June 23, 2024
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June 23, 2024
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When Your Friend’s Son Becomes the Prime Minister

Am I excited? More than you can imagine. Naftali Bennett was a small child when he and his parents and two younger brothers came to live in Montreal. Myrna Bennett attended a meeting at the Federation, for a committee of which I happened to be the chairperson. It was a committee to welcome newcomers to Montreal and the goal was to make people as comfortable as possible in their new homes as they adjusted to what, for many, was a new country, a different language and a sense of being far away from their families.

Myrna and I immediately hit it off and it was absolutely natural for me to invite this family of five to our home for Shabbat. It did not take long before we began spending chagim, and many other days, with the Bennett family. Myrna and Jim Bennett were officially from San Francisco and, as part of their travelling pursuits during their time spent as members of the Peace Corps, visited Israel and fell in love with the country. Settling in Haifa, this totally secular Jewish family took on another challenge when Jim, the charming head of the household, accepted the position of shaliach for the Technion in Montreal. I doubt that tzitzit and kippot were considerations as part of the wardrobes of this predominantly male family at that time.

Naftali is the youngest of three boys. His brothers Asher and Daniel completed this trio of cute, lively, inquisitive little minds.

By the time the Bennett family left Montreal to return to their home in Ahuza (a section of Haifa), tzitzit and kippot were a part of their everyday attire. I remember Myrna relating to me how amazed she expected their friends to be when they arrived back in Israel and had to throw out all of their dishes, pots and pans in order to fulfill their desire to have a totally kosher kitchen. Their little men immediately were enrolled in Mamlachti Dati schools and Jim and Myrna became active members of their synagogue.

Our pride in this family was so strong, but never did we imagine that one day Naftali would be the prime minister of Israel. Upon speaking with Myrna just a few hours ago it was hard for me to refrain from squealing with delight at this unbelievable accomplishment, and Myrna responded as she had many times over the years: “Nina, Naftali is where he is today only because of you and Mordechai.”

As we talked and as I listened, I cried to be reminded of the little acts we had done in our past that made such enormous differences in people’s lives.

We did encounter Naftali a number of years ago when he addressed student leaders at Yeshiva University, and upon introducing myself to him he literally stopped the entire meeting, removed his kippah and told all gathered in the conference room outside of what was then Richard Joel’s office that the only reason he was wearing his kippah today was because of Mordechai and me. He then proceeded to the auditorium where he was to address about 1,000 people, and began his speech by paying tribute to us. It was a moment I will never forget.

So Myrna, the mother of the prime minister of Israel, and her old friend Nina chatted about their new family situation. She discussed the new traffic patterns that are being established on the streets of Raanana so the Bennetts can maintain their life there. They are well aware of the annoyance this has to be to their neighbors and feel sincerely awful. Many were already accustomed to the security surrounding the Bennett home, but at this point in time everything has been upped significantly. And of course we cannot forget the influx of demonstrators that they will attempt to keep at bay.

The Bennetts wish to stay in Raanana instead of moving to the home of the prime minister on Rechov Ben Maimon in Jerusalem. Their children will be able to attend their usual schools and carry on with their lives as normally as is possible when your father is the newly elected prime minister.

Myrna, who sadly lost Jim, her beloved husband, several years ago, believes that he and her parents who moved to Israel and were able to live their final years there are rejoicing together in shamayim. Naftali has said often “that he feels as though his father is inside him,” having shared an extremely close bond with him.

Myrna shared how her heart was breaking as Naftali was about to give his acceptance address to the Knesset and members of various parties loudly heckled him and were determined to not give him an opportunity to speak. I actually watched the live coverage of this despicable behavior. I was sure that the hecklers were sitting in a balcony somewhere and were young kids who would eventually be escorted out of the room. How wrong I was. The hecklers were MKs themselves. Grown men acting like babies. It was painful and hurtful to see. Apparently, as Myrna described the situation to me, the equivalent of the sergeant at arms in the Knesset was a close ally of Bibi Netanyahu and therefore chose to do very little to remove these hooligans dressed in suits. Even MK Yuli Edelstein, who had served in that position at one time, voiced his extreme distaste of the behavior of the ministers and the response of those who were supposed to remove them from the room.

Myrna mentioned that it took her a full night to recover from this painful behavior and it somewhat took away from the pleasure she was feeling. As Naftali’s mother, she wished in some way that she could protect him from such an obnoxious outburst.

That her little Naftali is actually the prime minister of Medinat Yisrael is beyond what any mother could have dreamed for their child. She wondered what the hooligans believe the world thought of them? It was a heartache and an embarrassment for the entire State of Israel. As she said, the Likud and charedim whose behavior so disturbed the world were acting totally opposite to what it means to be Torah observant, and it encouraged the rest of the country to despise the charedim even more than many already do.

As Naftali, who remained quiet and waited for some sort of decorum to return to the halls of the Knesset, said, he realized more than ever that he was positively sure he had made the right decision in forming his government.

For those of you who were able to see his swearing in and first performance at the Knesset, it would be difficult to feel anything but pride as he closed his speech with the Tefillah L’Medinat Israel. The first prime minister of the State of Israel to wear his kippah proudly each day, to put on tefillin each day: I am shedding tears of great joy at this amazing accomplishment. Myrna, my dear friend, Mordechai and I join you in this emotionally charged moment. We are proud of all that you and Jim accomplished and who your son has become: Naftali Bennett, prime minister of the State of Israel.

By Nina Glick

 

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