It was a brisk winter’s day when Ariel Sharon came to speak to a packed Beth Israel Beth Aaron synagogue in Cote St Luc, Quebec.
It was 1994, Thousands of people packed the shul to listen to Sharon, then a member of the Israeli Knesset, who had just announced that he vehemently opposed the Oslo Accords. The speech was rousing, Sharon spoke amazingly well and gave good reasons to oppose the accords.
When the speech ended, I, along with my colleague, Suburban reporter Joel Goldenberg, rushed outside to join the throngs of people waiting to get a glimpse of the political leader. We stood int he bitter cold for over 10 minutes before Sharon’s security detail and then the man himself came bustling out of the synagogue’s front door.
Sharon worked briskly through the crowd which was now divided by security so that there would be a path for the Israeli parliamentarian to get to his car. As he rushed passed he turned his head to his left and saw me standing there. Sharon abruptly stopped, walked over to me and to the shock of Joel and everyone else standing around, threw his arms around me and gave me a huge hug.
As he hugged me, Sharon whispered in my ear, “it’s nice to see you again, Motek, come back to Israel.” He then let go, walked to his car and was gone. This was the last time I had any contact with Ariel Sharon.
People standing around were awfully curious on why Sharon, a hero in Israel, would stop in a throng of people and hug, what seemingly was a random person. I shrugged off the questions and walked away.
It took a few days before I decided to start talking about how I met Sharon when I was in Israel. You see, I had been involved in a lot of different political organizations while I attended Bar Ilan University, it was an election year and I tried out everything from Kach and Kahane Chai (whom I volunteered and worked for, for part of the year I was in Israel) to Likud and Labour.
The Prime Minister at the time was Yitzhak Shamir and a close friend put me in contact with Shamir’s office as a potential page. The Prime Minister’s Office liked the fact I was bilingual (English and French) and hired me to do various tasks in and around the Prime Minister’s office. While there, I became very friendly with both Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon.
When some of my childish shenanigans got me thrown out of my job at The Prime Minister’s Office, Ariel Sharon hired me to work in his re-election office. I worked there diligently and was invited a few times up to his ranch and one time to his house in Jerusalem.
Sharon told me I reminded him of a childhood friend who was killed in the 1948 War of Independence and he regaled me with stories from the early years of Israel’s fight to exist. He told me what Israel was like before the war, how he lived on a farm and how life has drastically changed since then. We had the opportunity to talk about the Lebanon war and how he felt he was unjustly accused of murder in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps (a winning lawsuit against Time Magazine and their retraction of the claim was a personal victory for Sharon).
When I started working for Kahane Chai, I was told by Sharon that I could no longer work for him, our time was up. I respectfully quit my job, much to his chagrin, and as I was leaving he called me over and gave me his personal phone number, he told me to keep in touch.
I kept in touch. The week before I left Israel, I called Sharon, he tried to convince me to stay, he told me that Israel needs more politically active young Jews and leaving would be a sin. I came back to Canada in 1992.
It was just two years later when eagle eyed Sharon spotted me in the crowd of hundreds and gave me one last push to go to Israel.
I do not regret staying in Canada, I do regret not staying in touch with my friend Ariel Sharon. I mourn his loss.
Although I may not agree with everything he did in his career, especially the pullout from Gaza, I believe that Ariel Sharon was a true Jewish leader, a true pure hearted Israeli leader and a great man.
I will miss him.