A Letter to Menachem

Dear Menachem,

I truly hope you will not be offended if I take the liberty of addressing you by your common name. First of all, your name was never common. It was holy to those of us who loved you.

Perhaps it would be more proper if I addressed you by your given name at birth on 16 August 1913 in the Polish city of Brest-Litovsk. But who would ever remember to call you Mieczyslaw Biegun?

107 years ago this month you arrived on earth to save us from ourselves inside and from our enemies outside.

Who remembers you when you first arrived in Palestine (Yes, it was then called Palestine or in Hebrew, Eretz Yisrael, not Medinat Yisrael) dressed in the uniform of a soldier in the Polish army in 1942?

You arrived only three years after the invasion of your Polish homeland in September 1939 and in 1943 you were officially released from active military service in the Polish army, Armja Krajowa.

The arrival of the brave Polish Jew was not out of the cry of the anti-semitic Polish Catholic church, “zydzie do Palestina” (Jews, go to Palestine. Poland is for Catholics, not for Jews. Get out while you can).

You arrived on Jewish soil out of your loyalty to the land of your birth, the land of your ancestors and forefathers, and your pride in serving.

And the best thing that you brought from your service as a Polish soldier was the use of weaponry, how to use a pistol and a rifle efficiently.

In 1944 it put you to the test at which you succeeded in your first attack upon the servants of the cruel British Mandate.

How many disguises did you wear? How many beards did you grow and shave off? What new name did you use as a young Polish soldier and a Jewish freedom fighter?

You could never have imagined what destiny had planned for you. And from you to every one of us.

Is there a Jew among us who does not remember you, who does not honor your memory, who does not agree that as our 6th Prime Minister you were the very best one… before and long after ?

There are “leaders” today in our Israeli government… in the government named by you (Likud), who dishonor your heritage and who bring disgrace to your name which remains legendary among us.

(Well, maybe not all of us. David Ben-Gurion was never your friend. He was never worthy of your friendship).

Your name changed but never you.

Yet things do change by virtue of history and necessity. Would you still sing Jabotinsky’s famous words which he wrote in 1929 and which became the anthem of Betar, the youth movement of the Revisionist Zionist movement to which you and I belonged?

Can we still sing the glorious melody of “Shtai gadot la Yarden, zu shelanu zu gam ken… “ Both sides of the Jordan. East and west, these also are ours and belong to us.

Since Trans-Jordan became an independent monarchy under the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, you and I can still hum the melody but we cannot sing the words.

History and destiny has changed it for us.

You were born with the Polish name of Mieczyslaw and Jabotinsky was born with the Russian name of Vladimir. But your two names in Hebrew, Menachem and Ze’ev are names given to thousands of young male babies born in the Jewish State of Israel for which you both lived and died. Blessed be your memories!

Do you remember, dear Menachem, when you signed your name to the large photo of yourself which you dedicated to me in 1979?

We both smiled sarcastic smiles as I mentioned to you of the first visit to New York in 1948. On December 4, 1948, an open letter was published in the New York Times, signed by more than twenty Jewish intellectuals including Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt among many, accusing you of being the leader of a terrorist movement “akin to the Nazi party and fascism”.

Could there ever have been anything in names less fitting to you?

The autographed photo of you hangs on a wall in my home in a place of honor, surrounded by signed photos of President Zalman Shazar, Prime Minister Shimon Peres, American presidents Richard Nixon and Donald Trump, and my presentation to His Majesty, Frederick IX, King of Denmark, in 1965.

As I pass by that wall I throw a kiss only to you, dear Menachem. You alone… and only you… are the symbol of my love for Israel.

Rest in peace. May your memory ever be for a blessing. No one has surpassed you. None will!

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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