In search of the last honest man
I sent a letter to my old friend Diogenes somewhere adjacent to the Acropolis in Athens. In it, I informed him that I was truly desperate for his help. His reply cheered me up. “Patrioti, helleniki tou poli kala.. dear friend, your Greek is very good.”
Little does he know how I had to struggle with it during my doctoral studies in 1965… New Testament koine Greek and the Hebrew translation of the Tanach into the Greek Septuaginta. I reminded him that I never had to wear eye-glasses until I began the study of Greek!
He questioned me about the nature of help that I requested. And I told him, “Bring your lantern with you. We need to go on a search for the last honest man”. I asked him if the lantern batteries were still good after so many centuries and he replied “Don’t worry, my friend. With Greeks, everything is possible”.
We met at the Greek Orthodox Seminary in Jerusalem’s Old City. I offered to buy him a falafel in pita, but he refused saying that he preferred only baklava dripping in honey. We found some at the kiosk of old Ali Salim ibn Tarmous. Diogenes ate, licked his fingers and wiped them on the hem of his long robe.
“Where do we begin our search?” he inquired. “Who are we looking for”?
Now I have never believed in techiyat ha maitim, the resurrection of the dead, but I figured that the last of the honest men in Israel were long dead and buried. It has been virtually impossible to find a genuine honest man without flaws for several decades. So I suggested that we begin our search on the Mount of Olives where the righteous are interred.
The Mount of Olives is the most ancient Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem. The first burial took place 3000 years ago and it is estimated that between 200,000 – 300,000 righteous Jews have found eternal rest on the Mount.
How was it possible to locate the burial spot of the last honest man in Israel? Diogenes feared that the search might take several months and that he would be a much, much older man when he returned to Mt. Athos in his native Greece.
We separated, each of us walking in different rows reading the names of the dead from cracked and broken tombstones, some over 1,000-years-old.
After an hour, he shouted something to me in koine Greek…but with the wind howling it was impossible for me to hear him clearly. Cupping my hands together I shouted back to him “then kataloveno”… I do not understand you.
Shining his lantern on the grounds to be sure that he would not stumble over the debris, he approached me and took me under my arm to the place from which he had shouted.
Pointing to one grave, the tombstone which was quite new and in excellent condition, he dusted off some of the leaves which the wind had delivered to the monument and now revealed a familiar name.
The monument’s engraved name read MENACHEM BEGIN, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL.
I was stunned but elated. “Eureka” I cried. “We, or rather you, have found the grave of the truly last honest man. But what shall we do? We cannot remove his remains from the grave. That would be highly sacrilegious”.
Diogenes reached into one of his deep pockets and retrieved what appeared to be a small camera. “I have not used this camera since 1840. The French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte died in exile at Longwood House on the island of Saint Helena on May 5, 1821. But his body was re-interred in Les Invalides in Paris in 1840. I happened to be in Paris at the time looking for a shop to replace my ancient worn-out sandals. I saw the huge crowd and I followed them. Bowing before his tomb I took this camera and snapped a photograph. It has not been used in 177 years but what matter?
Unlike many other things it has survived the ages.”
Wonderful, I thought. At last I had truly found the last honest man in the history of Israeli politics. I was determined to make posters of his grave and monument and post them up on all the billboards in Jerusalem to remind our people that corrupt politicians must be ousted and replaced with the ideals of Begin.
His life and his actions conformed to Napoleon Bonaparte’s famous quotation:
“Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence”
Since the death of Prime Minister Menachem Begin, it has been nigh impossible to find an honest man in our halls of government.
Perhaps I will change my mind about the resurrection of the dead. I’d like to see Mr. Begin in our Knesset once again.