Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Menachem Begin: A Life, by Avi Shilon (REVIEW)

April 25, 2013 5:38 pm 5 comments

Former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Photo: wiki commons.

I’ve just finished reading Avi Shilon’s new biography of my favourite Israeli leader of all, Menachem Begin. I was a little surprised when it was marketed as the first biography of Begin, as Ned Temko published a fine one in 1987. (Indeed, Temko’s book is even namechecked in Shilon’s Bibliography.)

However, Shilon’s book digs deeper, and unveils Begin the man as much as Begin the warrior and politician. I love how Shilon documents his fine sense of humour, as well as other quirky details including that he and his wife used to love watching the US drama series Dallas. He also shows how Begin’s tendency for melodrama, which served him so well as a political orator, was damaging in his personal life.

Political biographies are a tricky blend to get right. Some are too light and superficial, many more are pretentiously detailed to the point of exasperating impenetrability. Shilon gets the balance just right, giving us a book that is richly detailed and yet always approachable and friendly.

We don’t just get a brilliantly-told story of one of perhaps the most remarkable Israeli leader of all time, who moved from stiff-necked warrior to Nobel peace prize recipient. In the background, we also get a sweeping narrative of the Jewish people from the pogroms of Europe to the Lebanon war of 1982.

Indeed, Shilon positions Begin as the most Jewish of Israeli leaders. Although he never ducks from documenting Begin’s flaws, he ultimately presents a fine man and a loving leader. Begin was a humble man and a loyal husband. Such qualities were rare enough among the politicians of his era, nowadays they are rarer still. If only there were more of his calibre in politics now.

Concluding the chapter covering Begin’s successful election as prime minister of Israel, Shilon writes, ‘When the TV cameras turned to Jerusalem to document the celebrations in Likud’s main branch, the viewers saw a Hasidic band and an elderly white-bearded Jew blowing the Shofar. For an outside observer, it seemed as though the Messiah had arrived.’

Lovely stuff. What a life, what a book.

Visit Chas’s blog here.

5 Comments

  • I have recently read The Prime Ministers by Yehuda Avner. Yehuda writes I’m such a way that you want read more. He writes about Extensively about Manachem Begin.
    Truthfully there is no comparison between the two.
    Except that Shilon stays on the topic all the time.
    I really enjoyed the character described by Avner.

  • David Abel

    Menachem Begin – a worthy successor to modern Jewry’s all time hero/warrior Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

    David Abel
    National Vice Chairman
    Likud South Africa.

  • rashid Zaidi

    Small guy with a big heart, Big guy with a faint heart, Nethanyahu, he made history by crossing the line and making peace. Nethanyahu on the other hand is just a spoiler.

  • Edward Alexander

    For the record: Eric Silver’s biography (entitled “Begin: The Haunted Prophet”) was published in 1985. It was reviewed, unfavorably, in Commentary (by me) in May of that year.

  • J.Sephardi told me once how he was giving his usual English bagrut session in the living room of his house in Ramat Gan, when colleague Begin dashed in to hide from the pursuing British. Begin hid under the bed in the bedroom until the Brits left. My guess is that this would have been 1946-47.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Writer of Popular Kids Series to Premiere Autobiographical Solo Show ‘Not That Jewish’

    Writer of Popular Kids Series to Premiere Autobiographical Solo Show ‘Not That Jewish’

    The writer of a popular children’s television series will premiere an off-Broadway solo show called “Not That Jewish,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. Written and performed by Monica Piper — the Emmy Award-winning showrunner of Nickelodeon’s “Rugrats” — the show is described as “the autobiographical telling of a Jew…’ish’ girl’s life.” “Not That Jewish” explores Piper’s Bronx upbringing in a show-business family, her comedy-club debut and her “almost” night with former Yankees legend Mickey Mantle. “Audiences can expect to leave laughed-out, a little teary-eyed and […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Scottish Soccer Team Will Fly to Israel on Private Jet Used by Madonna

    Scottish Soccer Team Will Fly to Israel on Private Jet Used by Madonna

    Scotland’s Celtic soccer club will fly to Israel with the same private jet Madonna used while on tour, The Scotsman reported on Monday. According to the report, the team is heading for the Jewish state to compete against Israel’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Tuesday night, and will be transported in the customized, luxurious Boeing 757-200 that the pop icon used in New Zealand for her six-month Rebel Heart tour, which wrapped up in March. The plane is on loan from Greece-based GainJet Aviation and can accommodate 62 passengers. The […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Revealed: Actor Jonah Hill Officiated at Wedding of Fellow Jewish Star, Singer Adam Levine

    Revealed: Actor Jonah Hill Officiated at Wedding of Fellow Jewish Star, Singer Adam Levine

    Jewish actor Jonah Hill revealed on Wednesday morning that he had officiated the wedding of good friend and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine. The “War Dogs” actor, 32, was a guest on Sirius XM’s The Howard Stern Show when the conversation turned to Levine’s July 2014 wedding to Victoria’s Secret model Behati Prinsloo. Hill said that after he was asked to officiate the nuptials, he started getting worried about the type of speech he was going to deliver. “I’m writing all these things, and then I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Music Jewish Indie Rocker Dedicates New ‘Refugee’ Track to Grandfather Who Fled Nazi Persecution

    Jewish Indie Rocker Dedicates New ‘Refugee’ Track to Grandfather Who Fled Nazi Persecution

    Jewish indie singer Ezra Furman released a song on Wednesday that he said was dedicated to his grandfather, who escaped Nazi persecution. Furman told the website Consequence of Sound that the new track, called “The Refugee,” is his “first song entirely concerned with my Jewish background and present, a song dedicated to my grandfather who fled the Nazis, as well as to all of the refugees desperate for a home today.” He added, “May all the wanderers find the homes they seek, and […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Uncanny Toy Replica of Israeli ‘Wonder Woman’ Gal Gadot Auctioning on eBay for Over $1,600

    Uncanny Toy Replica of Israeli ‘Wonder Woman’ Gal Gadot Auctioning on eBay for Over $1,600

    An artist is auctioning on eBay a Wonder Woman doll he purchased and repainted to create an uncanny replica of Israeli actress Gal Gadot, who will play the superhero in an upcoming 2017 spin-off film. Noel Cruz purchased a 19-inch action figure of the Batman v Superman star and replaced its plastic hair with a new wig, and added a material belt and Princess Diana’s lasso, according to the blog Io9, which first reported on Cruz’s work. He then painted the doll to make it look like the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture British Jewish Star Daniel Radcliffe Hopes New Movie About Neo-Nazis Will Spark Dialogue to Defeat Antisemitic Rhetoric

    British Jewish Star Daniel Radcliffe Hopes New Movie About Neo-Nazis Will Spark Dialogue to Defeat Antisemitic Rhetoric

    Racist and antisemitic rhetoric supported by white supremacists can be defeated by opening channels for meaningful dialogue, British-Jewish actor Daniel Radcliffe said, ahead of the release of his new film, in which he plays an undercover FBI agent infiltrating a neo-Nazi group. “[White supremacist ideologies] have more power the less we talk about them. So hopefully this does start a kind of conversation, which would be a tiny part of a much larger conversation that needs to happen,” the actor, 27, told The […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas Reveals She Can Read, Speak Hebrew

    Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas Reveals She Can Read, Speak Hebrew

    Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas knows how to read and speak “a little” Hebrew, she revealed in the Aug. 15 issue of Us Weekly. The 20-year-old gymnast, who told the magazine that her favorite book is the Bible, was featured in a spread about the USA gymnastics team — which was awarded the gold medal in the women’s all-around finals at the Olympics in Rio on Aug. 9. In her 2012 memoir, In Grace, Gold, and Glory: My Leap of Faith, Douglas wrote that her […]

    Read more →
  • Features Ben-Gurion University Institute Tackles Water Shortages, Hygiene in Developing Countries

    Ben-Gurion University Institute Tackles Water Shortages, Hygiene in Developing Countries

    JNS.org – Israeli water experts believe that by 2050, almost half of the world’s population will live in countries with a chronic water shortage. What’s causing the shortfall is population growth, which leads to a greater demand for food, increased pollution and climate instability, according to Prof. Noam Weisbrod, director of the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research (ZIWR) in the Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. In Israel’s Negev Desert, which has long been plagued […]

    Read more →