To me, Yitzhak Shamir was to Israeli Prime Ministers what Art Howe was to Mets managers — he didn’t inspire very strong feelings either way, although I had a sense both teams could have done better.
But Shamir was one of the last survivors of Israel’s founding generation, and his passing is a moment we should all take note of. It also brings me to my Yitzhak Shamir story.
In 1997, my wife, oldest son, our baby daughter, and I were visiting the Museum of Underground Prisoners at the Russian Compound in Jerusalem. The fact that you may never have heard of it explains why we seemed to be the only visitors, except for a film crew and a tiny old man walking towards us. It turned out to be Shamir, who as a member of the militant Stern Gang was thrown into the prison in 1941 by the British.
We paused in front of one of the cells as the former prime minister approached us, and we exchanged greetings in Hebrew (my wife was mortified that she mistakenly addressed him in the feminine tense). Deliberate and grandfatherly, the former paramilitary commander, Mossad operative, and fierce Likud loyalist patted my then six-year-old son on the head and said “yeled tov” — good boy.
I remember thinking at the moment — and repeating over the years — that in 2048, when, kinahora, Israel celebrates its 100th anniversary and my son has kids of his own, he can tell them that he had a moment with one of the very founders of Israel.
Two decades later, I find myself hoping that my son will also be celebrating an Israel whose survival will no longer depend on the tactics and strategies of leaders like Shamir.