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Welcome address of the Special Secretary for Religious and Cultural Diplomacy, Dr E. Lianos Liantis, at the presentation of the documentary film “Ben-Gurion: Epilogue” (5th Israeli Film Week)
When in the mid-20th century -after many generations- the Jewish people established a national center, its ontological identity was homonymous with the idea of diaspora, involving many local traditions, which asked for composition in the perspective of a new national state.
The composition that emerged in the State of Israel had, of course, as a common denominator the Jewishness, both as religious and ethnic identity· but this composition was contributed by the extraordinary and profound knowledge of the Greek culture and civilization by the archetypal figure of Jewish statesman and thinker, David Ben-Gurion. The father of the Israeli state dealt very early with the Greek letters, through the study of Platonic philosophy and the great historians. However, unsatisfied with the translational attribution of classical works, he learned at a quite old age the Greek language in order to be able to read them from the prototype. Indeed, his knowledge of the Greek language had reached such a high level that he made critical remarks even on the attribution of classical works in the Modern Greek language.
On March 9, 1960 David Ben-Gurion was awarded an honorary degree at a special convocation at Brandeis University. There, addressing an audience of 3.000 leading educators, diplomats and dignitaries, he delivered the principle address, speaking on the theme of “Science and Ethics: The Contribution of Greece, India and Israel”, where he noted that:
“[…] We shall be doing violence to the truth if we say that the greatness of ancient Greece was restricted to the realms of beauty and intellect alone. In the writings of Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus, we find a profound aspiration for the good and the just. It would equally violate the truth to say that the greatness of ancient Israel was manifest only in the religious and ethical messages of its Prophets. The Books of the Bible are overflowing with sublime beauty and deep wisdom. It is true, however, that the center of gravity of Greek genius was in the realm of art and philosophy, as the center of gravity of Buddist teaching was fixed on freeing the individual from suffering and tribulations. With the Prophets of Israel the central theme was the supremacy of religious and moral consciousness”.
On December of 1950 he decided to visit Greece. This was his first trip abroad since proclamation of the state of Israel nearly two years ago and it was announced as a private trip, because at that time the two countries did not maintain official diplomatic relations. In Athens, he visited a bookstore and asked for rare works of ancient Greek writers such as Iamblichus, Proclus and Eusebius. After this, he met with the then Prime Minister of Greece, Sophocles Venizelos, at his request, and having previously agreed that they would not talk about politics. Venizelos welcomed his counterpart with the Hebrew salutation “Shalom” and Ben-Gurion answered back with the Greek equivalent, “Ειρήνη”.
We can say that David Ben-Gurion fits the verses that Constantine Cavafy wrote about the Hasmonean Kings Alexander and Alexandra:
Good Jews, pure Jews, devoted Jews above all.
But, as circumstances require,
also skilled in speaking Greek,
even on familiar terms with Greeks and Hellenized monarchs...
This connection with the Greek spirit and language creates a sense of kinship, and for this reason we are pleased with the presentation here in Greece of the documentary “Ben-Gurion: Epilogue”, which features excerpts from a previously unseen interview of Israel’s founder. The creator of the documentary, the distinguished producer and director Yariv Mozer is already known to the Greek audience especially for his exceptional works Snails in the Rain and The Invisible Men.
With these brief thoughts, I would like to greet you, wishing good luck to the organizers of the Israeli Film Week, an artistic event that helps the cultural understanding of the friendly Israeli people.