Israel Pays Homage to David Ben Gurion

In a moving and meticulously arranged ceremony in the Knesset precincts this morning, the leaders of the nation and representatives of world Jewry and of friendly foreign governments took their last leave of the founder of modern Israel. David Ben Gurion. After a 28-minute religious ceremony during which–at the decedent’s request–no eulogies were given–the small pine coffin draped in the national colors was flown by helicopter to Sde Boker in the Negev where Ben Gurion was buried alongside his wife, Paula, in the stark desert setting that he himself chose as his final resting place.

The interment at Sde Boker was a private ceremony–principally because of the emergency situation. The roads to the kibbutz were closed and the 150 participants–including the Cabinet and Zionist Executive–flew from the Knesset in five helicopters which landed and took off one after the other with Airforce precision. The Knesset ceremony began on the dot of 11 a.m. when air raid sirens sounded throughout the land. Traffic halted everywhere, work ceased, and the nation–as one person–paid homage to its greatest leader, and one of the great statesmen of this century. The coffin on a black catafalque before the bronze Knesset doors was surrounded by the eight pallbearers–colonels of the three armed services and the police. Alongside them stood eight generals, admirals, air marshalls and police commanders. In front were nine service chaplains. And in the rear, an honor guard of paratroopers with bayonetted rifles held forward in salute.

The Chief Army Chaplain Mordechai Firon opened the proceedings with a short prayer he had specially composed to God for “the pure and noble soul of the chosen one of the people. David son of Avigdor, architect of Israel’s independence. May the whole House of Israel be blessed in your memory for evermore.” Israel Radio’s veteran newsreader, Moshe Hovav, took the rostrum to read from the Declaration of Independence which Ben Gurion himself had read out that memorable Friday afternoon in 1948 at the Tel Aviv museum. The two Chief Rabbis, Shlomo Goren and Ovadiah Yosef, then read sections of Psalms, and the Chief Army Cantor rendered a special “El Mole Rahamim” for “David Ben Avigdor, leader of Israel.”

The ceremony ended with Ben Gurion’s son. Amos reading the Kaddish. He read it dramatically and forcefully–obviously understanding fully this affirmation (in Aramaic) of the Jews’ faith in God’s judgement even at such tragic and difficult moments. As Amos read “He who makes peace on his high places–may He make peace upon us,” Premier Golda Meir, somber in black, began to weep putting a handkerchief to her eyes. But she quickly regained her composure. The cortege moved off to waiting command cars and buses which took it the short distance to the helipad. It was preceded by girl soldiers carrying wreaths. The coffin and its escort was led by the chaplains reciting prayers. Behind it followed the family–Amos, Renana and Geulah–behind them were Mrs. Meir, President Ephraim Katzir, the Chief Rabbis, Knesset Speaker Israel Yeshayahu, Cabinet ministers, the diplomatic corps and the visiting foreign dignitaries.

Heading the U.S. contingent was Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz and Assistant Secretary of State Kenneth Rush. Britain was represented by the Jewish Cabinet Minister, Sir Keith Joseph. All the foreign dignitaries wore black hats–while several of their Israeli escorts forgot to bring hats. The coffin had been lying in state all night. An estimated 250,000 Israelis of all walks of life passed before it in homage. The rest of the country, watching or listening to the ceremony on radio and TV were able through this medium to pay their homage too.

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