Forward from the booklet Jabotinsky … The Man and the Vision
By William Mehlman
A publication of Americans for a Safe Israel (and a Safe America)
Seven decades have passed since the death of Ze’ev Jabotinsky. In that time great and terrible events have transpired to reshape Jewish life and thought: A third of our people perished in the camps and crematoria of Eastern and Central Europe; a Jewish state was , reborn and has fought seven wars for its continued existence, and an ingathering into Israel of the exiles began that has already reclaimed more than two million Jews, including nearly one million from the former Soviet Union, once thought to be beyond the reach of Zion.
Amidst such events, most figures of the distant Jewish past would rate at best a sentimental footnote. Jabotinsky is an exception. Like Theodor Herzl before him, he was a man not merely of his own time but for all time. He defined Jewish statehood at a period when the very term “Jewish State” was considered a provocation. He established a doctrine of Jewish self-defense when the idea of a Jew defending himself was still regarded as ludicrous or dangerous.
He was the “old” Jew – a throwback to the Maccabees and Bar Kochba – who heralded the coming of the “new” Jew, fiercely proud of his ancient culture, free of the dark fears and inferiorities of the ghetto, fully capable of meeting the non-Jew on equal terms. Having been born in the future, the future has finally caught up with Jabotinsky. He was better understood in his own day by the youth than by his contemporaries, and at its zenith, there were close to 80,000 young people around the world gathered under the banner of “Betar,” the passionately Zionist youth movement he created and headed.
Not since Biblical times has any Jewish leader had so massive a personal following. One has the feeling that Jabotinsky would again be better understood by the national Zionist youth of this day than by their fathers and uncles, a youth angered and sickened by the spectacle of incremental appeasement masquerading as “moderation,” longing for a clear, courageous unequivocal stand on matters critical to Jewish national existence. Jabotinsky was a man who had no fear of saying no and meaning it, surely a man for this day when every no and every yes has been prostituted by a but. The question “What would Jabotinsky have done?” is heard more and more frequently from a generation awed by the incomparable leadership he provided while he lived.
His writings and speeches on virtually every subject of national concern have weathered time and circumstance. If they do not provide sure solutions to our present dilemma, they at least point us in the right direction. It is time to reopen the book on Jabotinsky. It’s astonishing that it should ever have been closed. His neglect is an appalling comment on Jewish values and sense of history. With Herzl, he stands as one of two seminal figures of modem Zionism, the greatest purely Jewish intellectual of the 20th Century, the ideological bedrock upon which Israel’s ruling political party rests, the creator of the World War I “Jewish Legion, Betar and Haganah,” the Israel Defense Force. Yet millions of Jewish children – and their parents – are barely familiar with his name. It would be comparable to an Englishman not knowing who Winston Churchill was.
In reintroducing a new generation to Ze’ev Jabotinsky, it is hoped that readers will be drawn toward a more intensive exploration of this remarkable visionary and his writings An excellent way to pursue that quest is with a reading of Lone Wolf, the brilliant two- volume biography by his last secretary, historian Shmuel Katz (available through firstname.lastname@example.org). Jabotinsky was conspicuously free of Messianic pretentious. Yet, history has shown repeatedly over the years since his passing that the circumference of his personal vision was wide enough to encompass us all. He knew us well. Our need to know him at this critical juncture in Jewish history couldn’t be more compelling.
Jerusalem, January 2010
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