Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Report on The Begin Center

The Long Island's "The Jewish Star" published this account of the Begin Center:

Remembering Menachem Begin

by Malka Eisenberg, its Travel Reporter.

On a hill overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, a smooth white stone museum off of Derech Hevron houses a moving commemoration of the life and accomplishments of Menachem Begin, Israel’s sixth prime minister.

The Menachem Begin Heritage Center offers extensive audiovisual displays of Begin’s experiences and times, with reenactments of pivotal events including his interrogation by the NKVD (the precursor of the KGB) and planning sessions of the Irgun. Visitors sit in a reconstruction of his spare, book-lined living room and on benches at a flier-strewn election rally as they are guided through various stages of his story...

...As a reporter, I do not put myself into my stories. However, walking through the imposing entrance way and following the guide through each stage of Begin’s life, I realized that I was a child of this time. I recognized the faces and know the names of many in the photographs. I was learning in Jerusalem the year Egyptian President Anwar Sadat came to Israel; only I and one friend from my school refused to join the crowds lining Rechov Yaffa to cheer his motorcade.

I felt the pain of those displaced from the destroyed city of Yamit in Sinai; I had camped in that beautiful rugged desert and felt the sand in my teeth. I stood next to a blown out Egyptian cannon at Sharm-el-Sheikh. I marched in rallies and Solidarity Sundays to push for the release of Soviet Jews — Jews whom Begin then welcomed to Israel. But above all, I felt the pride in Begin’s fierce love of the nation, the Torah, and the people and land of Israel. Begin went to the Kotel following his election and all his life he stood up for Israel against all odds; the pride when he bombed Osirak, when he brought in the Ethiopian Jews and when he saved the Vietnamese boat people. And the sadness when the death of his wife left him a crushed man.

Begin wanted to be remembered as a man who prevented civil war by pledging allegiance to the government when the state was declared and by calling on his forces not to return fire when the arms-laden Irgun ship, the Altalena, was fired upon by the Haganah. Begin was also a humble man: he asked to be buried not with the Israeli dignitaries on Mount Hertzl but on Har Hazaytim next to his wife Aliza and beside two martyrs of the British occupation who blew themselves up with a smuggled hand grenade rather than be hanged by the British.

When asked after his election what he wanted to be known for, he said, “Yehudi tov”: a good Jew.

One other thing: the museum is on the Hinnom Shoulder, an ancient crossroad of the Refaim and Ben-Hinnom Valleys. There are burial caves in an archaeological garden behind the museum dating to Bayit Rishon, the time of kings in Israel, about 2600 years ago. A silver pendant engraved with Birkat Cohanim and 95 skeletons and other artifacts were found there. After touring the museum, ask to see the garden.

By reservation only: The Menachem Begin Museum, 6 Nachon Street. Sunday-Thursday 9-4:30, Tuesday 9-7, Friday 9-12:30. Telephone 02-565-2020.
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