If people know anything about David Ben Gurion, it’s that he was the George Washington of the State of Israel. On May 15, 1948 corresponding to 5 Iyyar, 5708 (this year celebrations take place on Thursday,) David Ben Gurion proclaimed the birth of the State of Israel.
What precious few don’t know about David Ben Gurion are the feverish activities that he was very much part of during the three years that led up to that historical event. I would like to single out three such activities. To me, they will be remembered as the “three M’s”:
“Population, population, population,” argued the fictitious Ari ben Canaan (played by Paul Newman) as he debated his uncle Akiva in the movie Exodus. David Ben Gurion did not need Ari ben Canaan, or anyone else for that matter, to remind him that population was the sine qua non for the establishment of a country. So there stood David ben Gurion in Zeilsheim, Germany, at a Displaced Persons Camp addressing hundreds of Holocaust survivors. For Ben Gurion, this was no easy task. As one who had utter contempt for Europe, as well as those who lived there, Ben Gurion swallowed hard and addressed the survivors in…Yiddish! Only in (what was to become) Israel, he argued, could Holocaust survivors rebuild their lives. They desperately needed to settle in Israel, Ben Gurion attempted to convince them, because Ben Gurion knew that Israel desperately needed them. Ari ben Canaan chose to call it population; Ben Gurion chose to call it manpower.
If I were ever to draw up a list of the top ten places in Israel to visit, the Ayalon Institute would most likely be among them. In 1945, Ben Gurion knew that statehood would be proclaimed sooner than later. Ben Gurion also knew that the neighbors, viz. Arabs, would not be bringing bread and salt or any other housewarming gifts. With the British in charge, there was no way to import any WWII surplus for a soon to be born army of Israel. Ben Gurion, therefore, approached members of a kibbutz on the outskirts of Rechovot. The plan was to construct a clandestine underground bullet factory. A laundry (with the noisiest washing machines and drying machines available) would serve as their cover – both literally and figuratively. Each day, right under the noses of the British who would bring in soiled garments for cleaning, forty-five volunteers would go underground to manufacture thousands of bullets. Ben Gurion knew that the new state would not stand a chance of surviving without munitions.
Protektzia is a word so common in Israeli society that it is often referred to a “Vitamin P.” Protektzia is what many refer to as having connections to either call in favors or get things done. As far as I’m concerned, protektzia is what we call moxie.
On a sultry Sunday in July 1945, Ben Gurion was at a brunch at the home of Rudolph Sonnenborn on East 57th Street in Manhattan. Addressing a group of seventeen Jewish industrialists, developers, and businessmen who were in attendance, Ben Gurion explained the predicament of those who managed to survive Hitler, the grim prospects of the United States accepting the refugees, and the promise a new Jewish State would surely hold for those whose only desire was to start a new life. Ben Gurion was looking to the group of seventeen for protektzia. What ben Gurion didn’t realize, is that he had just won the protektzia lottery, a lottery that included an aircraft carrier despite the fact that Israel did not yet have an air force. But that lottery did have the makings of an airline to fly the Jewish refugees out of Europe to the Promised Land, thanks to Al Schwimmer, a young flight engineer at TWA. So what if none of that fleet never actually made it to Israel? Al Schwimmer ultimately made Aliyah and founded Israel Aerospace Industries. Most of all, the protektzia lottery ended up with William Levitt, of Levittown fame, handing Teddy Kollek (who would ultimately become Mayor of Jerusalem) a check for one million dollars, made out to the Provisional Government of the State of Israel. William Levitt did not ask for any collateral, in that the Provisional Government of the State of Israel could offer no collateral. It was to be born bankrupt.
Manpower. Munitions. Moxie. All three were indispensable as far as Ben Gurion was concerned. And should it happen that Israel lagged in one of these three ingredients, Israel could always turn to the other two ingredients. As it celebrates seventy years of independence, Israel has every right to glow with pride as it basks in incredible achievements that trace their roots to manpower, munitions and moxie.