History isn’t everything, but it would be nearly impossible to understand modern-day Israel without first looking at the history of the Jewish people and various leaders in Zionist movements. It was so powerful to experience the history and walk where so many important leaders helped shape the future and building of the nation of Israel.
My experiences in Israel began in Jerusalem with visits to the Menachem Begin and Rabbi Kook museums. Menachem Begin, who later joined the Likud party, entered politics as a Zionist leader heading a resistance movement that helped lead to the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948. Begin was a member of the first Knesset (Israeli parliament) and set his sights on becoming the prime minister of Israel from the very beginning.
At Begin’s museum my group learned about how this hard-working leader refused to move out of his small one-bedroom home, despite having several kids, until his goal of becoming prime minister was accomplished, and he’d move into a new home. The sacrificial leader eventually did become prime minister of Israel and was the first Likud Party PM.
As prime minister, Begin negotiated peace between Israel, Egypt and the U.S., something he was extremely proud of, and something that he felt would change the direction of the Middle East. Peace with Egypt was a big deal both in the late 20th century when he was prime minister and when looking back to Ancient history– the Jewish people have had wars with Egypt for thousands of years and Israel’s prime minister was able to negotiate a peace accord.
At the Rabbi Kook museum we learned about the religious Zionist movement led by a Russian Jew who became the first chief rabbi in Jerusalem under British control. Rabbi Kook became a rabbi in the nineteenth century and sought to unite all Zionists including non-religious secular, toward working toward their common goal of returning to the land of Israel. When he passed away, in the late 1930s his work lived on.
Even with a push to make Israeli government less religious in areas related to the mandatory draft (Hasidic and other ultra-orthadox sects are exempted from the military draft in many cases, the current policy is referred to as the status quo), religion is a great part of Jewish government. (more on this later) No doubt some of the integration of religion and government is due to the work of individuals like Rabbi Kook.
It was impressive to see how hard these leaders worked and the sacrifices they made, not just to better their families, but the cause they believed in– Zionism and the establishment of a strong Jewish state.
I learned a lot about the foundation of the nation of Israel through these leaders and along the way made new friends with the Israelis.
Visiting these museums, filled with the writings, the books, the furniture of these Jewish leaders leaders was very powerful and helped me to experience history.