We had the great honor of marketing a lovely apartment in Jerusalem’s Sha’are Chesed neighborhood for the estate of Yehuda Avner. Standing in Avner’s office and viewing numerous photos of him with leading world leaders felt like I was taking a stroll through the history of the State of Israel.
You might recognize the name Yehuda Avner, as he wrote a wonderful book called The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership. Avner was secretary and speechwriter to prime ministers Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir, and adviser to prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, and Shimon Peres. In these roles, he was privy to many conversations of historical significance, some of which are mentioned in the book. One can tell that Avner was a magnificent speech writer, as his prose is clear, his recall is thorough, and his stories are riveting.
After serving the prime ministers, Avner held diplomatic positions in New York and Washington, DC, and then served as Israel’s ambassador to Britain, Ireland and Australia.
Yehuda Avner was born in Manchester in 1928 and, after experiencing anti-Semitism in Britain, became active in the Bnei Akiva religious Zionist youth movement. Upon high school graduation in 1947, Avner moved to Jerusalem. He fought in the 1948 War of Independence, and then helped found Kibbutz Lavi. Avner married Mimi Cailingold (sister of Esther Cailingold, a war heroine who died in the battle for Jerusalem’s Old City), and together they raised a family of four children.
In 1959, Yehuda Avner joined the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and never turned back. Although he wrote glowingly of all the prime ministers, one quickly detects Avner’s profound admiration for Menachem Begin, as a large portion of The Prime Ministers chronicles Begin’s life from pre-State through the years that he served as prime minister.
Further recognition of how Menachem Begin’s Jewish pride and selfless devotion to the Jewish nation impacted Avner’s weltanschauung, or life philosophy, is revealed in Avner’s 2013 version of the Ten Commandments, in which he shared ten lessons acquired during his lifetime of public service. It is a brilliant piece, worthy of reading and rereading. One detects the tremendous influence that Begin had on Avner. For the sake of brevity, let’s focus on two of Avner’s ten lessons:
“When an enemy of our people says he seeks to destroy us, believe him.” This is based on a quote from Begin, when asked about important lessons learned from the Holocaust. Begin elaborated, “Don’t doubt him [the enemy] for a moment. Don’t make light of it. Do all in your power to deny him the means of carrying out his satanic intent.”
“Protect Jewish dignity and honor at all costs.” Discussing lessons learned from the Holocaust, Begin developed this theme: “The seeds of Jewish destruction lie in passively enabling the enemy to humiliate us. Only when the enemy succeeds in turning the spirit of the Jew into dust and ashes in life, can he turn the Jew into dust and ashes in death.”
Yehuda Avner absorbed important lessons from Israel’s early leaders, and gave voice to these giants on a global scale. The master wordsmith, Avner was blessed to utilize his immense talents to help frame and spread the message of the State of Israel to the world.
May we, in this new year, learn from Yehuda Avner and redouble our efforts to use our talents and strengths on behalf of Am Yisrael.