My problem with Yonatan Netanyahu
by Jonathan Rosenblum
Jerusalem Post International Edition
July 6, 2001
Like most Jews around the world, I first heard of Yonatan Netanyahu the day he died. I had taken a year off between law school and practice, and was living in Israel the summer of Entebbe. What otherwise was the most exciting day of my life – the only instance of mass jubilation I have ever experienced – was marred only by news of his death and of four of the hostages in the course of the dramatic Entebbe rescue.
Whether it was our common first name, our closeness in age, or the fact that we had been educated in the same Ivy League schools, I couldn't stop thinking about Yoni, as he was known. His life - not just his death - struck me as a rebuke to my own.
I wrote home complaining of the lack of opportunities in America 'to do anything heroic or big.' But even as I complained of America, I knew the real problem was myself and my tendency to 'think of life as something that is going to start in the future and for which the present is only preparation.'
Until then, I had merely accumulated entries on a resume in anticipation of that as yet unidentified achievement that would somehow justify the pursuit of those resume items.
Yonatan Netanyahu had lived his life differently - in the present, not the future. He had left the safety of Harvard Yard to return to the IDF. With a future of seemingly unlimited potential, he had consistently volunteered for the most dangerous missions. I questioned then, and still do, whether I would ever do anything to give meaning to my life in the way that Yonatan Netanyahu did that night 25 years ago.
In a letter written when he was 17, Yoni described the attitude of living in the present not the future I felt so lacking in myself: ``[N]ot only at the moment of my death shall I be able to account for the time I have lived; I ought to be ready at every moment of my life to confront myself and say – this is what I’ve done."
His letters are filled with eerie premonitions. From the first, he spoke frequently of death. Still in his early 20s, he describes himself as having ``ceased to be young" and of having lost ``the sense of harmony that characterizes a young man’s world." Above all, a heavy sadness had grown somewhere within him as he contemplated ``a war that has no end" because we are confronted by a ``primitive foe who’s after blood and vengeance, whose behavior is guided not by logic or reason but by dark whims and emotions. . ."
Not that he was weary of life – just the opposite. His letters are filled with longing to return to Harvard, lists of books read in moments snatched here and there, of his love of navigational hikes which allowed him to ``feel the place, the soil, the mountains and valleys of Israel."
But always his belief that ``the Jewish people’s survival depends largely upon Israel and Israel’s survival depends on us" drew him back from the army.
From the first he loved the army, in particular the feeling that ``I could endure and presevere, both physically and emotionally way after everyone else broke down." Even as a teenage scout leader, he thrilled to shape a group in which ``each individual would feel himself an integral part, without which the entire machinery would somehow suffer." And that is what he loved about the army too, the ``coalesc[ing] into a single body" after only the strongest and most competent remain. ``Men . . . united by something that is above and beyond political outlook . . . a feeling of brotherhood."
As he worried more and more about the internal strength of civilian society, about the incessant Wars of the Jews and those who delude themselves into thinking the Arabs will abandon their aim of destroying the State, he came to see the army as an oasis. In the army, he found kindred souls – men of ``initiative and energy, who break conventions when they have to; who . . . are always searching for new ways and answers."
He instilled this capacity in those who served under him. The greatest and final tribute was that even after he was mowed down at the front of his men, leading the assault on Entebbe airport, his men werestill able to execute his plan of action flawlessly.
He had indeed given account of every moment of his too short life. What about the rest of us?
Related Topics: Biographical - Jonathan Rosenblum
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