President Isaac Herzog's mother, Aura, dies at 97

Aura Herzog who will be laid to rest alongside her husband on Mount Herzl, in the section reserved for leaders of the nation, is survived by her four children.

 Aura Herzog (photo credit: GPO)
Aura Herzog
(photo credit: GPO)

Aura Herzog, the mother of President Isaac Herzog and the wife of Israel’s sixth president, Chaim Herzog, died on Monday, just over two weeks after her 97th birthday.

Members of her family were among the founders of Motza, a village on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

Her parents, who lived in Jaffa, were expelled by the Turks during the First World War and went from Jaffa to Egypt where her father worked as an engineer.

Born in Ismalia as Aura Ambache (an acronym for ani ma’amin b’emunah shleima – ‘I believe with a perfect faith’), she was one of four siblings. One of her sisters, Susie Eban, was married to Israel’s legendary foreign minister Abba Eban. Aura Herzog was educated in French schools in Ismalia and Cairo, and completed her BA degree in mathematics and physics at Witwatersand University in South Africa.
In October 1946, she chose to live in the Land of Israel, joined the Haganah defense group, and was also among the cadets in the Jewish Agency’s first-class for future diplomats. A year later, in 1947, she married Chaim Herzog and was at his side in his military, political and diplomatic roles as well as in his other various positions in public life.
President Isaac Herzog speaks on the first night of Hanukkah at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, November 28, 2021. (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)President Isaac Herzog speaks on the first night of Hanukkah at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, November 28, 2021. (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

While working at the Jewish Agency, she was seriously injured in March 1948, when the building was attacked and a bomb exploded. Her husband carried her out in his arms.

Inasmuch as she was her husband’s helpmate, Aura Herzog also led a busy and influential public life of her own.

During the War of Independence, she served as an intelligence officer in the army.

A decade later, she was appointed to head the public committee that organized Israel’s 10th Anniversary celebrations. She was also the founder of the Bible Quiz held annually on Israel Independence Day, and in 1969, she founded the Council for a Beautiful Israel which she chaired for 38 years before moving into the role of its international president.

The Herzog family was well known in the United States, where Chaim Herzog served as Israel’s military attaché from 1950-54, and as permanent representative to the United Nations from 1975-78. They also visited the US during his presidency.

From 1959-68, Aura Herzog headed the Department of Culture in the Education Ministry, and in later years, following the completion of her husband’s 10-year tenure as president, she held various public positions including being chairperson of the public committee for the celebration of Israel’s jubilee anniversary; a member of the advisory board of Israel’s national lottery Mifal Hapayis, which builds schools, community centers, sports arenas, and cultural centers; and a member of the Board of |Governors of Tel Aviv Museum.

She was also chairperson of the friends of Schneider’s Children’s Medical Center, which she had supported even during the period of her husband’s presidency – just as she had supported the Council for a Beautiful Israel, which was arguably the first major organization in the Jewish state dedicated to promoting environmental awareness and aesthetics. She encouraged industrialists to plant gardens around their factories, and apartment dwellers to cultivate window boxes and to surround their balconies with potted plants.

Aware of the many cultural differences between the different immigrant groups to Israel, she also wrote a well-received book on hospitality and etiquette.

ON A PERSONAL note, it was my good fortune to twice be part of a group of journalists that accompanied the Herzogs on state visits. The first, in November 1986, was a three weeks trip that included the island of Reunion, Singapore, Hong Kong, Fiji, New Zealand, Tonga, Sri Lanka, Australia, and Kenya. It is the longest, most comprehensive, and culturally and geographically varied trip ever taken by a president of Israel before or since.

In New Zealand, we traveled to both the north and south islands, and in Australia, we were in West Australia, New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, and the capital Canberra. It was the first time in 13 years that I had been back to the land of my birth. Aura Herzog knew this, and as the plane hovered over Perth in Western Australia before we landed, she came to the back where the journalists were sitting to ask me if I had butterflies in my tummy.

When we were in Singapore, I had her all to myself, because I was the only female journalist on the trip. On state visits, special arrangements are often made for spouses – and because the authorities in Singapore were aware of her environmental concerns, they arranged for her to be taken to the exquisite botanical gardens, where an orchid was named in her honor. I accompanied her, and it was a most delightful afternoon.

Some years later, when I was with the group of journalists that accompanied the Herzogs to Poland, we visited the huge Jewish cemetery in Warsaw, where some very famous people are buried, and where memorials have been erected to honor the memories of others murdered in the Holocaust, such as Janusz Korczak.

Aura Herzog was wearing high-heeled shoes. Although it’s not the done thing to criticize the wife of the president of the state – and certainly not to her face – I could not stop myself from asking what possessed her to wear high heels in a place in which there was mud and gravel. She proceeded to explain, almost apologetically, that she had a “ballerina foot” which prevented her from wearing flat heeled shoes. As she grew older, the heels became a little lower and thicker, but she never wore flats.

THE WIFE and mother of Israeli presidents will be laid to rest alongside her husband on Mount Herzl, in the section reserved for leaders of the nation. She is survived by her four children: Yoel, a lawyer and international businessman, Michael, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, President Isaac Herzog and Ronit, a clinical psychologist, along with their spouses and her several grandchildren.

Wednesday, her casket will be brought to the President’s Residence to lie in state so that members of the public who wish to do so can pay their last respects.

At 12:30 p.m. the casket will be transported to Mount Herzl, followed by the funeral cortege at 1:30 p.m. The funeral service will begin at 2 p.m. and will be broadcast by the Government Press Office. Funeral arrangements will be in accordance with guidelines determined by the Health Ministry.

President Herzog and his family will receive condolence calls on Thursday, January 13, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

On Friday, January 14, condolence calls will only be received between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. On Sunday and Monday, January 16 and 17, the times will be the same as on Thursday.

Due to security considerations, callers are requested not to be armed or to carry any parcels. Members of the public who want to pay condolence calls are asked to telephone (02) 670-7215 for advance registration of their names.

CONDOLENCE messages have been pouring into the President’s Residence from Israel and abroad. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in a public message released by the Government Press Office stated:

“Together with the entire people of Israel, I received with sorrow the news of the passing of Aura Herzog, mother of President Isaac Herzog and wife of the late President Chaim Herzog.

“Aura was a public figure and socially active woman who loved her people and her country. She lived modestly and raised a wonderful family while being constantly active on behalf of the public and society in Israel.

“My deepest condolences go out to President Herzog and the entire Herzog family. May her memory be blessed.”

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, who heads the Labor Party – once chaired by President Herzog and which was represented by him and his father in the Knesset – was somewhat more personal when she wrote: “My dear friend President Isaac Herzog, I send sympathies and condolences to you and your family on the passing of your mother Aura.

“Aura was a formidable personality and her extraordinary life story was one of great activity and giving, one that made an enduring and significant contribution to the character of the State of Israel, it’s culture and its beauty. The originality and vision of creating the World Bible Quiz and the Council for a Beautiful Israel are the jewels in the crown of her great endeavors for this country,” she said.

“One only needs to see the heights you and your family have attained to understand what support and strength she gave you.

“With you, Michal, and your entire family at this difficult time. May her memory be a blessing.”

Yaakov Hagoel, Chairman of the World Zionist Organization and Acting Chairman of the Jewish Agency said: “I sadly received the news of the passing of Aura Herzog. She was a Zionist activist who loved her people and her country and did much for the public and society in Israel. My condolences to President Isaac Herzog and the entire Herzog family.”

US Ambassador Tom Nides tweeted: “Our hearts are with the entire Herzog family this morning as they mourn the loss of Aura Herzog. She was a tireless social activist and public servant in Israel, and a beloved wife, mother, and friend of the United States. May her memory be a blessing.”

On its Facebook page, the US featured a portrait of Aura Herzog and a memorial candle against a black background.

UAE leaders sent Herzog a message of condolences and signed it collectively.

The past 15 months have not been easy for the Herzog family. Michal Herzog, the president’s wife, lost her mother Zvia Afek in October 2020, and her father Shaul Afek soon afterward. She also had a very close relationship with her mother-in-law.