This week Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, the senior rabbi to Reform Judaism, selects Israel’s founder, David Ben-Gurion
More than 40 years ago, I was blessed to meet David Ben Gurion in his very modest home near Beer Sheva, just before he died. I remember my father explaining we were going to meet someone who had transformed Jewish history forever. He was right.
Here was someone who understood brave leadership in the face of virulent opposition, the British mandatory powers and the ravages of a post-Holocaust world.
Here was a leader who was diminutive in height, but immense in stature.
Here was a political leader who understood that being part of the Jewish people is far broader than just being a part of a “faith”.
He knew that being part of the Jewish People involves continual connection with the land of Israel; the language of Israel; history; culture and religious civilisation.
When I was at university, I wrote my dissertation on Ben Gurion’s attitude to Judaism. What became extremely clear was that he was not “religious” in its misleadingly narrow sense.
His Socialist Zionism was based on his belief that modern Zionism was enacting the Torah that he studied in his weekly Torah group at home.
He succeeded in being a very practical idealist and managed to establish vital state institutions while maintaining and driving forward the overall Zionist vision.
Ben Gurion established an enduring multi-party democracy as part of the de-colonisation of Palestine. Among his achievements, as well as being the minister for defence and the first prime minister of Israel, he oversaw mass immigration and absorption.
One of the first things that you see when you arrive at the airport named after him in Israel, Ben Gurion, is the bust of this special man. I imagine he’d love seeing all those immigrants having arrived in the past decades. David Ben Gurion is my hero because he understood history is not something you learn, but is something you shape.