Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Benzion Netanyahu Dies at 102, Almost 120

As I looked at the headlines about Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's father's death, the dyslexic in me  saw the numbers mixed to 120.  In today's world, living to 102 is really a full life.  And in Jewish tradition, blessing a person to "live until מאה עשרים me'ah esrim, a hundred and twenty" is important.

I only observed the interaction between Benzion Netanyahu and his Prime Minister son once.  His book The Founding Fathers of Zionism, had been republished in Hebrew, and there was a festive evening with a lot of speeches.   Both father and oldest surviving son spoke, besides others.  Bibi made sure to tell us that his father still didn't need reading glasses, while he already needed them.  In contrast from the time Bibi was first elected Prime Minister, I remember reading only nasty comments and criticism from his father.  The elder Netanyahu stated that Bibi's English was better than his Hebrew.  That's because his education from high school onwards was in the United States.  And Benzion Netanyahu was never shy about criticizing his son's policies.

If anyone wants to write a psychological study of our Prime Minister, it would be important to stress how, like with the Kennedy brothers, Jack, Robert and Teddy, he wasn't the one groomed for great leadership.  First-born Yonatan, Yoni, was the real Israeli who is credited with being a military hero but died young in the famous Entebbe rescue, 1976.  Of course, nobody knows what would have been if he hadn't been killed.  You can't write history with "ifs."

Benzion's early life was totally connected to Zionist History:
Netanyahu was born Ben-Zion Mileikowsky in Warsaw in 1910, and immigrated to British Mandate Palestine in 1920.
Netanyahu studied at the David Yellin Teachers’ College and later at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His research focused on the history of the medieval Spanish Jewish community and the history of Zionism. Among his books are a biography of Don Isaac Abravanel; a history of the Spanish Marranos; and his major work, “The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain.” He also authored “The Founding Fathers of Zionism,” about the lives of the founders of political Zionism — Leon Pinsker, Theodor Herzl, Max Nordau, Israel Zangwill and Ze’ev Jabotinsky.
Netanyahu was the editor-in-chief of the Hebrew Encyclopedia for over a decade beginning in the 1950s. He served as Professor of Jewish Studies at various universities in the United States and concluded his academic career as professor emeritus at Cornell University.
From his time as a student in Jerusalem, he was involved in public Zionist activities. He was a supporter of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and edited a newspaper that also featured Prof. Joseph Klausner and poet Uri Tzvi Greenberg on its staff.
In 1939, Netanyahu traveled to London and persuaded Jabotinsky to relocate to the United States and from there mobilize support for the Jewish state. Jabotinsky died shortly after their arrival in the U.S.; Netanyahu continued to raise support for the Jewish state throughout the war and afterward.
Read more: http://www.forward.com/articles/155498/historian-ben-zion-netanyahu-dies-at-/#ixzz1tauTjwVI
Like many Israeli academics of his generation, Benzion Netanyahu made his professional career abroad, which is why the Prime Minister was educated in the United States and started his own professional, adult life there, too.  In America, Bibi could just "be himself" and not the son and brother of those two legendary figures.
The prime minister recalled the death of his brother Yonatan, who died in the Entebbe rescue raid. Since his death, Netanyahu said, his father changed his focus to international terrorism, with the belief that it is possible to fight terrorism by fighting states that sponsor it. (complete article)
Although I certainly am critical of the Prime Minister's policies, he did return home to Israel and made his life here.

Davka, last week I received a review copy of the English version of Benzion Netanyahu's The Founding Fathers of Zionism, Gefen Publishing.  It includes information, not much in personal biographies,  of five important figures from the early Zionist history, Leo Pinsker, Max Nordau, Theodor Herzl, Israel Zangwill and Ze’ev Jabotinsky.  I haven't finished reading the book; when I do, G-d willing I'll review it.


NormanF said...

A great loss for the Jewish people! His magnum opus will always be his work about the Spanish Inquisition.

Very few people live to be centenarians so his 102 birthday was cause for celebration. Sadly, Ben Zion passed from the living.

I have not always agreed with his son's policies. But I do know very much the pain of losing a father. Its not something a child wants to see at any age.

That said, every one in Israel has shown grace, sensitivity and compassion. Whatever is said of the Wars Of The Jews, there is time for them, Not now and may the memory of Ben Zion Netanyahu be for an eternal blessing!

Batya said...

Norman, nicely stated.

Bibi's two sons have now lost both their grandfathers within a few months. Each grandfather was an expert in Jewish History. Ben-Artzi encouraged their interest in Tanach and lived with them. They have tough acts to follow.