A front-row seat on history

Workers pull the cover over the framework of the mourners' tent in Yoni Square.

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.


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14 Responses to “A front-row seat on history”

  1. Gerry Zoller Says:

    Esther, your descriptions are wonderful, I feel like I am there. Thank you for keeping me connected

  2. Iris Chayet Says:

    Great post Esther. I also felt like I was there, especially living in the U.S. xxoo iris

  3. Eric C Says:

    Excellent article. I rmrbr when “he” came to visit his father and we watched the prep by the security team for the arrival/dept. 102 is quite the accompishment. Safta Bessie made 101.

  4. Marilyn Bono Says:

    No matter the topic, it seems you have the talent to capture a moment – an event – a mood and share with those of us who are so far away. I remember your pointing out Ben-Zion Netanyahu’s house when we visited. Thank you for this post.

  5. ofra Says:

    it is a great article
    and as a neigbour i share your feelings and impresion
    i couldn’t describe the situation better

  6. Inge Wiesen Says:

    Esther, this is a side of Benjamin Netanyahu I would have never known. Thank you for writing this lovely piece; it reminds me once again that people are not one-dimensional.

    • estherhecht Says:

      Thank you, Inge. Being the son of Ben-Zion Netanyahu could not have been easy, and having a brother who died a hero did not make it easier. If you’re interested, you should read the obit for Ben-Zion Netanyahu by Ari Shavit that appeared in Ha’aretz yesterday. One of the interesting points was that in the old days when the left-wing Mapai was in control, a person who held different political views had a hard time finding a position in an Israeli university. Today the shoe is on the other foot, but one needs to remember that the “good old days” weren’t so perfect.

  7. Rosette Strubel Says:

    Thanks for sharing this with us. Rosette

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