Ambassador Yehuda Avner’s life story seems to encapsulate the 20th-century Jewish experience. Born in 1928, he made aliyah alone at 17 from Manchester, England, fought in the War of Independence, helped found Kibbutz Lavi in the Galilee, became a diplomat (including consul general of New York and ambassador to Great Britain) and served five Israeli prime ministers as senior adviser.
In that last post he took careful notes at private meetings between the Israeli leaders and foreign heads of state, including several U.S. presidents; long after he retired, he turned those notes into the core of his 2010 best-selling memoir, “The Prime Ministers.”
On the eve of the premiere of a full-length documentary based on his book, Avner charmed an overflow crowd of more than 300 people on April 18 at a Jewish Week Forum held at The Jewish Center in Manhattan.
In conversation with Jewish Week editor and publisher Gary Rosenblatt, he offered up stories about his career that were at times poignant, at times hilarious, and always riveting. They ranged from a dramatic confrontation between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and President Jimmy Carter over Israel’s right to territory, to an amusing story about how Avner’s kosher meal, consisting of lettuce and cottage cheese topped by whipped cream, at a non-kosher U.S. state dinner, almost resulted in a political crisis at home for his prime minister.
By a show of hands at the forum it was evident that the great majority of the audience, made up of all ages, had read the book. They’ll be pleased to know that Avner, 84, is at work on another one.
In addition, part two of the film documentary, produced by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, is due out later this year, and a feature film based on “The Prime Ministers,” is also in the works.