David Ben-Gurion was the founder of the State of Israel, its first prime minister and a leader of Zionism, but to Alon Ben-Gurion, he was just “Saba.”
Alon Ben-Gurion grew up knowing full well the greatness of his famous grandfather, which he continues to share with others through presentations of historical and personal stories.
His next speech will take place at the National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) May 11 in honor of Israel Independence Day, sponsored by American Associates, Ben-Gurion University (AABGU) and NMAJH.
Alon Ben-Gurion said it is a great opportunity to talk about the man who created the state of Israel, his vision and how it came to fruition.
Of course, he didn’t do it alone, but if there’s one man responsible for its founding, it’s his grandfather.
“People always ask me, ‘If [David] Ben-Gurion was alive today what would he say?’” Alon Ben-Gurion said. “Well, the word ‘if’ did not exist in Ben-Gurion’s vocabulary. He had a very good saying: ‘All the experts are experts on the past. There are no experts about the future.’ So the only way to understand what he would say and what he would think about situations today is to go back to his beliefs and what he said in the last 100 years.”
While there are plenty of things to be proud of in Israel today, there is still much that can be improved, which his grandfather noted even in his own time.
Alon Ben-Gurion recalled a time near the end of his grandfather’s life — he died in 1973 — where he visited an elementary school south of Beersheva.
A student asked him, “Were you ever satisfied in your life?”
“He said, ‘Satisfied? No, never. If you’re satisfied in your life that brings to complacency. No, I will never be satisfied because the job is never done,’” Alon Ben-Gurion said. His response was often that “we are only at the beginning.”
Alon Ben-Gurion was 22 when his grandfather passed away. He was an officer in the Israel Defense Forces and was wounded during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
“I was in one hospital, and he was in another hospital,” he recalled. “I knew about him, but he didn’t know about me,” as Alon Ben-Gurion’s parents didn’t want him to worry.
On Dec. 1 that year, he heard the news that his grandfather died just minutes before it was broadcast on the radio. He watched the funeral on a small TV in the hospital.
“He was, for me, a grandfather. To other people, he was the prime minister and the leader of Israel,” he said. “I always knew his greatness, but … as time passes, you see what a giant he was — all his thinking and all what he did and how he did it.”
He watched his grandfather meet with world leaders or rabbis at roundtable discussions on Saturday nights, in which they’d discuss the Torah.
David Ben-Gurion, who grew up in Poland, decided at the age of 3 to learn Hebrew, Alon Ben-Gurion said, as Jews in Poland mainly spoke Yiddish.
“He knew the players of the Bible better than he knew his members of Parliament,” he laughed.
Although not a religious person, Alon Ben-Gurion said the Torah gave David Ben-Gurion “a license for eretz Yisrael.”
“We were the first people to be here, and it goes back 5,000 years,” he reiterated of the state’s founder. “All the people who claim against us, they all came later.”
But David Ben-Gurion didn’t dismiss those people either.
Alon Ben-Gurion remembered walking into his den one day, where he had three books laid out in front of him, taking extensive notes: the Torah in the center and the Quran and New Testament on either side.
“He’s comparing different books of different religions,” he recalled. “He always learned. He knew a lot about other religions. He was fascinated with that. He was a man of a lot of knowledge.”
In his original residence in Tel Aviv, which is now a museum, there are about 15,000 books in many languages — and David Ben-Gurion read them all.
He believed that to read a book, it must be read in the language it was written.
He studied Spanish to read Don Quixote. He learned ancient Greek to read the great philosophers.
Alon Ben-Gurion, who lives in New York and works in hospitality consulting, said even today he is constantly learning more about his grandfather.
But he said the biggest part of David Ben-Gurion’s vision was to ensure both Arabs and Jews could coexist.
“Israel is at a crossroads. There’s a lot of things happening,” he said. “We’ve got people who love us. We’ve got people who hate us. … It’s very, very important to put the facts right. People sometimes distort the facts of how Israel was created. It’s like we stole the land from another nation of people, and it’s not exactly true. We didn’t steal, we didn’t deport. It’s very important to understand how it came about, history of the state of Israel, connection to the Bible, connection to the land.
“Ben-Gurion always said when he declared the State of Israel that ‘I’d rather have a Jewish state in a small territory than to have a large territory without a Jewish state.’ He realized from a very, very young age that there are two nations on this land — there are the Arabs and there are us — and we need to find a way to coexist and live together.”
His legacy, Alon Ben-Gurion continued, contends that Israel has the right to exist and Jews have a right to it, but there are other nations and neighbors with whom we must coexist.
“The dream is one day it will happen,” he said.
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