Dwight Owen Schweitzer
Editor & Publisher The Jewish Star Times
It is a sad fact that the great men of history become so much greater after they die. I suppose it has something to do with there being no possibility that they will do something to betray all the nice things being said about them. Abba Eban was larger than life, in life, and in his passing Sunday, as was said of Lincoln, he now belongs to the ages. He was, in the simplest terms, what virtually every Jewish mother prays for in her sons.
He was a man of towering intellect, scholarship, articulation and peace; a man who embodied the highest ideals of the Jewish people in the life he led, the things he fought for, and the dreams he dreamed.
There will be those who will say that in his belief in the need to create a Palestinian state he was foolish or naive, that his politics were too left and that history had left him behind. He would be happy to know that even George Washington was not universally loved or applauded the day he died, but those few raucous voices inevitably faded away as history embellishes those upon whom it has chosen to favor. Abba Eban was such a man.
Educated at Cambridge, his oratory was nothing short of exquisite as was his ability to bring his listeners directly to the heart of the question. He possessed the singular ability to put forth the thoughts that motivated him and the country he sometimes led and always championed with a clarity and lack of ambiguity that will forever mark him as one of the foremost orators and statesmen of his age.
He is to the State of Israel what Winston Churchill was to England; each there during dark hours — perhaps from different ends of the political spectrum — but both having steady hands during perilous times. He was a man of peace and in his love of peace he was the quintessential Jew: the optimist, part visionary, part dreamer, grounded in the reality of the moment but able to see over the horizon and to remember the invocation of the Jewish people; to make this a better world, not for the children of Israel but for all of God’s children from every faith and corner of the earth.
His book, Heritage, Civilization and the Jews will forever stand as one of the finest points of entry into answering the question of who are these people, these Jews, so few, so persecuted, so harassed, who have suffered so much for so long and yet in the process gave us monotheism and the very building blocks of civilization itself.
For those who ask, ‘Who was this man that I should remember him?’ The answer is simple. He was a Jew who lived at a time when Jews more than any group in the history of humankind had the right to hate, to seek vengeance and to retreat from the world that had turned their heads away from the smoke and ash that were the remnant of a third of the world’s Jews. He was a Jew who did none of those things. He was a Jew who lived for peace, for reconciliation, for tolerance and forgiveness.
He was the Jew our mothers hoped we might grow up to become. To know his life is to know what the meaning of Judaism is: our faith embodied in the life of one man, a man who now belongs to the ages and for whom the ages will doubtless be grateful.