The Last Ben-Aharon

When a highly esteemed individual who has been with us for whole generations passes away, it leaves us feeling orphaned. Who will tell us now what is right and what is wrong? Who will castigate us when we stray from the straight and narrow? Who will roar morality, now that the great lion has left the jungle in righteous indignation, not soon to return?

The sense of being orphaned is accompanied by a sense of pent-up anger, directed even at Ben-Aharon. With whom do you think you are leaving us, Itzhak? With whom can we "clarify fundamental problems" or "process theses," argue like we should and wage to our heart's content our private and public disputes?

How can a proper eulogy be written without it feeling like an epilogue, like the end of an era? Of Ben-Aharon as the "last of the founders," of "the prophets of doom," or a "generation of giants," and other expressions to describe the "very last" who have filled the cemeteries and for whom replacements have yet to be found? So I too am trying my hand at this description of the very last, defining Ben-Aharon as "the last of the socialists." Perhaps I will make do with calling him "the last Ben-Aharon."

This is a requiem whose tone will sound especially dramatic, because the last socialist is dead, and with him all of Israeli socialism. For many years socialism was known here as one of the components of the trinity of "Zionism, socialism and the brotherhood of peoples." It is difficult to diagnose exactly the con dition of Zionism today, but there is no doubt it is very ill. The brotherhood of peoples is also not what it used to be, and it is declining. On the other hand, the state of socialism is much clearer - it is dead and buried. It has been slandered, blamed for the ills of the country and the world. And no wonder that many thought Ben-Aharon a dinosaur.

He was 100 when he died, and the death notices will say he died at a "ripe old age." This expression will have him turning in his grave. Death at a ripe old age has not been acceptable around here lately; the aged are abandoned, and Ben-Aharon was abandoned more than once.

Ben-Aharon allowed us to long for that which is no more: ideology in its spectacular wrestling match, parties that arose with great spirit in the good earth of the kibbutz. When Ben-Aharon slammed the door and departed, as was his wont, as a lone horseman in a chariot of fire, so too the last medium of our dialogue with the past disappeared.

A man of Ben-Aharon's stature deserves the last word. Yael Gevirtz, in her biography of him, quotes him thus: "Political failure was built too deeply into our personality and conduct ... The public wants to see in government political forces that know how to compromise, know how to listen to the people's voice, and draft as many partners as possible to their path."

Unfortunately we have gained this understanding late, when the day is done and the gates are locked.