The Man Who Believed in Miracles
A look at the father of modern Israel, the indefatigable David Ben-Gurion
If you hold an American passport and were born in Jerusalem, this might be the time to get your document updated.
Perhaps now, 70 years after Israel gained its independence, the U.S. State Department will finally print “Jerusalem, Israel” (instead of merely “Jerusalem”) on your passport as your place of birth.
The words Jerusalem, Israel, could be seen everywhere—including on official American symbols—during the U.S. Embassy’s dedication ceremony in the city on May 14, a silent tribute to a man who refused to give up the fight for a Jewish state in the land of his forefathers.
On May 14, 1948, 30 years of British rule in Palestine came to an end, and the new State of Israel was born. David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, made the historic declaration,
We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.
Neighborliness, however, has not been the hallmark of the Middle East. Consequently, though Congress authorized the embassy to be moved from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital when it passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995, no president until Donald Trump has moved it.
Ben-Gurion once said, “If an expert says it can’t be done, get another expert.” He also said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.” Ben-Gurion would have known: He was a realist who became part of the miracle of Israel.
I got to know the late Ben-Gurion better in February after my wife, Alice, and I visited his home, now a museum, in Tel Aviv. His contribution to the establishment of the Jewish state is inestimable. Some even believe there would have been no Israel without him.
I first saw his bust as I went through customs on my first trip to Israel in 1982. His face was striking, a cross between Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein. But walking through his home and seeing his books and the original furnishings, photographs, and artifacts gave me great insight into David Ben-Gurion the man, husband, father, and Israeli defense minister and prime minister.
His house (you can view pictures by going to bg-house.org) and its furnishings are considered modest by today’s standards, a testament to Israel’s informal style of living and the Israeli way of doing more with less.
In the living room, a picture of his wife, Paula, hangs prominently alongside photographs of his three children: Geula, Amos, and Renana. He and Paula, an American, were married for more than 50 years.
In the small kitchen stands a tiny table with two simple wooden chairs. Each morning Ben-Gurion would sit at the table and eat his “kooch-mooch,” a concoction Paula invented consisting of yogurt, white Israeli cheese, applesauce, and raspberry sauce. The guide told me Ben-Gurion hated it but ate it every day because Paula told him it was good for him.
After she died in 1968, when he could have stopped, he continued to eat it each morning. When his daughter, who knew he hated it, asked him why, he said it was because it reminded him of Paula.
A flight of stairs leads to Ben-Gurion’s small bedroom and four rooms containing his massive library of 20,000 volumes. These rooms contain the key to understanding David Ben-Gurion.
The books cover such topics as the history of the State of Israel, the history of ancient peoples, philosophy, classical literature, general and military history, and various cultures and religions. There are also many Bibles written in several languages.
Though not religious, Ben-Gurion loved to read the Bible and often quoted Scripture in his speeches. He called the Bible “the single most important book in my life” and believed it to be the key to understanding Israel’s past, present, and future.
The Prime Minister’s Bible Study Circle met in the library, open to a select group of scholars. He wanted Israelis, especially young Israelis, to read the Bible and understand it. In 1961 he supported Professor Haim Gevaryahu’s suggestion to hold a Bible competition for youths in Israel. He directed that the competition be held each year on Independence Day.
As my wife perused his library, she came across an amazing find: The Jewish People and Jesus Christ by Jakob Jocz. It is a book that connects, in a small way, The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry to David Ben-Gurion. Jocz was a Jewish believer in Jesus who served with us in London for a time when Dr. Victor Buksbazen was our executive director. I couldn’t help but think of Ben-Gurion turning the pages of a book that clearly points to Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and wonder what he thought.
“I can hardly remember a time,” Ben-Gurion said, “when the idea of building what we used to call ‘Eretz Israel,’ or the Land of Israel, wasn’t the guiding factor of my life.” Born in Poland (Czarist Russia) on October 16, 1886, he was raised as a strong Zionist.
By age 18 Ben-Gurion was already a member of Poale Zion (Workers of Zion), and at age 20 he moved to Palestine, then occupied by the Ottoman Turkish empire. He changed his name from David Gruen to David Ben-Gurion (lion’s cub) and served as a laborer and watchman in the Jewish settlements of Rishon Lezion and Petah Tikva.
Almost immediately he took up positions of leadership. Later he became the general secretary of the Histadrut, the Zionist labor federation. However, his Polish passport made the Turks uncomfortable, and they expelled him from the land.
That is when Ben-Gurion moved to New York, where he met Paula. In 1918, shortly after their marriage, he left his pregnant wife in New York to return to Palestine to fight on the side of the British against the Turks. The Zionist cause eclipsed everything else in his life. He became chairman of the Jewish Agency, the executive body of the World Zionist Organization, through the critical years of rising Arab nationalism, Nazism, World War II, and the postwar diplomatic struggle between Britain and the Jews of Palestine.
Part of Ben-Gurion’s genius was to explain complicated situations simply.When faced with Great Britain’s infamous White Paper, which limited Jewish immigration to Palestine even as the Nazis were threatening the extermination of European Jewry, Ben-Gurion declared, “We will fight the war as if there were no White Paper, and we will fight the White Paper as if there were no war.”
Thinking back to that fateful day of May 14, 1948, New York Times writer Homer Bigart wrote a piece in December 1973, the month Ben-Gurion died, titled “Ben-Gurion, Symbol of the Tough State of Israel, Achieved a Lifelong Dream.” In it he said the following:
This was his moment of supreme test. For on that same day, May 14, 1948, the Arab armies began their invasion of the fledgling state. Jerusalem was besieged by Transjordan’s Arab Legion. In the Judean hills and in Galilee, Jewish settlements were under attack by Syrian and Iraqi forces, while Egyptians invaded from the south. Exhilarated by the challenge, the 62-year-old leader put on battle dress and assumed the direction of military operations. He was de facto Premier and Minister of Defense.
To Mr. Ben-Gurion fell most of the credit for having won the first Jewish campaign since that of Judas Maccabaeus 2,000 years before. He became an almost mystical figure to many Zionists: the wise patriarch who embodied all the traditional virtues and who would ultimately lead Israel to triumph over the ring of Arab enemies.
David Ben-Gurion was indeed a realist, and he was a crucial participant in the miracle that birthed the State of Israel. His passion for Zionism and dedication to reading God’s Word influenced him to say, “We regard it as our duty to declare that Jewish Jerusalem is an organic and inseparable part of the State of Israel, as it is an inseparable part of the history of Israel, of the faith of Israel.”
On May 14, 2018, America finally agreed. I find it gratifying and am most thankful that two evangelical pastors took part in the embassy ceremony. One opened in prayer, and one gave the benediction. The presence of Christians standing with and supporting Israel and the Jewish people in what the U.S. government now officially recognizes as Jerusalem, Israel, was heartwarming, to say the least. To hear the audience shout “Hallelujah!” put a smile on my face. I think Ben-Gurion would have smiled too.
We know the road from this point on will not be easy. Israel’s journey has never been easy. But we continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and to ask God to raise up leaders who will seek His face and who believe in miracles.