By: Hannah Grossman
The journey of Menachem Begin is a microcosm of the Jewish story throughout history. He came from humble and tragic beginnings as a Holocaust survivor, as a man who emerged out of the dark grip of evil. Yet, he had a rebellious streak in him, which he used to fight for his people, even from his early days. From when he was a young boy, Begin was a leader of a Zionist youth organization called Betar. He was willing to die for Zionism long before he arrived in the State of Israel.
Then, he was brought to the “Promised Land,” was made a leader and united his people. Later, he united Israel and Egypt in peace, earning him the Nobel Prize. It’s an incredible and complex tale of a hero who was not appreciated enough during his lifetime. The new film Upheaval can serve to restore the much-earned glory to Begin as one of the greatest heroes and leaders in Israel’s history.
The documentary, produced by Hidden Light Institute, explores the journey of Begin, beginning from the Jabotinsky seeds planted in his youth. “My vision as director was to … blend … emotionally gripping archival footage, animation, dynamic interviews, and cinematic footage that chronicles Begin’s life, while also bringing to fore the diverse beauty of Israel and its people,” the director of the film, Jonathan Gruber, said.
This documentary is the first one in English to solely focus on “one of the most iconic leaders of the 20th century.” It features commentary from top experts on Israel such as Senator Joseph Lieberman, Ambassador Ron Dermer, Daniel Gordis, Yossi Klein Halevi, Caroline Glick and others.
“From his Eastern European roots to becoming an advocate and politician on the world stage, Begin’s humility and modesty belie his courage and resilience,” the director said.
Begin was one whose faith in his people and his mission for Zionism overruled fear. Faith in Zionism, for example, trampled over the abhorrent conditions of Siberia and gave him hope at the end of the tunnel of what he called “hell on earth.”
“What can we do under such circumstances?” Begin said, referring to the starvation, hard labor and freezing temperatures he endured. “Lay down in the wave and believe … it will bring you to the land.”
While Begin was held helpless in Siberia, his family was decimated by the Nazis. Begin heard later from eyewitnesses that his father led 500 Jews to a river where a bloody death would be encountered. “He led them singing Hatikvah … and the song … ‘I believe with full belief in the coming of the Messiah,’” Begin recounted.
Begin was finally brought to the “Promised Land” when he signed up to fight the Germans as part of the Russian army. Once he arrived, he was reunited with his wife, Aliza, whom he married before World War II broke out. Thereafter, he was released from the army and became a commander of the paramilitary organization known as the Irgun.
“It couldn’t wait,” he said about the pressure-campaign and revolt against the British in 1943. “The process of exterminating our people went on daily.”
As far as Begin was concerned, according to an expert interviewed by the documentary, the British were essentially functionaries of Nazis for not allowing European Jewish refugees to make Aliyah.
With this mindset, we can begin to understand the Irgun’s campaign against the British. The documentary shows news clips from the time that said “Terror grips Palestine.” In one such event, a train carrying British troops was blown up.
The documentary actually does not begin with the past, but the present. It begins with anti-Semitic attacks, such as the tragedy that happened at the Chabad of Poway, a machete attack in Monsey on Hanukkah, and other ones that occurred in Germany and France.
The world, currently in total dismay over the Jews following through on their right to self-defense, has seen an increase in anti-Semitic attacks by over 400%. The alleged perpetrator of a brutal gang beating of a 29-year-old Jewish man was released on bail and celebrated by some of his peers. He has expressed no remorse for the alleged crimes with which he was charged.
These events can cause dismay and hopelessness. Yet, who today can ever come close to imagining the thick, black cloud of hopelessness that blew from Europe’s crematoria to the “Promised Land?” Begin’s leadership, according to a close friend interviewed by the film, was able to bring the people hope during that time.
Having lost so much of his family during the Shoah, Begin believed that the Jews were alone in the world and needed to take actions to defend themselves. Thus, they could not rely on the British to curb the anti-Semitism that was around in Palestine at the time. Nor could they rely on them to bring a Jewish state into creation, to fulfill the long dream of Zionism. And still today, can we rely on the world to protect the beacon and democracy in the Middle East as it deserves to be? Can we expect the world that has gifted us with pogroms and Holocausts to sympathize with our cause?
The British were doing everything they could to prevent a Jewish state from being established, according to Caroline Glick, who was interviewed in the film. And today, millions around the world seek to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist and to turn it into another Arab country in the Middle East. Some American Jews have joined in on that mission and spit in the faces of those who came before them by supporting Israel’s destruction. How much pain would that bear Begin to see? The Jewish people must stand firm against this, we must carry on Begin’s torch.
“He had a very clear worldview about how things were supposed to be,” Glick said.
The film does not feature a narrator, but is instead guided by the words of historical figures and experts.
During his lifetime, his straight-talk attitude and some of his hardline stances were not universally loved by Israelis or the international community.
“Begin fiercely advocated for Arab-Israeli citizenship but was deemed a radical right-winger … He elevated North African and Middle Eastern Jews … and he also oversaw the rescue of Ethiopian Jews and Vietnamese refugees … He sought and achieved peace with Egypt — but also led a tragic and unsuccessful war in Lebanon,” the director of the film said.
The filmmaker interviewed young Israelis who say that they miss him.
“His life was for Israel,” one said.
“He is very different from my political views, but I think he is one of the greatest leaders Israel ever had,” another added.
Begin’s father, Ze’ev Dov, once told him that just like his fingers are weak individually without making a fist, so too the nation of Israel is at its strongest united. Begin’s story shows, in particular through the lens of this feature documentary, that when there is hope there is possibility; but when there is unity, anything becomes a possible reality.
Hannah is an Associate Editor at Daily Caller and the founder of The Herman Grossman Project, a Holocaust-education initiative she began in memory of her grandfather who survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald.