Grapevine: Relatively speaking

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog's family tree takes some interesting turns.

By
December 23, 2017 20:14
Isaac Herzog

Isaac Herzog. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Several members of Knesset can count famous people among their relatives, but few if any are or were related to as many people of renown as opposition leader Isaac Herzog, who always makes a point of attending events in which any of his close relatives or direct forebears are being honored.

Thus, it was no surprise last week that he introduced an event in which Prof. David Newman of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev talked about the David Hillman stained glass windows in Jerusalem’s Renanim Synagogue as well as in synagogues in Britain and elsewhere in the world, but most particularly in London.

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Through his paternal grandmother, Herzog happens to be a great-nephew of the artist. Other members of the extended Herzog, Hillman and Rabinowitz families who are resident in Jerusalem were present, as were Anglo Jewish history buffs.

When in London, Newman attends services at the large Saint John’s Wood Synagogue which contains as many as 110 of Hillman’s stained glass windows.

In his introductory remarks, Herzog recalled that as a young boy he had visited Hillman’s house and studio when his family went to London, and also mentioned the fact that his father, the late president Chaim Herzog, lived with the Hillmans in the period leading up to World War II. It was there, while still a yeshiva student, that he was introduced to the world of opera, for which he retained a great love for the rest of his life.

The first half of the presentation examined the social and family links of Hillman, the son of Dayan Shmuel Hillman, who came from Eastern Europe at the turn of the century to be the rabbi in Glasgow, and from there spent over 20 years as the head of the London Beth Din, before retiring to Israel. In addition to his sister, Sarah, marrying Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog, who was the chief rabbi of Ireland before being appointed in 1936 as Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the British Mandate, David Hillman was married to Annie Rabinowitz, the daughter of another prominent Eastern European rabbi who had come to Edinburgh at about the same time, and who also went on to be a congregational rabbi in the Hackney district of London after World War I.

Annie Hillman
was exceptional in that she was a qualified general practitioner, one of six sisters, all growing up in an Orthodox household in the early part of the 20th century. Three of the sisters studied medicine in an era when few women (let alone Orthodox Jewish women) became doctors. One of Annie’s sisters, Dr. Fanny Rabinowitz, came to Israel soon after the establishment of the state and was influential in founding the nursing school at Hadassah-University Medical Center, while a brother was Rabbi Prof. Louis Rabinowitz, who went on to become chief rabbi of South Africa before retiring to Jerusalem in the 1960s and, for a short period of time, becoming deputy mayor of the city on behalf of the Herut Party, when Teddy Kollek was mayor. Both Fanny and Louis Rabinowitz later received recognition as Yekirei Yerushalayim, distinguished citizens of Jerusalem, the only brother and sister team to each receive the award in their own right.

So the worlds of pre-World War II Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Dublin and Jerusalem all fused together in this story of prominent individuals, most of whom ended up by retiring to pre-state and poststate Israel, said Newman.

Many of Hillman’s windows, especially those in the Central Synagogue in London and the Renanim Synagogue in the heart of Jerusalem – where there are eight of his windows – were funded and sponsored by the noted Anglo Jewish philanthropist Sir Isaac Wolfson, who was a young boy growing up in Glasgow during the early part of the 20th century and was a childhood friend of Hillman. He was also friendly with the Herzogs, and it was during the period that Herzog was chief rabbi of Israel that Wolfson started to build the Heichal Shlomo and Great Synagogue complex in honor of his father, Solomon Wolfson, and invited Hillman to create the windows for the Renanim Synagogue, which preceded the building of the Great Synagogue. Two more of his windows can be found in Beit Knesset Hanassi just around the corner in Rehavia.

The Hillman windows have a distinctive design and are recognizable by anyone who knows his style. For a short time David Hillman was the rabbi of the Sandys Row Synagogue in the East End of London, but art was his true calling. His style is apparent in the vast range of Torah, Talmud and prayer book quotations that he used as well as those taken from the commentaries.

His father, the illustrious dayan (who is buried in the Sanhedria cemetery in Jerusalem), fell out with his son over the fact that he eventually spurned the rabbinate in favor of becoming an artist.

Newman recounted that as a child he would go for Sunday tea at the Hillmans’ house in London, along with his grandmother Ida Newman, the wife of the rabbi of Notting Hill, Julius (Yehuda) Newman and the eldest of the nine Rabinowitz brothers and sisters, and would be taken up into the studio where the windows were designed and put together.

Hillman had three sons, each of whom had an interesting career in the UK. The eldest, Ellis Hillman was a professor of geology, wrote a book on underground London, founded the Lewis Carroll Society and was also president of the Flat Earth Research Society. Another son, professor Harold Hillman, was a noted microbiologist at the University of Surrey, who gained notoriety by challenging the entire faculty of biology professors over the way their research was funded and the selective way in which findings were published. The third son, Mayer (Mickey) Hillman, who is still alive, was an architect and town planner who became known for his radical views on environmentalism and as a champion of cycling, about which he published books.

It was hard to tell whether Newman’s topic under the auspices of the Israel branch of the Jewish Historical Society of England was about British rabbinic dynasties whose members were nearly all directly or indirectly related to each other, or Hillman’s art. He seemed to give them both equal play.

In addition to the many synagogues in London and Jerusalem, Hillman’s windows are to be found in Dublin (Terenure), Leeds, Saint Albans, and one even has a place of prominence in the stained glass windows museum in Ely Cathedral, after having been transferred from the Bayswater Synagogue in the heart of London, which closed down in the 1960s to make way for a new highway, said Newman, who intends to continue his research on this topic when he returns to London this week to complete his sabbatical.

■ AMBASSADORS TAKE a trip home when the head of state or prime minister of their host country pays an official visit to their home country, but it’s very rare for ambassadors to accompany visitors of lesser rank.

Neal Imperial, the ambassador of the Philippines, is an exception to the rule. Eager to promote Israeli tourism to his country, he accompanied owners, CEOs and travel experts of nine major Israeli travel agencies as they explored the Philippines’ most fascinating islands in Palawan (El Nido) and Boracay during a familiarization tour organized by the Philippine Department of Tourism and the Philippine Embassy in Tel Aviv.

Participating travel agencies were Ophir Tours, Diesenhaus Tours, Mona Tours Ltd., Ayala Travel and Tours Ltd., Alon Tours, Hidden World Ltd., Nazarene Tours, Smart Dive Travel and Sorento Tours. In addition to Imperial, they were also joined by Francisco Lardizabal, head of the Department of Tourism’s market development group.

The tour began with a visit to the walled city of Intramuros, the center of government, education and economy during the Spanish colonial period, which gave the tour operators a glimpse of the history of the Philippines. Participants indulged in the festive fusion of Spanish and global cuisine at Ilustrado, a Hispanic- inspired restaurant that has hosted heads of state.

The highlight of the trip was the visit to the two best islands in the world as voted by Condé Nast Readers’ Travel Awards 2017 and Travel + Leisure’s 2017 Best World Islands – Boracay and El Nido.

The Israelis, who have all traveled far and wide, were overwhelmed with the beauty and natural wonder of El Nido. The pristine beaches, steep karstic cliffs of limestone and dense forests as backdrop, dive sites home to diverse marine life and the rustic and romantic feel of the island were impressive and offered a perfect getaway from city life.

Boracay, proved to be a total experience of island fun, with its white sand beaches, numerous sports and leisure activities, private and luxurious resorts and bustling nightlife. Unable to contain his enthusiasm, Imperial said: “Filipinos should be proud that the Philippines is home to the two best island groups in the world. El Nido, Palawan, remains unspoiled and feels like paradise, while Boracay showcases the vibrant side of Filipino beach life.”

Diesenhaus Tours, which is among the more veteran of Israel tour operators and a leader in the tourism industry, in response to growing interest in Israel in the Philippines as a holiday destination or a gateway to business in Asia and the Pacific, is on the verge of establishing a branch of its offices in the Philippines.

Israel was the fastest-growing tourism market of the Philippines last year, increasing by 42%. It is also now the second-largest market of the Philippines in the Middle East.

■ BIRTHDAY GREETINGS are in order to MK Ahmad Tibi, who celebrated his 59th birthday on December 19, and to former politicians Geula Cohen, who will be 92 on December 25, and Moshe Arens, who will be 92 on December 27. Both are still active in a number of fields. Yehoram Gaon, who has a whole bunch of concerts lined up, will celebrate his 78th birthday on December 28.

All three are Capricorns, and it would be interesting to see what characteristics they share. Also in this birthday group is Aura Herzog, founder of the Council for a Beautiful Israel, who on December 24 celebrates her 93rd birthday. She happens to be the mother of the leader of the opposition, while Geula Cohen is the mother of Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi.

■ BEST-SELLING AUTHOR and Israel Prize laureate A.B. Yehoshua was also born in December, but he’s not a Capricorn, because his birthday was on December 9. A sixth-generation Jerusalemite who hasn’t lived in the capital for years, Yehoshua will make a brief return on Tuesday, December 26, to engage in conversation with editor and publicist Yoav Sorek and writer Tomer Perisco. The meeting is within the In Depth Conversations series at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem. The discussion will focus on relations between religion, society and state in the face of political realities.

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