(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
In a role reversal, President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who are accustomed to receiving symbolic gifts at public ceremonies – both donated rare books on Tuesday at the cornerstone-laying for the National Library, being built in Jerusalem opposite the Knesset and Israel Museum.
Both men are the sons of professors, and both gifted a literary treasure that had belonged to his father. Rivlin presented a Farsi manuscript of poems and liturgical texts by biblical commentator and kabbalist Rabbi Israel Ben Moshe Najara. Netanyahu gifted his father Benzion Netanyahu’s archive on the Jews of Spain and conversos.
When completed in 2020, he said, Israel’s National Library will be on par with the Library of Congress in Washington, and the British Library in London.
Netanyahu reminisced about the many hours in his youth he spent at the National Library’s current building at Givat Ram, and recalled how much more time his father spent there.
The $200-million National Library is being funded by Yad Hanadiv (The Rothschild Foundation) whose chairman Lord Jacob Rothschild was present along with several members of his family, and the Ruth L. and David S. Gottesman Fund. The Gottesmans also had a family delegation present.
For more than a century, the Rothschild family has supported scores of projects in Israel and pre-state Palestine.
Citing Yad Hanadiv’s funding of the construction of the Knesset, the Supreme Court, the Israel Museum and now the National Library, Netanyahu told Lord Rothschild: “You deserve the deepest appreciation of the Jewish people for your extraordinary contribution.”
The Gottesman family of New York has also made major contributions to Israel.
David Gottesman pointed out that his uncle, Hungarian- Jewish philanthropist David Samuel Gottesman, helped buy the Dead Sea Scrolls and paid for the construction of the Shrine of the Book.
Both major donors said how privileged they and their families felt to participate in the National Library project.
Rothschild mentioned how the written word had remained sacred to the Jewish people even after the burning of Jewish holy books first by Antiochus IV Epiphanes 2,200 years ago and in contemporary times by the Nazis.
David Blumberg, chairman of the National Library, thanked Rivlin and Netanyahu for their donations.
He mentioned that Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky had given the library the archives of Shomer Achi Anochi (I am my brother’s keeper). The Jerusalem-based organization, founded to secure Sharansky’s release from the Siberian gulag, fought to open the gates of Soviet Jewish immigration.
Blumberg said that according to diplomatic protocol, when world leaders come to Israel they go to Yad Vashem “to see what the world did to us. But now they will also visit the National Library to see what we have given to the world.”