Whatever you think of Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu as prime minister, you have to give him credit for one thing: his devotion as a son. He would come at least once a week to visit his aged father, and over the past two weeks or so, as his father’s health declined, Bibi visited every single day.
This morning, historian Ben-Zion Netanyahu died at home at the age of 102. Until recently he could still be seen walking down the steps in front of his house to a waiting taxi. It’s hard to believe that this neighbor is no longer with us. He outlived his wife, Tzila, and his son Yoni, who was killed in 1976 while leading the rescue of hostages held in Entebbe by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Ben-Zion Netanyahu was the editor-in-chief of the Hebrew Encyclopedia for more than a decade and the founding editor of the Encyclopaedia Judaica. His magnum opus, The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth-Century Spain, was completed after Yoni was killed.
As I write these words, Ben-Zion Netanyahu is being interred. Soon the shiva, the seven-day mourning period, will begin. It is customary to hold the shiva in the home of the deceased. And so, since early morning, preparations have been under way outside the window of my study.
The large garden surrounding his house has been trimmed and the debris carted away. Street cleaners have scrubbed the intersection in front of it. Truck after truck has disgorged equipment: bright yellow barriers, the metal supports and plastic cover of an enormous white tent, hundreds of stacked plastic chairs. The street leading to the house has been closed; the huge tent fills much of the intersection named, fittingly, after Yoni Netanyahu. Everything has moved with the precision of a well-oiled machine.
It’s not every day that a prime minister sits shiva. Shiva is, by its very nature, both a private and a public event. But the shiva of a prime minister is unlike that of any other person. Nevertheless, the prime minister, always dressed to the nines, will have to wear a garment that has been torn, as part of the ritual of mourning.
All this is happening on the same day that the newspapers announced early elections, perhaps as soon as August. But for the next seven days, some things will just have to wait.
Text and photograph copyright 2012 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text or photograph may be used without written permission of the author.