JERUSALEM (Mar. 9)
Menachem Begin ordered “a simple Jewish funeral” and that is what he got Monday, a few hours after he died of a heart ailment at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv at the age of 78.
Begin was buried on the Mount of Olives, beside his beloved wife, Aliza, who died in 1982.
His funeral was simple in the tradition of Orthodox Jews, who bury their dead quickly and frown on floral displays and lying in state.
Begin rejected the state funeral which was his due as prime minister of Israel from 1977 to 1983.
U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle was poised to fly to Israel to represent the American government at the ceremonies. So were former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, who worked closely with Begin during the Israeli-Egyptian peace process in the late 1970s.
But their trips were canceled when the timing of the ceremonies was announced.
Begin’s son, Knesset member Binyamin Ze’ev Begin, saw to it that his father’s wishes were observed. According to informed sources, he told the government’s Ceremonies Committee, headed by Industry and Trade Minister Moshe Nissim, that the family wanted a “Jewish funeral,” not an international event.
Nevertheless, at the graveside with “Benny” Begin and his sisters, Leah and Hassia, stood President Chaim Herzog of Israel, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Labor Party Chairman Yitzhak Rabin and scores of others representing the many facets of Menachem Begin’s long and fruitful career.
MOURNERS OF EVERY PERSUASION
There were, moreover, tens of thousands of mourners, from every walk of life and every political persuasion. Religious Jews and secular ones alike, young and old, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, new olim and veteran sabras massed outside the funeral parlor in the Sanhedria quarter of western Jerusalem and followed the cortege to the Mount of Olives cemetery.
Seven of Begin’s former comrades-in-arms of Irgun Zvai Leumi, the guerrilla army he led against the British authorities in the final years of the Palestine Mandate, served as pallbearers. They laid his coffin to rest next to the grave of Aliza Begin, who died in November 1982.
The news of her death reached her husband, then prime minister, while on a speaking engagement in the United States. He rushed home distraught.
Begin’s devotion to his wife was legendary. He never recovered from her loss, which is believed to have been a major factor in his resignation from the office of prime minister and from all public life less than a year later.
Benny Begin recited kaddish at his father’s grave. Begin’s loyal friend and longtime personal aide, Yehiel Kadishai, recited El Maleh Rachamim.
After the family and dignitaries left the grave, thousands of onlookers broke through the human chain of police to pay their last respects. Some kissed the freshly dug grave, some saluted and others laid stones on the mound of earth.
Begin lived a reclusive life since his departure from office nine years ago. But he was frequently hospitalized, twice for a broken hip.
His cardiac history antedated his accession to high office. Begin had his first heart attack in 1977, the year he led Likud to an upset victory over the long-entrenched Labor Party.
After taking office, he was treated for pericarditis, an inflammation of the heart lining.
SHAMIR SPEAKS OF ‘GREAT ANGUISH’
He was stricken with his final illness on March 3, when he collapsed in the suburban Tel Aviv home where he lived with his daughter Leah. He was rushed unconscious to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, where he was initially diagnosed as having had a stroke.
Begin was placed on a breathing machine in the respiratory intensive care unit and regained consciousness after 20 hours in a coma. Doctors had determined by then that he had in fact suffered a heart attack.
A pacemaker was implanted in his chest on March 5 to control irregular heartbeat.
Although doctors offered hopeful statements to the press, the fact that Begin was not moved to the cardiology intensive-care unit indicated his condition was more serious than admitted publicly.
Apart from medical staff, only his family and his old confidant, Kadishai, were at his bedside during his last days. Border police guards kept the hundreds of well-wishers at bay.
Begin died at 3:30 a.m. Monday. When his death was officially announced, the hospital chaplain recited a brief prayer and the hevra kadisha (burial society) prepared the body for transfer to Jerusalem.
While there were no eulogies at the graveside, apparently at the family’s request, Shamir delivered two Monday — one to the nation on Israel Radio and the other to his ministers at a special session of the Cabinet.
“Today, the entire nation of Israel — in Israel and in the Diaspora — takes its leave, with great anguish and in mourning, of one of its most valued sons,” Shamir said in the radio address.
Begin’s name, he said, is “etched alongside those of the greats of the nation throughout the generations.”
(JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.)