Grapevine: the Irish connection

The connection between the Opposition leader and the first chief rabbi of Ireland.

By
October 19, 2017 21:01
Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog and Irish Ambassador Alison Kelley

Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog and Irish Ambassador Alison Kelley. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Other than politician Robert Briscoe, the most widely known Jew in Ireland was Rabbi Isaac Halevy Herzog, who for 15 years was chief rabbi of Ireland, after which he was chief rabbi of Israel for 23 years. In both cases, it was for Herzog a first-time top rabbinical position.

He was the first chief rabbi of Ireland and the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the State of Israel.

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Some 25 years ago, Shaul Mayzlish, journalist, author, radio and television broadcaster and independent film producer and director, sat down in a hotel in Tiberias with one of the rabbi’s sons, Chaim Herzog, who was Israel’s sixth president, and went over hundreds of documents related to the life and times of Rabbi Herzog. This was the research that he needed for his book The Rabbinate in Stormy Days, which was published in Hebrew. Mayzlish later made a film based on the book, for which in 2010 he was awarded the B’nai B’rith broadcast media prize.

Over the years, the third generation of Herzogs in Israel were keen to have the book translated into English, and the daughter of Yaakov Herzog, the rabbi’s younger son, Shira Herzog, a philanthropist and Middle East analytical columnist in the Canadian Jewish News, began working on it, but died three years ago of breast cancer before she could complete it.

At a chance meeting in New York with Ilan Greenfield, the head of Gefen Publishing, her cousin, opposition leader and Zionist Union MK Isaac Herzog, broached the subject of translation, and after some 18 laborious months, the English version of the book was completed and released for publication in August of this year.

Because the Herzog family has maintained such a close connection with Ireland, Irish Ambassador Alison Kelly held a reception at her residence in Herzliya Pituah this week in order to promote the book among Irish expats living in Israel. There were also people without Irish connections but with connections to the Herzog family, as well as several actual members of the Herzog family, including Shira’s younger siblings Elinora and Yitzhak Herzog.

Kelly said that she is proud of the Ireland- Israel link through Rabbi Herzog, who served in Belfast from 1915 to 1918, and then in Dublin for almost 20 years. The times in which he lived in Ireland were the most exciting and turbulent years in modern Irish history, she said. He was there during the Irish War of Independence and supported and even sheltered Irish freedom fighters, she said. Eamon de Valera, one of the leaders of the struggle for independence, and later president of the Republic of Ireland, valued Herzog’s advice, and they developed a lifelong friendship, said Kelly.

The links between them continued after Herzog came to the Land of Israel, and because of this, in 1948 Ireland took in 100 Jewish children who were Holocaust survivors. Herzog befriended people of all religions and walks of life and was much loved and respected in Ireland, she said.

Noting the large Irish turnout at the reception, she said that it was good to have people who were part of the fabric of the Ireland-Israel relationship – “particularly the Herzog family.”

Mayzlish, in speaking of Herzog’s great love for his people and his efforts to save Jews from the Holocaust and later to save Jewish children who had been hidden in convents and monasteries, related that in 1941 Herzog traveled to the United States to plead with President Roosevelt to save the Jews and bomb the extermination camps – but Roosevelt refused.

When he wanted to return to the Land of Israel, Herzog was warned by the British not to do so, because the Nazis were virtually at the gates of the Holy Land. Herzog ignored the warning. After the war, when he went to Europe on a mission to rescue Jewish children, many of the nuns and priests refused to divulge who they were.

So Herzog used to stand among the children and shout “Shema Yisrael.” Those who instinctively responded “Hashem Elokeinu Hashem ehad” were obviously Jewish, and became part of the Herzog caravan, which he brought back with him to Jerusalem.

During Ireland’s War of Independence Herzog was asked whether he was Protestant or Catholic. “Neither,” he replied, “I’m Jewish.” This did not satisfy his questioners, said Mayzlish. Persisting with their questioning, they said, “Yes, but are you Protestant Jewish or Catholic Jewish?” For a long time there was a debate over whether Herzog or Shai Agnon had written the text of the prayer for the welfare of the State of Israel. It was generally thought that it had been Agnon because the text in his handwriting had been found in the Agnon archives. But recently the original text in Herzog’s handwriting was discovered in a letter that Herzog had written to Agnon, asking him to edit it. The edited text in Agnon’s handwriting was what led to the mistaken belief that he was the author.

Mention of the text was made by Greenfield.

MK Isaac Herzog said that the history of his family is embedded in the history of Ireland, a country that was good to the Jews and opened its gates to them. Because his grandfather had been in Ireland during its War of Independence, the experience gave him a better understanding of the importance of independence, said Herzog.

Hinting at rabbis who oppose secular education and that their thinking is awry, Herzog said that his grandfather was also a marine biologist who wrote books in 12 languages, including Chinese, and he was a great statesman. He was also the highest elected official in Mandate Palestine, and his prolific writings included a draft of Israel’s Constitution, said Herzog, without adding that efforts to approve a constitution have thus far been futile.

Among the people gathered at the Irish residence were two Auschwitz survivors who as children had been rescued by Rabbi Herzog, and a man in his nineties who had known the rabbi in Ireland. There were also a few Labor Party activists, including two former government ministers, Shimon Shetreet and Ephraim Sneh.

Also present were Israel’s first ambassador to Ireland, Zvi Gabay, and chairman of the Israel-Ireland Friendship League Malcolm Gafson, who is celebrating the 36th year of his aliya, and whose English is still marked by his Irish brogue.

■ MANY BAR MITZVA boys who live somewhere in the Diaspora come to Jerusalem to celebrate the occasion in the Holy City. The Rozenson family, which lives in Jerusalem, is doing the opposite and is going from Jerusalem to Moscow for the bar mitzva of Moshe Rozenson.

Before coming to Jerusalem to take up the position of executive director at Beit Avi Chai, David Rozenson was for several years the Avi Chai man in Moscow. Born in Saint Petersburg when it was known as Leningrad, he was still a child when he went with his family to live in the US. While living in Moscow, from 2000 to 2013, he did tremendous outreach and educational work all over Russia.

He and his wife, Jenny, and their six children will be back in Moscow next week to celebrate Moshe’s bar mitzva because, as explained in the invitation, many of Moshe’s friends are there, and the Rozensons cherish the Russian Jewish community and feel that many of its members are part of their lives.

But that’s not the only departure from the norm. Usually, the bar mitzva boy reads his Torah portion, after which he celebrates with family and friends. In this case, the celebration will be held in the hall of the Rohr Synagogue in the Marina Roscha Community Center next Thursday, and Moshe will be called to the Torah on the following Saturday at the Rohr Synagogue, where a sumptuous kiddush will be held after the service. If the celebration is anywhere near as lively as that of Moshe’s older brother Tzviki in January 2013, everyone is going to have a really great time. The Rohr synagogue is a Chabad synagogue, and Chabadniks know better than most other hassidic movements how to celebrate in style.

■ REGARDLESS OF the outcry on the part of both right-wing and left-wing legislators after Interior Minister Arye Deri proposed at last Sunday’s cabinet meeting to close down the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara, at a press conference on Tuesday, said that he is determined to close it down because it is wrong to waste public funds on a broadcasting outlet that has such low ratings.

He then quoted erroneous figures that are considerably lower than the actual ratings. For the time being, Kara is willing to leave Kan Reshet Bet Voice of Israel on the air, but who knows how long that will last? Fortunately, there are legal safety measures that he would have to overcome in order to close the IBC, but one cannot help wondering what a series of communications ministers have against public broadcasting. Although the Israel Broadcasting Authority had long been under threat, it was Gilad Erdan who finally pushed through the legislation that destroyed the IBA. As communications minister, and even more so since he had to give up that portfolio, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed his disdain for the media, and has apparently transferred that to Kara.

The anguish that was experienced by IBA employees during the drawn-out period of uncertainty about their future and the future of the IBA itself should not have to be resurrected. IBC employees who had hoped to launch careers in public broadcasting also suffered during the period of uncertainty, but on a different level.

In the final analysis, the IBA people who were integrated into IBC began to work well with IBC employees who were not IBA veterans, and hostilities were put aside.

Does Kara really want to revive the fears and emotional pain that prevailed for some three years, or is this simply a bark without a bite, in fealty to Netanyahu?

greerfc@gmail.com


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