Monday, November 24, 2014

The Second President

Yitzchak Ben-Zvi, the second President of the State of Israel, was born on November 24, 1884 in Poltava, Ukraine.  After participating in the Jewish self-defense units organized during the 1905 pogroms, Ben-Zvi joined the Poalei Zion political party, attended the 1907 World Zionist Congress as a delegate and made aliyah shortly thereafter. 

In the years immediately following his immigration, Ben-Zvi took part in the founding of Bar Giora (an organization of Jewish defense communes), which later developed into Hashomer (a Jewish defense organization), the Hebrew Gymnasia Rechavia school and Achdut (unity), a Hebrew socialist magazine.

In 1912, along with David Ben-Gurion, Ben-Zvi studied law in Istanbul. Following the completion of their studies in 1914, the two men returned to Palestine only to be expelled by the Ottomans. They traveled to the United States, where they founded the pioneer movement HaHalutz and wrote a Yiddish book The Land of Israel Past and Present.

Following World War I and the change of power in Palestine from the Ottomans to the British, Ben-Zvi and Ben Gurion were able to return home as part of the British Jewish Legion. Upon his return home, Ben-Zvi married Rachel Yanait, with whom he had co-founded the Gymnasia and Achdut before his exile. 

Ben-Zvi was at the center of activity as Jews moved toward independence and was one of the signers of the Declaration of Statehood in 1948. After serving as a Member of Knesset (Mapai party) for two terms, Ben-Zvi was elected the second President of Israel (following the death Chaim Weizmann). In addition to his political duties, Ben-Zvi was also the head of the Institute for the Study of Oriental Jewish Communities in the Middle East (later renamed Yad Ben-Zvi), which he had founded in 1948.

During his time in office, the Ben-Zvi family lived in a wooden hut in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem. He strove to live simply as a reflection of the austere times in the burgeoning state. Ben-Zvi died on April 23, 1963, at the beginning of his third term of office. 

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