Had anyone suggested during one of the many times I demonstrated against Ariel Sharon that one day I would serve in his government, I would have claimed they were out of their mind. But Arik was a very non-ideological, pragmatic leader driven by a deep passion for the wellbeing and future of this country and of the Jewish People. This led him to incredibly brave, and at times, deeply tragic leadership decisions. Yet, it brought him to a place slowly but surely where, as Prime Minister, he could take responsibility for the bigger picture and make courageous decisions where we could find common ground.
Despite being a junior minister in his government, because I had the cabinet responsibilities of the Jewish world in my portfolio, he would frequently invite me to long conversations to discuss the wellbeing of the Jewish communities around the world. He would pay special attention to the level of Jewish identity of the younger generations and the situation of anti-Semitism in the Diaspora, and he was obsessed with aliyah.
When I convened a ministerial committee for world Jewish affairs, while all the seemingly busy cabinet ministers never had time to attend meetings, and only sent their bureaucrats, he, as prime minister would insist upon participating in person. When we held “mega” Birthright events, other leaders would make their speeches, receive their applause and disappear. Arik would, to the frustration of his advisors, sit through to the bitter end. He always told me how energized he felt by being surrounded by thousands of young Jews from all over the world, here in Jerusalem.
One of his last decisions was to endorse a 660 million shekel project for the integration of Ethiopian Jewry in Israel. This was a truly grandiose project and partnership with the Jewish world. None of the partners in the government or the Jewish world were enthusiastic about it, especially not about raising the necessary funds, but Arik bulldozed the decision through. Had he not fallen ill, he surely would have made this project a reality drastically improving the lives of the Ethiopian olim. Sadly, everyone forgot about their commitments.
Arik said that the highest position for a human being to aspire to is to become Prime Minister of the Jewish People. He served as prime minister of the State of Israel and as such, acted not only out of love and a sense of responsibility for the state’s security and well being, but also a feeling of responsibility and care for the entire Jewish People.
May his memory be for a blessing – יהי זכרו ברוך