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

April 25, 2013 5:38 pm 4 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.

4 Comments

  • 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.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Education Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    JNS.org – My wife Suzy and I will never forget our wedding day. It was not just the uplifting ceremony and beautiful party that left an indelible mark. Some life-altering advice that we received from one of our guests informed and shaped our lives from that day forward. My high school teacher, Rabbi Moshe Yagid, pulled us aside just before the chuppah and challenged us to choose one mitzvah that would be the foundation of our marriage and our lives. He explained [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    JNS.org – Influenced by his Jewish upbringing and a summer on a kibbutz, basketball coach David Blatt is embarking on his highest-profile challenge yet: coaching LeBron James, the four-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player who has made waves for returning to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. After guiding Israel’s storied Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball franchise to its 51st Israeli league championship and 6th Euroleague title this past season, Blatt landed the Cavaliers head-coaching job in June. Just weeks later, [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    JNS.org – At the turn of the century, a young Jewish immigrant arrived in New York. So begins the history of many American Jewish families. It is 27-year-old Albert Allaham’s story, too, with a few unusual twists. Albert’s “century” is the 21st—he arrived almost 100 years after the massive waves of European Jewish immigration. Rather than coming from a small town along the Danube river, his shtetl was Damascus. His first American business was not a pushcart on the Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    Did you know that in the entire Bible, only one birthday is mentioned and it is that of Pharaoh? And did you know that according to some scientists, by accepting Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, it is impossible to prove or disprove that the sun is the gravitational center of our solar system? In his new book, REBBE, best-selling author Joseph Telushkin reveals many surprising and sometimes shocking details as he chronicles the life and teachings of the charismatic Rabbi [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Mitzvos New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    JNS.org – Omelet sandwich: 5 shekels. Iced coffee: 5 shekels. Tuna sandwich: 5 shekels. Fresh-squeezed orange juice: 5 shekels. Cheese bureka: 5 shekels. There’s plenty more on the Cofizz menu, but you get the idea. Dani Mizrahi and Amir Amshalm, two Israeli men in their early 30s, asked themselves: Why not launch a take-out food joint in busy neighborhoods around Jerusalem where everything—and that means everything—goes for five shekels, or about $1.50. They’d seen the concept take off in Tel Aviv, where [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    The new FX Network drama Tyrant was shot entirely in Israel, just 10 miles north of Tel Aviv, Bloomberg News reported last Tuesday. Tyrant follows the life of an Arab dictator’s second son Barry, played by Adam Rayner, who reluctantly returns home to the Middle Eastern nation of his birth to join the family business away from his suburban life in America. The elaborate set production for the primetime drama included a crew of 300 and a reported cost of over $3 million [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Skokie, Il-born 25-year-old Erin Heatherton (Erin Heather Bubley) is rocking the modeling world. And in a new interview accompanying a cover spread for Miami’s Ocean Drive magazine, she says Jewish moms are “constantly trying to set her up with their sons.” Imagine that – who would have thought? “The moms, they’re doing what they do. It doesn’t matter what country they live in, what city – grandmothers, too,” she admitted. “But I’m probably going to do that too one day.” Heatherton was [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Israel First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    Some 15 Turkish university professors and lecturers will take part in a first of its kind seminar at Holocaust museum Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies starting next week. The trip is especially significant as Holocaust denial is rampant in the Arab world. A Palestinian professor was recently forced to resign after he led a trip to the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz. Participants in the week-long program at Yad Vashem will experience in-depth tours of the museum’s archives and [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.