Text size

In April 1963, in the midst of his third term, Israel's second president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, passed away. Throngs of Jerusalemites joined his funeral procession.

He was not the founding father - that role went to his "young comrade," David Ben-Gurion. He was not celebrated in the squares like Menachem Begin. He was not assassinated on his watch like Yitzhak Rabin. He was not as charismatic as they were, and still, tens of thousands followed his coffin to its final resting place. They loved his modesty, the simplicity of his conduct and the way in which he lived among them as one of their own.

Crowds of distraught people, filled with grief, came to bid him farewell: Before long the police lost control, state emissaries were shoved aside and crushed in the crowds and, just in time to prevent utter chaos, a brigade of paratroops was called in to save the day.

I was there, too. I had been sent by Israel Radio to cover the event. Now, 45 years later, here is my testimony: This was not just the president's funeral, it was the funeral of an entire generation that has vanished, of a country that no longer exists, of a state that has changed beyond all recognition. Perhaps this was not realized by everyone who gathered there, but the crowd certainly felt it.

If you want to know more about the long road the Zionist project has followed since then, go visit the ancient and old-fashioned shack that was dedicated on Friday at Kibbutz Beit Keshet; go there during "the long nights of Tevet, during the burning days of Tammuz," as poet Chaim Nachman Bialik wrote, "searing like the noontime heat, at dawn or in the breathy night," and compare this shack to the house on Cremieux Street, the apartment in the towers or the seaside villa in Caesarea - such is the history as rings forth from one conch shell from the sea of memories. Nor did Ben-Zvi seek to provide for his home as is the custom these days, among these leaders - he could not. He provided only for his shack, covered in tar paper to protect it from the sun and the rain.

Nostalgia is sticky and its smell repellent. But it is inevitable to long for something, for someone. These longings seek objects, that which is empty seeks to be filled. Have we mentioned Kadish Luz, who was Knesset speaker for many years? Did we already mention Yitzhak Ben-Zvi? Many are gone and forgotten, yet both of these men are remembered as exemplary, even among those who knew not Joseph; they are remembered in their own right and because of their successors, who have grown fat, who have tired of their heritage and abandoned it.

The old shack has now been rebuilt as new, thanks to a private donor. The state's institutions did not see fit to restore it. This is not just a matter of neglect and indifference - it is a matter of intention and forethought: The fat cats of today have no desire for such a memento, a memento of their own sin.