The Prime Ministers

By: Samantha Hulkower

For a country in existence for just 67 years, there has been much ink spilled writing about Israel's history. There's really no shortage of books in this arena. In fact, a search on for Books>History>Middle East>Israel yields over 10,000 results, which is slightly overwhelming. If you are interested about the history of this fascinating country from it's founding through the tenure of Menachem Begin (arguably one of the best leaders this country has ever had) there is one particular book you should move up in your reading queue: The Prime Ministers by Yehuda Avner A"H (December 30, 1928 – March 24, 2015).

Yehuda Avner came to Israel in 1947, along with many other Jews looking to settle in the Jewish Homeland after the Holocaust. He fought in the War of Independence in 1948, as did many of the people who would go on to lead the country over the coming decades. After joining the Israeli Foreign Ministry and went on to work, in some capacity or another, for five of the country's most influential Prime Ministers: Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yitzchak Rabin, Menachem Begin, and Shimon Peres. Serving as a secretary, speechwriter, or adviser to all of these leaders, Avner was in a unique position - being at the front and center as such pivotal points in Israeli history unfolded, such as the siege at Entebbe, the 1967 war, and the much more tragic 1973 Yom Kippur war, Anwar Sadat's unprecedented trip to Israel - the list goes on and on. Fortunately for us, he wrote a book about his service from Eshkol through Begin, in The Prime Ministers. 

For someone who knows nothing of Israel's past, this is also a great place to start. Avner has many timelines throughout the book, helping to make sense of the various, and often overlapping, events taking place.  We are also privy to personal photographs, as well as dialogue he over heard from everyone from Yassir Arafat to Jimmy Carter to Henry Kissenger and Zbigniew Brzenzinski.

One of my favorite anecdotes is Menachem Begin's visit to the Carter White House in 1977. We get to hear Avner's delight at having kosher food served at the Presidential affair, whereas when he had visited with previous delegations, he was left picking through raw vegetables, while whichever Prime Minister he was with was enjoying their 'gourmet treyf' (something any shomer-kashrut Jew going to a function for their job can commiserate with). You can't help but smile as he's introduced to a journalist, not quite catching her name, hearing something to the extent of 'Merry Trash' and just referring to her, at least to himself, as that for the rest of the evening. At one point, he even stops in the text as an aside to the readers, with a sideways glance to us asking, "could that really be her name?" His attention to detail is amazing, recalling bits of gossip between journalists and lawmakers that you would never read in the Washington Post. 

Clocking in at almost 700 pages, The Prime Ministers isn't something you're likely to throw in your backpack or bag to read on the bus when you have a few minutes, but I urge you to reconsider. Not only will you get a great workout carrying this tome around, but the sections are broken down into easily digestible stories, so that you can drop in for 10 minutes when you have the time and not feel like you need to review everything that happened previously. It's also just as good for long plane rides or other big chunks of time. Even though the events have transpired, and we know the outcomes, the book is still a page tuner. Hearing someone speak of Golda Meir, who knew her personally, ads such a depth to the story. Not to mention his gift for language, for example when he refers to Brzenzinski as a, "Democratic version of Kissinger, with an almost unpronounceable name."
  Whether you're interested in world history, Israeli history, or just looking for a well-written, compelling story, The Prime Ministers is worth your time. When we have so many glowing screens competing for our attention, sometimes it's nice to put them all aside, and spend some time with real characters who are more compelling than anything Hollywood could ever hope to come up with.

Those who are interested in screening the film in their community, should contact:

Roz Spier
Moriah Films Coordinator
The Simon Wiesenthal Center

No comments:

Yashar LaChayal

The majesty of the Western Wall

Nefesh B'Nefesh