Page 145 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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KATSH
I
ZALMAN SHAZAR
135
occupied: member of the Histadrut Central Committee; editor
of
Davar;
member of the Vaad Leumi; chairman of the Educa­
tion Department of the Jewish Agency; member of the Political
Committee at Lake Success when the UN decided on the estab­
lishment of a Jewish State; first Minister of Education and Cul­
ture, among others.
Shazar went beyond traditional institutions. Even before the
State was established, he was instrumental in formulating the
first program whereby foreign students were able to acquire a
first-hand knowledge of the Bible in “its own setting”—the land
of Israel. (Inaugurated by me in 1947 with a dozen students, it
became the forerunner for all group programs in Israel which
are sponsored by numerous educational institutions today.)
HIS CONCEPT OF JEWISH UN ITY
Zalman Shazar’s notion of Jewish unity, which encompassed
all the “contraries” of Jewish experience, was not to flower fully
until he became President of the State of Israel in 1962. Although
he was then seventy years old, he was eminently equipped for
the task: like Churchill, he came to his vocation late in life but
not too late for his people. He belonged to a group of Jewish
scholars unique to the twentieth century. Thoroughly grounded
in the traditional Jewish classics, he employed modern methods
of learning. Well able to discourse on halakhah and unyieldingly
attached to Judaism, he was conversant with all facets of Jewish
life.
It can be said truly that Shazar was the first president of Israel
to be supremely aware of the
unity
of the Jewish people and
their history. This unity derived from his own stream of con­
sciousness: tradition; learning; the centrality of the individual’s
goodness; the variety of Jewish experience; empathy and identifi-
with all Jews; the messianic ideal.
Shazar’s official acts reflected these convictions. To establish
unity he went to the people. To emphasize tradition, he made
of the President’s House a center for learning and prayer. To
recruit the “hasidic rebbes,” he paid them court. While other
companions were mired in controversy, Shazar emerged as a lead­
er with the most precious asset of all: moral authority. He told
the truth with all its tensions and he told it sincerely. The