The grandfather of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was born in Kreva

2 March 2019

The roots of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu trace back to Kreva. His grandfather, Nathan Mileikovsky, was born and lived in the town. The great-great-grandfather and great-great-grandmother of the Israeli politician are buried in the Kreva cemetery.

Nathan Mileikovsky was a notable figure in the Jewish community, and his life story is recounted by the local historian Aliaksandr Kaminski.

Preached Zionism in Siberia and America

Nathan Mileikovsky was born in our town on August 15, 1879. His father, Zvi, earned a living by leasing agricultural property in one of the neighboring villages. At the age of ten, Nathan was sent to study at the Valozhyn yeshiva (a higher Jewish religious educational institution). After studying there for eight years, he became a rabbi.

Nathan Mileikovsky
Nathan Mileikovsky

During his studies at the yeshiva, Nathan Mileikovsky became close to activists of the Zionist movement. Even then, the young student demonstrated himself as an excellent speaker. At the age of twenty, he headed to Siberia to promote Zionist ideas. In 1908, he moved to Poland, where the grandfather of the Israeli prime minister worked as the director of a Jewish high school in Warsaw and spoke in various Polish cities. From 1912, Mileikovsky began serving as a religious preacher at the “Bet-Yaakov” synagogue in Lodz.

In 1920, Mileikovsky and his family moved to Palestine, where he took charge of a school in the city of Rosh Pina. During this time, he published various articles in the Jewish press in Yiddish and Hebrew.

Four years later, Mileikovsky moved to Jerusalem, from where he soon traveled to England and the United States to raise funds for the Jewish National Fund. For several years, he successfully carried out his mission, giving lectures that gained extreme popularity. His most notable speeches were published in the book “Nation and State,” which was released in 1928.

Upon returning to Palestine, Mileikovsky continued his religious and educational activities until his death. “An orator from God,” one of his associates remarked during the farewell ceremony, and this was not just an ordinary farewell exaggeration for such moments. It was a true characterization of the oratorical talent possessed by Nathan Mileikovsky, a native of the land of Kreva. In modern times, one of the city squares in Jerusalem is named in his honor.

Where did the surname “Mileikovsky” come from?

It is highly possible that the surname “Mileikovsky” originated from the name of the village Mileikava, which is not far from Kreva. Older people said that two Jewish individuals once operated a mill and a shop there. These people could be called Mileikovsky after the name of the village.

The old documents related to the lives and affairs of the Jewish community in Kreva indicate that there were indeed many people with the surname Mileikovsky or similar variations residing there. Specifically, in the statistical directory “Spis miejscowosci” for the year 1927, several names can be found: M. Mileikovsky, owner of a fabric store; I. Mileikovsky, a butcher; M. Mileikovska, Sh. Mileikovsky, and Shm. Mileikovsky, owners of grocery stores; and G. Mileikovsky, a blacksmith. It’s possible that some of them were from the same lineage as Benjamin Netanyahu.

How did Mileikovsky become Netanyahu?

Starting from his time in Palestine, Nathan Mileikovsky signed his publications with the pseudonym Netanyahu, which means “God has given”. Later, this pen name became his official surname, which was given to the preacher’s children at birth. In the family of one of his sons, Israeli historian Benzion Netanyahu, the future Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, was born.

The roots of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu and his father Benzion in 2009. Photo:

In 2018, Benjamin Netanyahu made a historic visit to Lithuania. The politician visited the site of the execution of Jews in the Vilnius Ghetto, where also the Jews from Kreva are buried. Delivering a speech in the “Forest of Death,” as the Israeli prime minister called the place, he also mentioned his Belarusian roots.

His brother, publicist and doctor Ido Netanyahu, admitted on Israeli television in the summer of 2020 that he would like to visit the place where his grandfather was born.

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