Levi Eshkol (Shkolnik) (1895–1969)
Levi Eshkol (Shkolnik) was born in Orativ, Vinnytsia region, in 1895 in the Jewish family of Joseph and Dvora. He later changed his surname to a similar-sounding one — Eshkol, which means "grape cluster" in Hebrew. The boy grew up in a Jewish and partly Ukrainian environment and spoke Ukrainian and Russian in addition to Hebrew and Yiddish. At the age of fourteen, Levi entered a gymnasium in Vilnius, which was one of the best educational institutions accessible to Jews in the Russian Empire at the time. During his years of study in Lithuania, Eshkol developed a strong interest in socialist ideas and joined the radical youth Zionist group Zeiri Zion, whose mission was to foster the Jewish settlement of Palestine and help create the state of Israel. Having emigrated to Palestine, Eshkol began working as an agricultural laborer. Still, his leadership skills led him to found, together with like-minded people, Kibbutz Degania Bet and become involved in political activities.
He worked in Berlin on behalf of the World Zionist Organization and HeHalutz movement in 1933–34. During this time, Eshkol negotiated the Haavara Agreement with the German authorities. After his return to Palestine in 1934, he was appointed director of a company that provided funds for new agricultural settlements. Eshkol negotiated the immigration of German Jews to Palestine in 1937 and lobbied for Jews to be accepted into the British military during the Second World War. In 1945–46, he was a representative of the Haganah military organization in the leadership of the Jewish Resistance Movement.
Eshkol's political and economic activities were a major contribution to establishing the state of Israel in 1948. Subsequently, he headed the Ministry of Agriculture and Development, the Ministry of Finance, and later the Ministry of Defense, where he actively worked to create the defense industry and established partnership relations between Israel and the United States. In 1963, Levi Eshkol was elected Prime Minister of Israel.
After the end of the Six-Day War, Eshkol focused on diplomatic efforts to consolidate military successes. Studying his biography, historians and political scientists emphasize his special features — a remarkable diplomatic skill and the ability to make compromises. As multiple parties were vying for power in Israel, he managed to find a common language even with his opponents. It was by making compromises and negotiating agreements that Eshkol managed to attain brilliant success in the 1965 parliamentary elections.
During Eshkol's premiership, Israel established diplomatic relations with Germany and developed links with other countries. Even as he rose to the apex of political power, Eshkol remembered the places where he was born and grew up. He had fond memories of his childhood years in Orativ. Eshkol spoke especially warmly about the environment in which he grew up, the time he spent with his father, a peasant, and their cozy family home on the edge of the town.
On 3 February 1969, Eshkol suffered a heart attack, after which he recovered and returned to work but suffered another one a short time later. He died on 26 February 1969 at the zenith of his political fame and was buried on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. In October 2016, a memorial plaque to Levi Eshkol was installed in Orativ to commemorate this prominent figure.