By Laura Seymour
A number of years ago, just before Passover, David Ben-Gurion’s grandson spoke at Congregation Shearith Israel about his grandfather and Israel. He related a story that I used at the many Passover Seders that I participated in. The story tells of the challenge convincing the United States to support Israel. It is a story about Jews as a people with a common heritage no matter where we live throughout the world. All of Jewish life is filled with rituals that keep us connected. The Passover Seder is the most recognized and this story, from Ben-Gurion, tells how we are all connected. As we celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day (a relatively new Jewish holiday considering our long history), tell this story to every Jewish parent who questions Jewish school whether preschool, day school or supplemental school — we must continue to tell our children the stories of our people. Here is the story:
In 1954, when Ben-Gurion was Prime Minister, he traveled to the USA to meet with President Eisenhower to request his assistance and support in the early and difficult days of the State of Israel. John Foster Dulles, who was the then secretary of state, confronted Ben-Gurion and challenged him as follows:
“Tell me, Mr. Prime Minister — who do you and your state represent? Does it represent the Jews of Poland, perhaps Yemen, Romania, Morocco, Iraq, Russia or perhaps Brazil? After 2,000 years of exile can you honestly speak about a single nation, a single culture? Can you speak about a single heritage or perhaps a single Jewish tradition?”
Ben-Gurion answered him as follows:
“Look, Mr. Secretary of State — approximately 300 years ago the Mayflower set sail from England and on it were the first settlers who settled in what would become the largest democratic superpower known as the United States of America. Now, do me a favor — go out into the streets and find 10 American children and ask them the following:
• What was the name of the Captain of the Mayflower?
• How long did the voyage take?
• What did the people who were on the ship eat?
• What were the conditions of sailing during the voyage?
“I’m sure you would agree with me that there is a good chance that you won’t get a good answer to these questions.
“Now in contrast — not 300 but more than 3,000 years ago, the Jews left the land of Egypt. I would kindly request from you, Mr. Secretary, that on one of your trips around the world, try and meet 10 Jewish children in different countries. And ask them:
• What was the name of the leader who took the Jews out of Egypt?
• How long did it take them before they got to the land of Israel?
• What did they eat during the period when they were wandering in the desert?
• And what happened to the sea when they encountered it?
“Once you get the answers to these questions, please carefully reconsider the question that you have just asked me!”
We retell our stories from the distant past to the not-so-distant, as we know that the stories must be kept alive. We Jews are storytellers — that is the best description of being a teacher one can imagine. You don’t need training, just practice, and that is what we do — keep telling the stories.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.