily improvised. Both are seasoned public speakers. Smoky Simon, chairman of World Mahal, who had been close to Begin since 1957, said of Avner that Begin had always referred to him as "my Shakespeare."

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Begin's Vietnam Decision Recalled

From this article, Vietnamese shouldn't thank Thatcher, which deals with boat people entering Britain from Vietnam in 1979 and what he claims was misplaced gratitude to Margaret Thatcher by Mark Tran, we learn of Menachem Begin's influence in matters of humanism:

...newly-released Downing Street papers...released by the National Archives, showed that [Prime Minister Margeret Thatcher] only very reluctantly agreed to take the Vietnamese refugees and only did so after much arm-twisting by Lord Carrington, then foreign secretary, and William Whitelaw, then home secretary. These are the real heroes behind the decision by Britain to accept 10,000 Vietnamese refugees.

...Despite his reputation as a wet, Whitelaw took a strong stand. "It is necessary that we should have a positive and defensible policy towards refugees from a brutal communist tyranny," the home secretary said. As for Carrington, he pointed out that Britain would look pretty bad if it did not come up with a signficant offer especially as the UN conference was Thatcher's idea to start with. Thatcher also came under strong international pressure. Menachem Begin, the Israeli prime minister, had written to Thatcher in June 1979 criticising her idea of a conference and suggested that each country accept a certain number of refugees as a way of dealing with "this horrific tragedy".

Eventually Thatcher relented and decided that yes, Britain would take 10,000 Vietnamese refugees.