JERUSALEM (Apr. 23)
The people of Israel went into deep mourning today for their beloved President, Izhak Ben-Zvi, who lost his fight against the ravages of cancer and died early this morning. He was 78 years old.
A deep gloom enveloped the nation when the death was announced. Light radio programs were canceled and renditions of the Psalms and liturgy were substituted. Members of the Cabinet, diplomats and senior Government officials began calling at the President’s residence to pay their respects.
A state funeral will be held Wednesday. All entertainment and recreational features of the 15th Independence Day celebrations were canceled. The military parade and naval display in Haifa on Monday will take place without the usual participation of military bands. Chief of Staff Zvi Tsur issued an order of the day for a week of mourning at all garrisons and camps where flags were lowered to half-mast position. Israel’s Parliament suspended its current recess for a special meeting of mourning.
The Presidential residence was thrown open to the public and a somber people lined up to wait in turn to file past the coffin draped in the national colors and the President’s personal prayer shawl. A minyan of army chaplains began recitation of Psalms. Among those who filed by the coffin in the morning were Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim, Supreme Court Justices, members of the Jewish Agency executive and others.
The death of Israel’s second President occurred at 7:05 a.m. Israel time. Mr. Ben-Zvi had been in a coma and began to sink rapidly during the night. Mrs. Ben-Zvi and members of the family were at the bedside. About 9 p.m. last night, he awoke and repeated the entire Shema. The attending physician then heard the President call feebly for his brother Aaron. He notified the brother, as well as Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. However, the rapidly dying President failed to recognize either man when they entered his room.
KADISH LUZ TO SERVE AS ACTING PRESIDENT; BEN-ZVI’S LAST MESSAGE
Under the law of Israel, pending the election of a new President by the Knesset–the country’s Parliament–Mr. Kadish Luz, the Speaker of the Knesset, will serve as Acting President of the State.
President Ben-Zvi’s last official message was issued in connection with the Israel 15th Anniversary. The President asked for divine blessing on the defense forces of Israel, on its pioneers and builders and all who sought to advance the education of the people.
He asked that the people recall "all who gave their lives on the altar of the Homeland, the heroes to whom, as to their families, our debt is immeasurable." He urged, as Israel entered its 16th year, that every Israeli double and triple efforts "to achieve our great mission–the strong foundation of our state, the revelation and development of our country’s latent power, the enlightenment of our myriad newcomers."
He stressed Israel’s "most earnest wish to see peace established throughout the world" and cited the "political upheavals" which regularly "convulse adjacent territories." These conditions, he said, "do not abate our endeavors or weaken our faith that the peace we look forward to between us and our neighbors will surely come. Now, as in the past, we stretch out our hands for peace towards them."
He warned that as long as the Arabs threatened "night and day" to destroy Israel, the nation had no choice but to keep its defenses at peak strength and alertness.
He extended warmest greetings to Jews throughout the world and "fraternal salutations" to all who "turn their gaze upon aliyah to the Homeland."
The President, who was aware of the gravity of his illness, told associates before his death that he hoped he would be able to review the Independence Day parade. The first indication that he might be suffering a serious illness was the disclosure after he entered a hospital for examinations a week before Passover, that he would not be at his home for the first Seder. However, only his closest associates knew that the President’s illness was more than fatigue.