What’s it like to grow up the grandson of Israel’s founder? Alon Ben-Gurion (sort of) answers that as he catches up with TC Jewfolk to talk about some things – but doesn’t give away the big answers – before he speaks at the Jewish National Fund’s Twin Cities Breakfast for Israel at Oak Ridge Country Club in Hopkins on Aug. 3.
TC Jewfolk: Growing up as and being the grandson of one of the founders of Israel, what kind of burden was that on you growing up with that last name?
Alon Ben-Gurion: In Israel in the time when I grew up – I was born in 1951 – but, Israel was different than it is today. Today, we’ve got over 9 million people, then we are maybe close to 2 million people. Israel was poor. At that time, we didn’t have the legacy that you’ve got here. I grew up in a very simple house, [with a] very simple family. David Ben-Gurion was a very simple man. Yes, the grandfather was the Prime Minister. I remember the kids in the neighborhood when we grew up, they couldn’t care less about the fact that David Ben-Gurion was my grandfather; Your value as a child in the community was how good were you in playing soccer. If you were playing good soccer, you were accepted by the kids. If you’re not good in soccer, and your grandfather’s the Prime Minister of Israel, you’re not accepted. So it is irrelevant. They really couldn’t care less about it. It was nice growing up like that.
TCJ: How does your grandfather’s legacy translate with the passage of time?
ABG: The 1st of December will be 50 years since the passing of David Ben-Gurion. Leaders are always judged by history, not by me or you. So the distance shows you if the leader was great to the country, or not great to the country. The more time passes, you see the greatness of Ben-Gurion, and when you start learning about his personality, and who was the person, [not just] what he did for the state, you see, it’s one of a kind a person. He’s a very, very interesting person.
People realize that he is what you will call “the George Washington of Israel.” But there are a lot of people that when they hear the name, they say ‘Oh, you’ve got an airport in Israel.’
TCJ: When you do events like this for JNF, do you have a standard set of topics that you’ll hit?
ABG: I do not read my speeches. I speak, I do not read. Except for when I quote what David Ben-Gurion said because I need to be accurate to the history. It’s partly interesting parts of the history, but also parts, which are personal stories that you will not find in history books. They belong to me.
One of the best parts is the Q&A, which we’ll have this time. I like it, because it’s a very genuine, exchange of views. Sometimes there are very provocative questions. And two things I do not speak about: American politics today and Israeli politics today. The question that usually comes is “So if Ben Gurion was alive today, what would he say?” So the answer is “Ben Gurion passed away 50 years ago, go and ask him, don’t ask me.”
TCJ: How do you reconcile David Ben Gurion being your grandfather versus being the prime minister at that time?
ABG: Being the prime minister, it’s about making decisions. He made decisions that affect us still today. You know, 75 years ago, we didn’t have a state and there were Jews in the diaspora and the Holocaust. Could David Ben Gurion prevent the Holocaust? I can show you hundreds of books that were written on that. Could anyone else prevent the Holocaust? Go to your president; what could Roosevelt have done? So there’s a lot of this that will never stop that argument. That depends on the opinion of who you are asking. Those are decisions that are based on history. History will judge, not Alon Ben-Gurion. Then there is David Ben-Gurion the grandfather which you will hear in my lecture, the part I call “I don’t speak about Ben-Gurion, I speak about Saba.” Then will come the question ‘So why do you call him sometimes Ben-Gurion and why do you call him Saba?’ The answer to that you’ve got to come to the meeting.”