The death of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is the final curtain on a long sad drama that began in 2005 when he was felled by a massive stroke. He was a legendary warrior for Israel against its enemies and a genius of tactics and strategy. Arguably it took eight years in a coma to wring the vitality from him. He was a giant and an exemplar for those who believe, as I do, that the Jewish state is a benign democratic outpost of civilization in the Middle East. For all those who think that area of the world would be at peace were it not for Israel, let them explain why practically all of Israel’s neighbors are in internecine conflict there today and only Israel is at peace and prospering. Its peace and prosperity comes in large part from the contributions of Ariel Sharon.
Peter O’Toole, who died yesterday at the age of 81, was not an actor’s actor. He did not gain or lose weight for film roles or contract pneumonia wearing a shabby period overcoat on and off the set. He could not maintain his accent off-screen because he never adopted one on-screen. He did not crave acceptance from his fellows. Nor did he care about critics. He saw himself as a “professional,” a plier of a trade rather than an arbiter of high artistic standards: “I’ll accept anything—a poetry reading, television, cinema, anything that allows me to act.” Acting for him was “my business,” “what I do for a living.”
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the Nobel Prize-winning former political prisoner who became the first president of post-apartheid South Africa and that republic’s first black president, passed away today at the age of 95.
The young Mandela, an African nationalist and leftist, became active in politics in the mid-1940s, opposing the Nationalist Party of white Afrikaners (South Africans primarily of Dutch descent) and their imposition of racial segregationist policies known as apartheid.
Under apartheid, South Africans were classified into racial groups which, according to the Nelson Mandela Foundation website, “determined where someone could be born, where they could live, where they could go to school, where they could work, where they could be treated if they were sick and where they could be buried when they died. Only white people could vote and they had the best opportunities and the most money spent on their facilities.”
Observers around the world were stunned last week to learn that the largest funeral in the history of the State of Israel — and quite possibly in the history of the Jewish People — was held for a scholar of Talmud and Jewish law who was born in Baghdad in 1913 to a poor grocer and emigrated to Jerusalem at four years of age. Approximately 800,000 people were in attendance, shutting down the capital city to all motor traffic. An additional 200,000 came on buses from around the country but never succeeded in gaining entry to the blockaded city.
Who was this man and how did he come to command such love and respect?