David Ben-Gurion is best known as the first Prime Minister of Israel. But, his role in the creation of the State was far greater than can be reflected in any single title.
Born in 1886, in Plonsk, Poland, David Gruen (Green)’s father was a dedicated Zionist who founded the Hebrew school that his son attended. In his late teens, as an activist member of Poalei Zion, a Socialist-Zionist group, David Green found himself frequently at odds with the Polish authorities, and in 1906, at the age of 20, he moved to Palestine. He immediately turned his dreams into action and labored with his fellow Zionists on an agricultural settlement. During this time period, he also helped to found the Jewish self-defense organization, Hashomer.
After six years in Palestine, David now called Ben-Gurion (a Hebrew name meaning lion cub) traveled to Salonika and Istanbul to study Turkish and Ottoman law. In 1914, with the outbreak of World War I, he was deported by the Ottoman authorities. He spent three years in the United States, where he met and married Paula Monbesz. Ben-Gurion subsequently returned to Palestine as a member of the Jewish Legion, a unit of the British Army established by Ze’ev Jabotinsky.
During the British Mandate years, Ben-Gurion helped found the Histadrut, the National Federation of Jewish Laborers, and served as its Secretary General from 1921-1935. In 1935, Ben-Gurion was named Chairman of the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, a position he held until the founding of the State.
This list of Ben-Gurion’s activities before May 1948 is staggering, even more so when it is noted that this is hardly a complete list. What becomes clear upon reading about this first part of Ben-Gurion’s life (he died in 1973) is his genuine passion for the Land of Israel and his uncommon talent for leadership.
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