Soul searching: Author gives compelling look at Menachem Begin

By Burton Boxerman, Special to the Jewish Light

Daniel Gordis, the award-winning author of “Saving Israel”and five other books, is also a regular contributor to the Jerusalem Post, the New York Times Magazine, the New Republic, and other publications His latest book, “Menachim Begin: The Battle for Israel’s Soul” (Shocken Books, $27.95, 295 pages), is the 24th in a series called “Jewish Encounters,” a project devoted to the promotion of Jewish literature, culture and ideas. 

Begin, Israel’s sixth prime minister (1977-1983), has already been the subject of numerous biographies, and Gordis makes no claims that his book is a definitive biography of a man he believes must be counted as one of the celebrated Zionist giants who helped mold the fate of Israel.  Gordis has deliberately avoided writing an all-inclusive biography of Begin’s life so that he might concentrate on the key events in Israeli history.  He has been successful, and the result is a crisp, well-balanced, well-researched book about a man Gordis claims has brought both passion and devotion to the state of Israel and the Jewish people — a man he calls “the most Jewish of Israel’s prime ministers.”

Gordis admits that it has not always been easy to write a well-balanced biography about a man whose life seemed so full of contradictions and ironies.  Here was a man well known for his role as a terrorist in the 1946 bombing of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, and yet who later brought for the first time the practice of hadar (Jewish dignity) and an appreciation for the priorities of Jewish life and tradition.  To his credit, Gordis was successful in accomplishing this in an honest and sensitive way. “I merely wanted to re-examine the controversial Israeli leader in order to ‘look at his life through the lens of the passion he still evokes,’ ” wrote Gordis.

The book is fast-paced and informative, covering such topics as Begin’s role in the Zionist Betar movement in Poland, his six months in a Soviet labor camp, his rivalry with David Ben- Gurion, his rise to the office of prime minister and, especially, the moving chapter on the Camp David Accords, for which Begin won the Nobel Peace Prize.  Regardless of how readers feel about Begin — adoration or condemnation — they are sure to find this biography compelling, fascinating and enthralling.

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