Felafel, raising the kids and affection for Eyal Golan

Seven days to go until the Post’s Diplomatic Conference, we present daily excerpts from the official conference magazine – today, an interview with US Ambassador Dan Shapiro and his wife, Julie.

October 16, 2013 22:08
US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro

US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro 521. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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As far as I know, we’ve never had a US ambassador to Israel quite like Daniel Shapiro, who dove into Israeli life with a passion.

At times he can be seen at the beach (usually in Herzliya), eating a felafel on the street, wearing a shtreimel and dancing at a haredi rabbi’s wedding, or out hiking with his family. He has been busy absorbing the smells, sights and people, all of which he does modestly and with a smile.

Shapiro, 44, is a Reform Jew married to Julie, who is one year older than him.

They have three daughters.

What’s it like to move from Washington to Herzliya?

Julie: “I’m having a great time. We have been very warmly welcomed. Israel is an extremely family-friendly place to live and we feel quite comfortable here.

“Now that we live here, we can more easily understand why Israelis say they feel claustrophobic as a result of being surrounded on all sides. When you live in the US and just read about it in the paper, it’s impossible to really understand this. We feel this tension even though we are diplomats and live within a bubble.”

How are your girls getting along?

Julie: “They all speak Hebrew – two of them quite fluently. They attend local Israeli schools, study hard and are enjoying life here immensely. They’re very happy.”

Dan: “They’ve completely integrated into Israeli youth culture.”

Is that good or bad?

(The two laugh.) Dan: “I’m not sure, but it makes them feel like this is home.

They’re very comfortable and they behave just like Israeli children do.

“For the most part, this is great. Israeli society is very focused on children. I would even go so far as to say that the children are the ones running the show around here. And my children have toed the line in this respect – they are as proud and assertive as other Israeli children.

Granted, sometimes we need to make decisions as American parents and impose some law and order.”

Do Israeli and American families have different ideas about safety?

Dan: “Yes, totally. Most Israeli families allow their kids much more independence and feel much more comfortable living this way than most Americans we know. It’s a good feeling.

Israel is very focused on children, which makes it a safer place for children to live.”

So if we’re already on the subject of safety, how do you feel knowing that Syrian President Bashar Assad could shoot chemical missiles at Israel?

Julie: “In this respect I’ve become a bit Israeli myself, since this doesn’t really worry me. When we arrived here two years ago, I was a little concerned. But you get used to it. Israelis have been living this way their entire lives. For the time being, I am not worried.”

Dan: “We’ve adapted well and learned what it takes to be ready and be capable of dealing with the situation.

“Last November, when Operation Pillar of Defense began and missiles began landing on Israeli soil, Julie took the kids down to the bomb shelter so they could see what it was like and get used to it. She put some toys down there, so that their first time going there wouldn’t be during an emergency.

“And the girls have accepted the situation well. We’ve been lucky and so far there haven’t been any air-raid sirens in Herzliya.”

Julie: “The first dilemma we encountered was right after we arrived in Israel. We were scheduled to host a formal dinner here, but then there was a terrorist attack with casualties on the highway in the Negev, and I wondered if we should cancel it. But we were instructed not to cancel it. They told us that in Israel, life goes on as usual. That was our first lesson in how Israelis deal with difficult situations.”

And how are the girls dealing with such incidents? Are they resilient like Israeli children?

Julie: “I haven’t noticed any symptoms of anxiety or anything like that. They had a few drills at their school last year, and they didn’t have any problems.”

Do you enjoy Israeli culture? Music? Entertainment? Gossip?

Dan: “We just got back from an Idan Raichel concert. He’s amazing. I love [singer] Shlomo Artzi, too. And I’m also a big Eyal Golan fan.”

You’ve got to be kidding!

Dan: “No, not at all. And we keep in touch; we send each other text messages.
He’s a great guy.”

Have you been following what’s going on with the Women of the Wall?

Dan: “We’ve been following activity surrounding Women of the Wall. Did you know that Julie participated in one of the first groups that founded the organization in 1988- 1989, when we were studying at the Hebrew University?”

Really? No, I did not know that. You’ve just knocked me off my chair.

Julie: “Yes, it was right at the inception of the group. The first international conference for Jewish women was held in December 1988.”

So, Julie, are you still a member of Women of the Wall?

Julie: “Don’t put that in the headline! I was an active participant in the early stages because I was in Israel.

I believe that the Western Wall is a significant site – and not just for Jews in Israel. Jews all over the world believe that it’s holy. I don’t know if all of the Jews in Israel feel that way, but Jews all over the world do.”

Dan: “The connection between the American Jewish community and Israel is part of the support network between the two countries, and has significant strategic importance. It is our aim to refrain from harming the US-Israel relationship and to encourage feelings of a common purpose and future. Issues concerning the Western Wall could affect the US-Israel relationship.”

Translated by Hannah Hochner.

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