Shalom Life | April 19, 2014

Jewish Hall of Fame: David Ben-Gurion

Ben-Gurion was the primary founder and first Prime Minister of the State of Israel

By: Zak Edwards

Published: April 16th, 2014 in News » Israel

Jewish Hall of Fame: David Ben-Gurion

Since the dawn of time, Jewish people have contributed greatly to various fields, from sports to entertainment to politics to porn. With our Breakthrough Jew feature, we recognize those who are up and comers in these various industries, identifying those great innovators and leaders in the contemporary world who are making a mark on society that will last a lifetime.

With the Jewish Hall of Fame, we recognize the remarkable advancements members of our community have made on today's society. These are people who have truly changed the world, and have earned the respect and praise of the members of today's younger generation.

ShalomLife’s Jewish Hall of Fame is our ongoing tribute to the greatest Jews who have ever lived; be sure to catch us weekly with our latest inductees, and tweet us @ShalomLife with your suggestions.

Check out last week's inductee into the Hall of Fame here.

Hall of Fame Member: David Ben-Gurion

Born: October 16, 1886, Płońsk, Poland

Died: December 1, 1973, Tel HaShomer

Famous For: Being the first Prime Minister of Israel

Israel will never stop fighting for its own existence, we see this in the papers nearly everyday, and one man in particular is responsible for the founding and survival of the nation.

That man is David Ben-Gurion, the Polish son of a lawyer who became the person Israel needed, the leader she required, but also the founder necessary to make the world recognize the need and success of an Israeli State. David Ben-Gurion is one of the most important Jews to ever live, a man whose dreams and legacy have forever changed the world.

Born David Grün in Płońsk, Congress Poland, then still part of the Russian Empire, Ben-Gurion grew up in a household that valued Zionism. His father Victor was a lawyer by trade, but also a leader in the family’s local Hovevei Zion movement. Ben-Gurion’s mother died when the future leader of Israel was only 11 years old. A leader and fighter early on in his life, Ben-Gurion formed a youth league called Ezra with some friends. The group promoted Hebrew studies and emigration to then-Palestine and allowed members to only speak Hebrew in their meetings.

Of his childhood home, Ben-Gurion was quick to point out he did not suffer persecution or experience anti-Semitism whilst in Płońsk. “Anti-Semitic feeling had little to do with our dedication [to Zionism]. I personally never suffered anti-Semitic persecution,” he wrote in his memoirs. “We emigrated not for negative reasons of escape but for the positive purpose of rebuilding a homeland.”

While in university at Warsaw, Ben-Gurion established himself as a fighter and resistor. He joined the Social-Democratic Jewish Workers’ Party and was arrested twice during the Russian Revolution. The unrest saw him leave Europe altogether and, in 1906, Ben-Gurion made his way to the Ottoman Empire to establish an agricultural commune. It was here that David Grün became David Ben-Gurion, adopting the name after joining an armed watchmen group to protect Jews living in Sejera. Ben-Gurion established himself as more nationalist than his leftist/Marxist fellow commune leaders, which led to a split. He resumed his law studies not long after, but by the outbreak of World War I, he was forced to leave the Ottoman Empire and begin again somewhere else. This time, it was New York City.

Ben-Gurion arrived in New York in 1915 and met the love of his life, Paula Munweis. Ever his equal, the feisty future first lady became famous for her quips and strong character. They lived in New York for 3 years, during which Ben-Gurion raised support for the British Army. He joined the 38th Battalion Royal Fusiliers in 1918 after touring 35 cities trying to raise 10,000 soldiers. The success of Britain during the war let Ben-Gurion and his new bride move back to the Ottoman Empire after the British captured Palestine. It was here that Ben-Gurion began defining his future career, and a future nation.

Upon his return to Palestine, Ben-Gurion became an important member in the Yishuv and founded two of the most important organizations for the founding of Israel: Ahdut HaAvodah and the Histadrut Labor Federation. Like many of his commune leaders before the war, Ben-Gurion believed Israel was not only a nationalist issue, but also a labour issue and he spent his life trying to negotiate the incoming Jewish labour force into occupied Palestine. Israel could not just be a country, it needed to be an economically viable nation, one that defined itself as important on the world stage. Israel was to become a proud Jewish state, independent and self-reliant. Both organizations spoke to these desires.

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