When one wanders through the hallowed grounds of Mt. Herzl and reads the dates on the tombstones of the tragically young boys and girls who paid the ultimate price for our Jewish States life one cannot help but notice that sometimes there are two “dates of birth” on the stones. One is the date they were born and one is the date they made Aliyah.
Yehuda Avner z”l who passed away today at the age of 86 after leading a full life dedicated to the Jewish people and Jewish State was born in the UK. That explained his accent and fabulous grasp of (the Queen’s) English. However he was reborn as a teenager when he made Aliyah to Israel on the eve of the War of Independence in 1947.
From that moment on he unceasingly fought for our Jewish State, both literally as a participant in the War of Independence and diplomatically as a speechwriter and diplomat. Until his last days he kept up an active schedule of lectures and trips to promote the Zionist cause. His acclaimed autobiographical book on his diplomatic experiences “The Prime Ministers, an Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership” (Toby: 2010) is described on its cover as (extremely successfully) providing:
Unforgettable and intimate descriptions of political rivalries, diplomatic blunders, White House and Buckingham Palace banquets and more, to bring Israel’s history to life in a way no book has done before.”
Anyone who had the fortune to meet him, as I did, always started his or her description of him as a true mensch. A couple of years ago I was extremely privileged to share a stage at a speaking engagement at a Synagogue in the US. I had just finished a presentation on Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) and he was going up to be the key note speaker for Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day) and we were chatting about common friends, Zionism the IDF and a host of other subjects. For someone who had spent his entire life with the leaders of Israel and accomplished so much personally and professionally one would have expected all of this to go to his head. On the contrary, he was the most unassuming down to earth person one could ever hope to meet. That attribute is one of the many things that he will be remembered for.
Ambassador Yehuda Avner (1928-2015) Photo: Wikimediacommons
His book does not white-wash all of his employers, he describes their failings as well as their successes. Without a doubt one of the most traumatic episodes in Israel’s History was the Yom Kippur War. In his book he vividly recalls the moment Golda Meir flew up to the Golan battlefront to meet with the troops whilst the battle was still raging in the distance. I use the following reading with all of my groups I guide on the border with Syria at the “Vale of Tears.” Avner dramatically describes the moment when an armoured corps reservist, his soot covered face full of exhaustion, asks his Prime Minister the following question:
My father was killed in the 1948 war, and we won. My uncle was killed in the 1956 war, and we won. My brother lost an arm in the 1967 war, and we won. Last week I lost my best friend over there” – he pointed to the Vale of Tears – “and we’re winning. But is all our sacrifice worthwhile, Golda? What’s the use of our military power if we can’t win the peace?”
The answer Golda gave him reminds us why it is so important that we have a State and for what Yehudah Avner worked his entire life:
Eyes red, face lined with fatigue, Meir responded, “I weep for your loss, just as I grieve for all our dead. I lie awake at night thinking of them. And I must tell you in all honesty, were our sacrifices for ourselves alone, then perhaps you are right; I’m not at all sure they would be worthwhile. But if they are for the survival of the whole Jewish people, then I believe with all my heart that any sacrifice is worthwhile.”
Photo: T. Book (c) 2015