Yitzhak Navon – President, Teacher, Jerusalemite

The Fellowship  |  November 3, 2020

Yitzhak Navon helps immigrant mother of 10 with her lesson, 1964
Yitzhak Navon helps immigrant mother of 10 with her lesson, 1964

Today, Israel’s greatest ally the United States holds its presidential election. So, meet this week’s Israeli You Should Know – Israeli President, Yitzhak Navon.

A Jerusalemite, Born and Raised

Born in British-mandate Palestine on April 9, 1921, Yitzhak Navon grew up to be the first Israeli president native to the Holy City of Jerusalem. Navon came from a long line of Holy Land residents, his father’s family settling in Jerusalem in 1670 and his mother’s side in 1742. This also made him the first Mizrachi Jew (Jews from the Middle East) to attain Israel’s presidency.

Navon studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem before serving in the Haganah, the precursor to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). During the war, Yitzhak Navon worked undercover, protecting his people from their Arab and British neighbors. After the war, he traveled to South America to hunt down Nazis who’d perpetrated the Holocaust against the Jewish people.

Following his military service, Navon – fluent in Hebrew, Arabic, Ladino (the Sephardic equivalent of Yiddish), French, and English – taught Hebrew literature. In the above photo, he can be seen helping a newly immigrated Jewish mother of 10 with her lessons.

A Servant of Israel

Entering the political world of his homeland, Navon served as secretary for David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister. Throughout the 1960s, he headed Israel’s Ministry of Education and Culture and was elected to Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, where he served as deputy speaker and chairman of the Committee on Foreign and Defense Affairs.

In 1978, Navon was elected the fifth President of Israel. Turning down a second term in order to focus on Israeli legislation, he returned to the Knesset in 1983 – the only Israeli president to do so – where he stayed until retiring in 1992.

A Beacon

Aside from his career serving the Jewish state, Yitzhak Navon also made his mark in Jewish literature, penning two musicals based on Jewish folklore, as well as a book on the reunification of Jerusalem, the city he called home for over nine decades.

Yitzhak Navon passed away in the Holy City on November 6, 2015, at the age of 94. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin remember Navon as “a man of the people and above the rest – a beacon that illuminates when the way is not clear enough.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Navon the “gem who decorated our capital Jerusalem,” the city this statesman, educator, and servant called home.

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