Before his historic first meeting with newly-elected U.S. President Jimmy Carter in Washington, Begin asked me to arrange a meeting with the Lubavitcher Rebbe in New York.
I myself had visited the Rebbe previously on behalf of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, and later as an advisor to Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s then-ambassador to the UN.
When we arrived, the Rebbe came out and escorted Prime Minister Begin to the entrance. Reporters were throwing out questions at the both of them, and I recall one question from a reporter for the Village Voice. He asked Begin, “Why do you seek out the Rebbe prior to your meeting with President Carter?” And Begin said, “It’s my first meeting with the new US President and it’s very important for me to get the blessings of the Rebbe for its success.”
He went on to say that the Rebbe had many insights, and that he was a man of awesome knowledge. “I can learn many things from him.” He said. He also described the Rebbe as an old friend.
Then he was asked, “Why doesn’t the Rebbe come to you – as you are Prime Minster – why do you go to the Rebbe?” And he said, “He is a great sage of Israel … he is a great leader himself.”
Actually, Begin thought that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was the greatest Jewish leader of the 20th century. I had heard him say that.
And I recall the Rebbe saying with enormous modesty, in response to a question by the press,: “I greet Prime Minister Begin as a friend, but I am receiving his visit on behalf of the Lubavitch Movement.”
After Begin’s meeting with Carter at the White House, I returned to see the Rebbe in order to give him a report. My appointment was set for 10 p.m. – and I must tell you that the Rebbe always gave me an appointment at a “civilized” hour, not in the middle of the night.
I was ushered straight in, and I gave the Rebbe a report of the meeting. I’m not permitted to go into details, because there are still segments of that meeting that are classified. I must have spoken for half an hour, and then the Rebbe began to comment – and again, I don’t think I can reveal those comments…