The age of heroes is over

I am named Amos after David Ben Gurion’s son, and I named the hero of my first novel after Moshe Dayan’s son.

By Amos Kollek, October 26, 2010

David Ben Gurion's birthday and Moshe Dayan's death fall on the same date, October 16. Both men ended their lives embittered, disillusioned, and with no fanfare.

They were utterly different personalities. Dayan was a daredevil, a man of danger and scandals. Both his courage in the battlefield and his skirt-chasing were legendary. He had no regard for the rules or conventions of his time, and he got away with it. Had he lived today, he could have sustained no political career and very likely he would have spent a few years in jail.

I remember October 1965 when Dayan accompanied my father, Teddy, on an election tour in Jerusalem, to help him in his first bid for mayor.

I sat in the back seat. Next to me was a pretty female political activist. My father was driving.

The young woman suddenly turned to Dayan, and asked him whether a sensational novel, based on a charismatic military man and his sexual affairs was really, as was rumoured, a depiction of Dayan's own affairs - including one with the author of the book. "It is absolutely true," said Dayan with a smile, "except that in reality there were a lot more."

This was why I idolised Dayan. He seemed above it all. He didn't bother trying to be diplomatic or to please anyone but himself.

With Ben Gurion it was a different story altogether.

In my childhood, I saw him quite often because he and his wife, Paula, came to my parents' home for Friday night dinner once every two weeks.

Ben Gurion loved my mother's chicken soup with chopped liver.

He walked to our home because the Prime Minister's house was only about half a mile away. Like Dayan, Ben Gurion was a distant man - a man of vision, interested in history, philosophy, statesmanship.

Children did not interest him and he barely said "hello" or "goodbye" to me.

His wife Paula, in sharp contrast, always asked me all sorts of things that often embarrassed me because
I was very shy and she never censored her questions.

I would sit at the table, shaking with awe because this was the Ben Gurion - the man who was like God to my father.

On the whole, there was no joking around that table. Ben Gurion's presence dictated the atmosphere and he had no sense of humour.

Today, I do not hero worship anyone. Is it that today people - leaders - are not as grand? I have no doubt that the period in which Ben Gurion declared the independence of the state of Israel, against all odds, demanded a giant leader. Otherwise, the state would not have come into existence and would not have survived its first few years.

So maybe the enormity of the task made him rise to the occasion.

Dayan, on the other hand, was a swaggering, arrogant, bold man, unlike his diaspora predecessors. He seemed to declare: "I am a New Man and you will have to treat me accordingly - with awe and respect."

Despite the fact that I am very familiar with the country in which I live, not particularly known for its gentle manners and respect for its leaders, I couldn't help but feel deep disappointment that the birthday of David Ben Gurion, the founder of this state, passed practically unnoticed.

Dayan, on the other hand, was mentioned plenty. But only for one reason - to remind people of the Yom Kippur anniversary, the war where he called the reserves a day late and lost his optimism and self-confidence.

No-one mentioned the Dayan who had been the Chief of Staff in the victorious Sinai Campaign in 1956, who was the Defence Minister during the Six Day War, and was the architect of the peace treaty with Egypt in Camp David. No, only the blunder of the Yom Kippur War got him into the news.

I hope this high-tech era won't succeed in making zombies of us all.

Amos Kollek is a writer and film director. He lives in Jerusalem.

Last updated: 11:37am, November 9 2010