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If you like Ehud Barak's story, you might also like:
William McRaven,
George Mitchell,
Shimon Peres,
David Petraeus,
Colin Powell,
Norman Schwarzkopf
and Elie Wiesel

Ehud Barak can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Ehud Barak in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Global Conflicts

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Jewish Virtual Library

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Ehud Barak
Ehud Barak
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Ehud Barak Interview (page: 2 / 8)

Former Prime Minister of Israel

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  Ehud Barak

Were there any books that were important to you when you were young?

Ehud Barak Interview Photo
Ehud Barak: At the beginning, I read what my father gave me. He was focused on science, and opening the world of science, culture and music to me. I read a lot. I read a lot of adventure books. I still remember Jack London, the experience of the crew of a vessel in a storm kind of haunted me. I was reading a lot of Karl May, a German writer who described a Wild West that he had never visited. And Jules Verne of course, I read a lot.

When I was a little bit older, of course, I read Tolstoy's War and Peace. To this day I believe that I disappointed my father by being unable to complete Jean Christophe. About some books he said, "You are not a real human being before you read them." I believe I still didn't read some of them fully.

But they encouraged me in more than one way to be curious, to learn. I was maybe 14 years old when he brought me a book by Gamow about the birth and the death of our sun, which was a kind of popularized version of how the sun is burning out, and about the origins of the universe. I believe he was interested in pushing me gradually toward science, or influencing me indirectly to become a scientist.

I just heard Steve Rosenberg talking about the Nobel Prize address of Isadore Rabi, and it put shivers in my spine.

I remember my own father, which is now 91 years old, repeating to me once and again this point from Isadore Rabi's story about how he became a scientist. He said the most influential moment was that his mother repeatedly when he used to come back from school at a very early age of eight or nine asking him, "Isadore, have you asked kind of a good question today?" Not "What you have learned?" not "What you have observed?" but "Have you raised a good question today?"

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

It seems that in spite of differences -- Steve Rosenberg is a leading scientist and surgeon -- we are about the same age, and in different corners of the world our parents used to tell us similar stories. I disappointed my father, since in the end I was partially a dropout from high school. I was totally undisciplined.

I was highly interested in mathematics. It seemed to me to be a form of art, something very beautiful, geometry, mathematics, and the systematic way how it's built and so on. But I was somewhat bored by most of other issues that were taught at school and I became at the age -- from 13 maybe to 17, I was totally undisciplined and could not take any kind of discipline. So gradually I became a burden of the school. They asked me to go do something more productive maybe. I was -- I don't know, not hyperactive, I was a very shy introvert -- but to do something useful to work in the field, rather than spend my time in interrupting others that want to study. So I was expelled from high school in the last year. I was allowed to come to listen to the math hours and I spent the rest of the day working until I joined the army at a very early age.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

Ehud Barak Interview Photo
How unusual was that on a kibbutz, to be a problem like that and get kicked out of high school?

Ehud Barak: It was a great disappointment to my father. He was one of a few adults in the kibbutz that had a university background. He highly appreciated the value of good education and he tried to convince me to take this course. I kept telling him, "Dad, when I'm right for it, I will do it. I cannot do something that I don't really feel, or identify with, and I cannot lie to myself." And he told me, "You are fleeing from yourself. There is no way that you will not learn ultimately, so why waste these precious years?" I told him, "I'm not there yet. I don't know how to explain it." It was a major disappointment that he carried with him for a very long time. It was not very usual, but not very unusual at the same time.

You know, we didn't have a school system at the time that would prepare the students for college. No matriculation. No formal systematic coverage of a certain syllabus or curriculum that will enable you to enter. It was kind of a rural, remote school system, very caring, very open, very encouraging kind of "do it your way," which is very modern today, but without kind of sets of standards that should be achieved and practically began to learn systematically only when I was adult, about 23 or 24 when I made my matriculation when I was already an operational officer in the armed forces.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

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This page last revised on Sep 22, 2010 14:42 EST
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