Tom Segev: A historian's joy

Roundup: Talking About History

...In September 1968, David Ben-Gurion drew up a list of forecasts for the future. He was replying to a request from Shlomo Zalman Shragai, a leading figure in the religious Zionist movement and the Jewish Agency. The target year was 1987. Here are Ben-Gurion's predictions: Russia will be a democracy and the United States, a welfare state; water desalination will help make Africa and Asia bloom; a new source of energy will equalize the standard of living across the globe; the birth control pill will stop the population explosion in India and China; and all the countries of the world, apart from the Soviet Union, will be united in a global alliance with a police force to maintain world peace. Armies will no longer exist. The United Nations will build a monument to the prophets of Israel in Jerusalem and establish an international court in the city. Air-conditioning systems will promise a convenient climate everywhere between the North and South Poles; human beings will live on the moon and on Mars; people will live to be 100; scientific research will improve the human brain; and every person on the planet will be entitled to higher education.

Most of these predictions did not come true by 1987, or by 2007. A pity, because one invention that Ben-Gurion also imagined could have been very useful: an injection to change skin color from black to white and from white to black, thereby eradicating racial discrimination in the United States and other countries.

Twenty years after the target year, Ben-Gurion's letter lies in the Central Zionist Archives, and is part of the collection of Shragai's personal papers. This is one of the hundreds of private collections that set the CZA apart. Some of them are collections of private individuals, which were found by chance - among them some that had already been thrown into the garbage and were rescued at the last minute. The reason is that many people are unaware that their papers might be of interest to others.

But history is not only what one politician writes to another, but also what Rudolfina Menzel did, for example. Her personal archive documents dog training, for security and other purposes.

The CZA recently issued a public call: Don't throw away anything before asking us! The archive does not offer payment for letters and diaries of private people, but it does offer those people a little corner in history. ...

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