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Regular readers will know that Begin is one of my favourite historical figures. Here are just some of the things that fascinate me about him…

The ‘Haftorah’ read the week of his birth begins with the words: “Be comforted, be comforted, my people.”

He made his first speech standing on a picnic table in Poland. He was nine years of age.

He believed: “It is terribly important for an educated man, if he wants to know things, to read a minimum of 150 pages a day.”

When he was arrested at his house by the Soviet secret police in 1940, he polished his shoes before leaving with the police.

He named his first daughter Hassia, after his mother.

On the eve of the Six Day War, Begin was the driving force in the formation of the National Unity Government. He put aside key political and personal rivalries to make it work.

He served in opposition for eight successive administrations before finally becoming Prime Minister in 1977.

Shortly after his victory he was asked what kind of government he would lead. “The good Jewish kind,” he replied.

One of his first acts as PM was to grant Israeli citizenship to 179 Vietnamese refugees who had escaped their homeland on boats. No other country had been willing to take them in.

At a state dinner at the White House, he told Jimmy Carter and his team: “I know that my electoral victory came to you as a total surprise, so I crave your forgiveness. And, by the by, my name does rhyme with Fagin!”

Soon after taking power, he said: “I appeal to King Hussein and to Presidents Assad and Sadat to meet me either in their capital or in neutral territory. Too much Jewish and Arab blood has been shed in this region.”

As he visited Egyptian President Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat to discuss the peace treaty, Hatikvah – the Israeli national anthem – was played on Egyptian soil.

In 1978, he and Sadat shared the Nobel Peace Prize.

An aide once asked Begin what his home phone number is. Begin said he didn’t know. Why not, asked the surprised aide. “Because I never phone myself,” replied Begin.

During a bible study session in June 1981, he revealed that Joshua was one of his favourite biblical figures. He said it was Joshua’s courage and unpredictability that he made him such a fine leader. Days later Begin bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor.

During the 1982 Lebanon War, Prime Minister Begin was given immediate reports of any Israeli casualties, even at night. His wife revealed that when such reports came, “he cried and didn’t sleep a wink all night”.

He spoke nine languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, Russian, English, German, French, Spanish and Latin. He had a terrifyingly accurate memory.

He set the wheels in motion for the eventual rescue of Ethiopian Jewry.

After his wife died he received a letter of condolence from the widow of President Sadat. In his reply, he wrote: “Thank you for your wonderful letter. We shall continue to share the memory of our dear ones who left us. You and I shall always believe in the good, just cause of peace for which we all made so great endeavours.”

When he died he was given a simple – rather than state – funeral, as he had requested in his will.

27 Responses to “20 facts I love about Menachem Begin”

  1. Mikey says:

    Thank you Chas. This is a wonderful collection of facts. On Begin’s memory, in his prison memoirs, White Nights: The Story of a Prisoner in Russia, a book I thoroughly recommend to anyone who hasn’t read it, Menachem Begin recounts conversations with his N.K.V.D. interrogator in around 1940. When he wrote the book (published originally in Hebrew in 1957), he certainly had no access to his Soviet files, but I understand that years later when the files did become available and it could be checked, it was found that he recalled these conversations virtually word for word.

    • Chas Newkey-Burden says:

      I love that! Another key Jewish figure called Menachem during that era was the Chabad Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson. He, too, had a colossal memory.

  2. Gail says:

    A really interesting set of facts. I must admit I don’t know that much about Begin but his past in The Irgun has always made me feel uncomfortable. Do you think the lengths they went to were absolutely necessary at that time? Was there no other alternative to bombs and killings?

    • Chas Newkey-Burden says:

      There might have been other alternatives. Are there any you would like to propose?

      • Gail says:

        It’s always easier to ask questions than to give answers. I certainly would not want to have been around making decisions at that time.

      • blahblahblah says:

        Ummm….how about a state that guarantees equal rights to all citizens regardless of ethno-religious cultural background?

        you know,as opposed to one which explicitly states that only one community has the ‘right to return’,or the right to live with one’s spouse.Or indeed,the right to claim a goverment subsidy for shooting goatherds,or running over farmers with cars in ambushes!

      • blahblahblah says:

        I can provide you with a link for my claims about the settlers,Chas.If you even give a shit about violent injustice,that is.You know Chas,those settlers that you love so much.
        It’s all well documented and very difficult to deny Chas,the violent behaviour of the settlers that you support.
        so,do you give a shit about young children being run over with cars Chas,or are you just going to make some weak joke about it?

  3. Tash Kalmo says:

    I wish I could say his favourite sport was lacrosse – I do not know if that is true. I do not know if he ever even heard of the sport. But let’s pretend that it is and indulge me for a moment whilst I tell you a story about the National ISRAEL Lacrosse Team who NEED your support…

    This summer Israel’s FIRST EVER National Lacrosse Teams are set to compete in the European Championships in Amsterdam. As a newcomer nation each player has to fundraise for their own place in the tournament. If we all do not manage to fundraise then Israel will not make it.

    For all you Zionists out there – this is a positive story of Israel (just turned 64) as a flourishing country eager to compete on a international level. This is a story of young men and women, keen to put Israel on the map in the national arena of sport and to show the world, that we are not all what the world media has portrayed us to be. Help us show the world another face of Israel as we walk onto the pitch proudly waving the Israeli flag!

    On a personal note, this is a dream-come-true opportunity for me, to stand singing the Hatikva with Israel on my shirt would literally be my proudest moment!! However, more importantly, it is an HISTORIC MOMENT for Israel.

    Israel lacrosse is an upcoming non-profit organisation who aims to promote the sport and has set up youth clinics all around Israel to engage Israeli children.

    Herzl said “If you will it, it is no dream” – please donate to help make TEAM ISRAEL’s dream a reality.

    If you can help please click here… http://fundrazr.com/campaigns/0IPhd?psid=b2607dbede834118a77775d4e06ad6eb

    THANK YOU.

  4. Sharona says:

    You have moved me greatly. It made me feel proud being Israeli. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Ian says:

    Whatever one thinks of Menachem Begin’s policies it is undeniable that He was a very good & decent man .

    He was a Prime-Minister who cared deeply for the well-being of the IDF & his health suffered because of how much He cared for the Soldiers who died fighting in the First Lebanon War .

    He led a simple life – as can be seen by the frugal furniture & bookcase that is preserved from His Tel-Aviv flat at the Menachem Begin Heritage Centre in Jerusalem .

    He was one of Israel’s greatest Leaders .

    • La Cumparsita says:

      The Menachem Begin Heritage Centre (or the Begin Museum as many call it) is really inspiring. A great place to visit on your next trip Chas – unless you’ve already been there.

      • Chas Newkey-Burden says:

        Have indeed been and I agree – it’s wonderful. Will probably go again at some point and muchly recommend.

  6. Steve Wenick says:

    Chas I was a student of Mrs. Pitlick in the early 1950′s at Gratz College in Philadelphia, therefore I too had the same teacher, as a teenager, as Menachem Begin had when he was in kindergarten. :
    Here’s a link to a brief piece on Mrs. Pitlick:
    http://archive.jta.org/article/1977/08/23/2979552/exkindergarten-teacher-writes-to-her-former-pupil-menachem-begin

  7. Eleanor S says:

    thanks chas for this great and informative article xx

  8. Knakker says:

    Chas,

    Just curious, but how come you havent yet maggayered? Sure you’ve been asked this question before, but I’m a newcomer to your blog.
    In my extremely humble opinion you certainly have a very Yiddisher Nashomer!

  9. [...] just finished reading Avi Shilon’s new biography of my favourite Israeli leader of all, Menachem Begin. I was a little surprised when it was marketed as the first [...]

  10. [...] just finished reading Avi Shilon’s new biography of my favourite Israeli leader of all, Menachem Begin. I was a little surprised when it was marketed as the first [...]

  11. Thanx for a very interesting site. What else could I get that type of information written in such a perfect method? I’ve a project that I’m simply now working on, and I have been at the look out for such information.

  12. [...] to withdraw from Gaza in 2005. It was the final meaningful act of his life. As with the great Menachem Begin before him, a ‘right-wing hardliner’ had taken a painful step for [...]

  13. [...] returning to Israel for my fifth visit. I am going to visit the resting place of Menachem Begin, my favourite Israeli [...]

  14. [...] will visit Menachem Begin’s resting place and also spend time in the mystical city of Tzfat, the home of Kabbalah. I’ve often [...]

  15. [...] went to visit the resting place of my favourite Israeli leader, Menachem Begin. He rests on the Mount of Olives. I left two stones on his grave, one from me and one from OvG [...]

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