Rabin was furious. Avner left the Prime Minister’s Office and made his way to the “Gra” shul, where he regularly davened, for Kabbalas Shabbos. R Shlomo Zalman Aurbach, zt”l, who presided over the shul, asked him why he seemed so downcast. When Avner told him, R Shlomo Zalman said, “Perhaps you do not know all of the facts.” Avner took this as a heter and returned to Rabin – who was still furious but respected Avner nevertheless.
Avner’s religious observance played a part in an anecdote in the book that had me laughing out loud. The setting was a state dinner at the White House hosted by President Gerald Ford in honor of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Avner, of course, eats only kosher food, so he was served a heaping plate of fresh fruit and vegetables topped with whipped cream and piled so high it “glittered and sparkled like a firework.” The concoction drew the attention of Ford, who whispered into Rabin’s ear. Rabin whispered back. Whereupon, “rising to his full height and grinning ear to ear, the president raised his glass high and called out to me… ‘Happy birthday young fella! Let’s sing a toast to the birthday boy.’ ”
Everyone stood up and began singing “Happy birthday dear Yehuda.” Avner describes himself as having been “mortified.”
When Avner asked Rabin after the dinner why he told Ford it was his birthday – it was not – Rabin answered, “What else should I have told him – the truth? If I did that, tomorrow there’d be a headline in the newspapers that you ate kosher and I didn’t, and the religious parties would bolt the coalition, and I’ll have a government crisis on my hands. Ani meshuga?” Am I crazy?”
Avner devotes more pages of his book to Menachem Begin than to the other prime ministers, and he is not at all reticent about his admiration for Begin. One of the stories Avner relates involves Begin’s attempt to reach out to Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, perceived by some as being cold toward Israel.
Begin had learned that Brzezinski’s father served as a Polish diplomat in Germany between 1931 and 1935 and had been involved in efforts to rescue Jews. Begin publicly presented Brzezinski with a dossier containing documents recently discovered in a Holocaust archive in Jerusalem that detailed the elder Brzezinski’s efforts on behalf of European Jews. Zbigniew Brzezinski was overwhelmed to learn of his father’s heroics.
Avner also related to me the following revealing story about Begin: Shortly after Begin first took office, a call came in from a yeshiva student who wondered whether the prime minister wished to have his mezuzahs checked. Avner initially “pushed him of,” but when he mentioned this to Begin as he wished him a Shabbat Shalom that Friday afternoon, Begin exclaimed “zeh chashuv meod” (“this is very important”). Avner located the yeshiva student and when the young man came to the prime minister’s residence, Begin himself recited the berachot and personally affixed every mezuzah in the house.
There is so much more in The Prime Ministers. Anyone interested in the history of Israel as told by an insider should pick up a copy immediately.
Daniel Retter, Esq., is counsel to the Manhattan law firm of Herrick, Feinstein, LLP, where he practices immigration and international business law. He is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press.