Three US Marine Corps helicopters descend on the South Lawn of the White House.
The obelisk of the Washington Memorial and the domed roof of the Lincoln
Memorial loom larger and larger. The toy soldiers below us become a serried
panoply representing all branches of US military power and the honor guard are
in dress uniform: beige-brown, white and light and dark blue.
president of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson strides toward the prime
minister of Israel, Levi, son of Devorah Eshkol.
Handshakes. LBJ and the
PM on the saluting stand.
The honor guard at stiff
Present Arms! Officers salute, troops in the rifle-forward
“present!” position. The Marine Corps band plays “Hatikva” on the White House
A cannon roars. Under the first note of “Hatikva”, the first
Under the last note of the Star- Spangled Banner, the last
A 19-gun salute, protocol for a head of Government.
whisked in State Department limousines across the street, to Blair House, the
official guest residence.
Full security, special ID, plush quarters,
conference rooms, a large dining room with a laden table of finger sandwiches
and baked goods, tea and coffee 24 hours a day and a liveried butler always in
The meetings begin. The State Dinner. The president and Lady
Bird Johnson descend the wide imposing staircase as the Marines play, “Hail to
The prime minister and president in black tie and their
ladies in evening dress.
Farmers now dressed as
Cementing an originally reluctant closeness on the US side,
the beginning of an alliance that was tested in fire in only three tears later
in 1967 and again in 1973.
A twin to Air Force One is put at our
disposal. Police escorts, wailing sirens through city traffic.
limousines to planeside.
Immediate clearance. The Boeing 727 flies us to
The head of NASA is Wernher von Braun, who had designed
the Nazi’s V-2 rockets – the Vengeance weapon.
Eshkol must shake hands
with a smile, and not turn a hair.
On to Houston, then to nearby Fort
An Israel Air Force battalion is learning to use the Hawk
anti-aircraft missile, alongside of Nato soldiers and Americans. These soldiers
are the first to learn to use the Hawk and will return as
“Hatikva”. A 19-gun salvo.
Prime minister and
minister of defense Levi Eshkol and the US base commander, a major-general, take
the salute. First a platoon of Americans, “Eyes Right!” Then the Israelis:
“Layemin Shur!” Hebrew alternated with English as alternating platoons marched
by. Hebrew commands for the first time on a US base.
This was the
beginning of Israel’s modern anti-aircraft missile defense.
Washington, the PM had presented our need for tanks and anti-tank weapons to
balance the arms flow to Egypt and Syria from the Soviet Union.
visits to the cities were for public relations purposes, for exposure, for
strengthening ties with US political figures and with the local Jewish
PR was not the prime minister’s way. At Houston Airport, the
mayor and an honor guard of Texas Rangers, white Stetson cowboy hats.
six-shooters and all on fine mounts. The mayor leads Eshkol toward the guard of
“Eshkol,” I say quietly into his ear, “pat the lead horse’s
“What?” “Pat the horse’s nose!” “Have you gone crazy?” (Through
gritted teeth and a thickened voice.) Trying not to grab his arm, “Eshkol!...
Pat! The! Horse’s! NOSE!!!” We leave the red carpet, walk a few paces. The
captain on his white horse salutes. The PM pats the horse’s nose. Flash-bulbs
Next morning, splashed across the Chronicle’s front page: the
photo of the PM and the horse.
Los Angeles, Chicago. Parades, receptions,
meetings. Mrs.Eshkol and the prime minister brave it all with evident
delight and hidden fatigue. They are powered by a boundless sense of
It was 19 years since the horrors of the death camps became full
public knowledge,16 years since Ben-Gurion proclaimed the birth of a new state.
And now Air Force Two was the inter-city taxi of Israel’s head of
At the official dinner given by mayor Richard J. Daley of
Chicago, a perplexed Irish-American politician held the little notice from the
local Kashrut board. “I know that kosher means. But what is “parve?” Our program
was so tight that from the dinner, still tuxedoclad, and Miriam Eshkol
becomingly gowned, we were limousine- whisked to Chicago Airport
We slept in snatches en route to JFK, where NYPD took over,
and police escorted us at high speed to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
York of course was the grand finale.
Receptions, meetings, speeches,
hand-shaking. Exhausting and exhilarating.
In the historic Spanish and Portuguese synagogue, all rose
when Levi son of Yosef and Devorah was called to the Torah and all remained
standing until the entire portion was read and he returned to his
Second, a warm tete-a-tete with the great Rabbi Joseph
B. Soloveitchik. Eshkol had grown up in a half-hassidic (ultra- Orthodox,
his father), half nonhassidic and increasingly modern home (his
The main subject under discussion then was the overly-strict
approach of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate of the time to converting the
post-Holocaust, non- Jewish wives of Romanian immigrants.
asked what they do in the US, told Eshkol the Yiddish equivalent of, “We find a
I never had occasion to ask Eshkol how he felt when Hatikva sounded
and the cannons saluted.
We all must have felt some version of this: 19
centuries ago the greatest empire of its time destroyed Jerusalem and the Second
Each intervening century had its pain and
persecution. Each had its triumphs of the soul and the spirit. Each gun that
sounded was saluting one century of survival, each gun 100 years of pain and
Israel had been destroyed by the greatest power of its
Nineteen centuries later, Israel’s rebirth and resurgence is
celebrated by the greatest power of our time.Avraham Avi-hai was a
member of the small entourage escorting prime minister Levi Eshkol on his
historic visit to the US in 1964.
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