As Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion faced enormous existential problems including security, building the economy, and absorbing millions of immigrants.
While addressing these issues, he was never one to deal solely with the agenda of the day. He kept his eye on grander ideals and a lofty vision for the young Jewish state.
In the midst of this tumultuous period, Ben-Gurion envisioned and requested significant funding for an ambitious project at the National Library to send scholars across the globe to photograph every Hebrew manuscript in the world, and bring these images together in Jerusalem.
“Our first duty is to save Hebrew literature,” he wrote to his finance minister. “There are thousands of Hebrew manuscripts lying idle in various libraries … Many of them have vanished in the darkness of the past or have been destroyed by the wrath of oppressors… It is the duty of the State of Israel to acquire and gather those exiles of the spirit of Israel dispersed in the Diaspora.”
The project quickly became the world’s most comprehensive collection of its kind. It completely revolutionized scholarship and has now come into the digital age, providing open global access to nearly 9 million images of 78,000 Hebrew manuscripts from 531 collections across the globe.
While his work to make modern Jerusalem a center for the treasures of Jewish culture is perhaps not one of the major acts for which he is remembered, it reflects something central and critical to understanding who Ben-Gurion was and what he stood for. He saw – and prioritized – beyond the pressing issues of the day.
Across the political spectrum, legendary leaders from Ben-Gurion to Begin and Rabin to Sharon have faced existential challenges, responding with vision, values, strategic judgment and moral courage.
These men and their decisions are the focus of the recent book “Be Strong and of Good Courage: How Israel’s Most Important Leaders Shaped Its Destiny” by Ambassador Dennis Ross and David Makovsky. The authors examine “whether the factors that led Israeli leaders to make big decisions in the past can provide a guide for helping Israel’s leaders decide to preserve the country’s Jewish and democratic character in the future.”
With the country heading toward its third elections in less than a year, such lessons now seem more critical than ever.
On January 6, 2020, Ross and Makovsky will discuss lessons of leadership with Times of Israel Editor-in-Chief David Horovitz in a special event at the National Library of Israel, the dynamic institution of national memory for the Jewish people worldwide and Israelis of all backgrounds and faiths.
The event, “Be Strong and of Good Courage: A Conversation with Ambassador Dennis Ross and David Makovsky on Lessons of Leadership for Israel and America,” is open to the public. Archival treasures relating to some of Israel’s great leaders will be on display.
For more information and tickets, click here.