said, "My father died three times." He recited the Kaddish as 350
invited guests stood solemnly at an evening of remembrance for Ariel
Sharon, Israel’s 11th prime minister, in February at the
elite Fifth Avenue Synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
First time his father "died,"
Gilad said, was in the 1948 War of Independence when he suffered
three bullet wounds in the first Battle of Latrun. "All around him
were 139 comrades who fell. He said that was the last time he’d see
them. His own rescue on the battlefield was miraculous. That day a
rule was set in the army: never leave a man behind."
Second time Ariel "died" was
in 1967 when his first son Gur was accidentally shot in the
head while playing with an antique gun with a friend. Ariel saw
countless wounds in his life and knew this was hopeless. He cradled
the 11-year-old boy in his arms and watched his life slip away.
"There is nothing sadder than the death of a child," Gilad said, a
tear on his cheek. "The pain never diminishes, but my father kept
Third and final time came on
Jan. 11, when the 85-year-old leader succumbed to a coma that had
lasted eight years.
Consul General Ido Aharoni
told the audience how Ariel loved classical music, nature, and
animals. And he loved to eat. It showed in his ample girth. Asked
why he doesn’t wear a bullet-proof vest he cracked, "They don’t make
one in my size."
I remember meeting Sharon in
1997 at the home of Ingeborg and Ira Rennert on Park
Avenue. Sharon was promoting the sale of Israel Bonds among such
guests as Ronald Lauder, Richard Hirsch, Jay Schottenstein,
Hermann Merkin and Sam Halpern. S. Daniel Abraham
couldn’t come but sent a message that he’ll be good for a million
"Dan wanted me to go on his
Slim-Fast diet," Sharon said. "I declined—I like eating too much."
Dan pressed on. He promised
to buy a million-dollar Israel Bond for every pound Sharon would
lose. "I’ll take your money and keep my pounds," Sharon replied.
executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major
American Jewish Organizations, who saluted Sharon as prime minister
of Israel and the Jewish people, had known Sharon since the Six Day
War of 1967. "He took us on tours of the land, always with a map in
hand to make us realize how vulnerable Israel is with such narrow
I can attest to that. On a
UJA/Federation fact-finding mission in 1990, we visited Alfei
Menashe on a hilltop in Samaria. Sharon was waiting for us on the
outskirts of this sparkling modern village. In a month he would
become minister of housing and construction under Prime Minister
"Look," he said, "you see Tel
Aviv in the distance?"
His aides held up an
oversized map to show how close Arab missiles would be to Tel Aviv
and Haifa if they were to control this elevation in the West Bank.
He maintained that Israel could not afford to allow an Arab presence
overlooking the coastal plain.
Elie Wiesel said that he
accompanied this "eternal hero of Israel" in January 2005 for the 60th
anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. They walked in profound
silence, in deep contemplation, on the ground that had been
sprinkled with the dust of human depravity.
"Auschwitz for Arik was a
discovery," said the Nobel laureate. "It opened his eyes to the
danger of relying too much on other people."
At Shabbat meals with their
wives, Marion Wiesel and Lily Sharon, they would sing
Hasidic zmirot [songs]. Lily came from a Hasidic background and knew
all the melodies. Wiesel said, "Arik could carry a rifle but he
couldn’t carry a tune."
On Tisha B’Av philanthropist
Ira Rennert and his wife Ingeborg would find themselves with Elie
and Marion in Jerusalem. They spent hours with Sharon at the King
David Hotel. They’d ask him what he’d like to eat and he’d say, "If
you’re not eating, I’m not."
"Arik was the personification
of the rebirth of a sovereign Jewish people in their
land of Israel," said Ira, who sponsored the memorial event with