Grapevine: Meet the Meridors

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

Former ambassador Sallai Meridor 390 (R) (photo credit: Jim Bourg / Reuters)
Former ambassador Sallai Meridor 390 (R)
(photo credit: Jim Bourg / Reuters)

Among the best known Jerusalem families are the Meridors, three generations who have been directly or indirectly in the service of the state in a variety of capacities. Among the second-generation Meridors, one has been chosen to serve as the new chairman of the National Library in Israel which is scheduled to officially open in the summer of this year.

Sallai Meridor, who already has an impressive curriculum vitae, having served previously as chairman of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization, will be the person greeting guests at the National Library’s opening ceremony. In all probability, it will surpass the groundbreaking ceremony held in April 2016, with the participation of Lord Rothschild, then president Reuven Rivlin, then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and then Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky.

The principal donors of the construction of the new library are the Yad Hanadiv foundation represented by Lord Rothschild, and the Gottesman Family Foundation represented by David Gottesman.

Both foundations have contributed extensively to Israel, particularly Yad Hanadiv, as well as individual members of the Rothschild family.

In addition to the above-mentioned roles, Meridor is a former Israel ambassador to the US, and international chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation. Earlier in his career, he served as an adviser to the later Moshe Arens when the latter was defense minister and foreign minister. 

THEN-SOVIET PRESIDENT Mikhail Gorbachev addresses the first meeting of the Mideast peace conference in Madrid on October 30, 1991. Alongside Gorbachev is US President George Bush. At far right is prime minister Yitzhak Shamir. (credit: JIM HOLLANDER/REUTERS)THEN-SOVIET PRESIDENT Mikhail Gorbachev addresses the first meeting of the Mideast peace conference in Madrid on October 30, 1991. Alongside Gorbachev is US President George Bush. At far right is prime minister Yitzhak Shamir. (credit: JIM HOLLANDER/REUTERS)

In that capacity, Meridor was involved in the designing of Israel’s defense and foreign policies, and also played a role in the peace process that led to the Madrid Conference. In the negotiations that followed, he led Israel’s inter-agency steering committee on arms control.

Meridor’s latest appointment was approved by the National Library Council and the senior appointments advisory committee, following the recommendation of Prof. David Harel, chairman of the National Library Council and president of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

“We believe that as the new board chairman, Sallai Meridor will play a critical role in leading the renewal efforts of the National Library of Israel,” said Harel, emphasizing that the National Library is one of the most important Jewish and Israeli cultural institutions.

It is set to move into its new home adjacent to the Knesset, and is also within easy walking distance of the Israel Museum, the Bible Lands Museum and the Science Museum. 

In appointing Meridor, the NLI board took into consideration his extensive familiarity and involvement with the diverse communities of Israel and the Jewish people globally – significant factors benefiting the library in the fulfillment of its mission.

When informed of his new appointment, Meridor said: “The National Library of Israel is the home of the book for the People of the Book, the center of Jewish and Israeli culture, creativity and heritage. It serves as a leading cultural and educational institution for the Israeli public and the global Jewish community in all of its diversity. The National Library collection and treasures hold tremendous importance for scholars in Israel and internationally.” 

He also praised the library’s investment in digitization, which gives people all over the world access to information that might otherwise elude them.

While few people would argue against the board’s choice of a new chairman, there is no mention in the library’s announcement of Meridor’s appointment of former chairman David Blumberg. Blumberg resigned in January of this year following reports of his alleged sexual harassment of a young member of his staff, to whom he allegedly paid a large sum in hush money for her silence. 

Blumberg, who gave many years of service to the library, denied the allegations, but said that at age 77 he was no longer in a position to fight. He resigned, he said, because he wanted to avoid harm to his family and to the library. 

In his letter of resignation, he claimed that he had been the victim of personal attacks that included the smearing of his integrity, motivation and conduct – attacks of such magnitude that they significantly harmed his public standing which he had acquired over years of honest, hard work.

It should be remembered that Blumberg was the mover and shaker behind the acquisition of funding for the library’s renewal. The National Library, founded in 1892, is one of the oldest ongoing cultural institutions of the state. 

■ AMONG THE prominent Israelis who will participate in the March of the Living next week is Mayor Moshe Lion, whose family on his father’s side was from Thessaloniki, Greece. 

Thessaloniki was one of the places to which the Jews of Spain migrated when they were exiled in 1492. The Jewish community of Thessaloniki flourished to the extent that for literally centuries, there was a Jewish majority among its population. 

However, during World War II, the Jewish community was decimated. In 1943, the Nazis forced the Jews into a ghetto, and soon deported them to slave labor and concentration camps. The majority were sent to Auschwitz. Of the 60,000 who were deported, only 2,000 survived. Today, the Jewish community of Thessaloniki comprises only 1,200 people.

■ ZIKARON Basalon, a nationwide project in which a group of up to 50 people meets in someone’s living room to listen to a Holocaust survivor tell his or her story, usually takes place on or near Holocaust Remembrance Day. 

Of course, this is not the only day that survivors tell their stories, and unfortunately, too many survivors are fading from our midst. Most of those who are left were child Holocaust survivors who may not fully remember how or where they were hidden. Some actually survived the camps. 

One such person is Jerusalemite Rena Quint, who lost her parents and siblings and was passed from one woman to the next in the slave labor and concentration camps. Each became her temporary mother, until after the war, when she was taken to America and adopted by a childless American Jewish couple. 

Quint, a very articulate speaker, is in high demand both in Israel and abroad. These days, she no longer travels, but tells her story on social media platforms, and is often featured in Yad Vashem videos. During the pandemic, she was frequently on Zoom, speaking mainly to audiences in the US. Recently, she was in Yad Vashem to do another video when a group of German students was visiting. 

One young man asked, “How can we get our grandparents to tell us what they did during the war?” Quint, who has previously hosted German groups in her home, did not know what to answer. It was a question that had not been put to her before.

She gave the young man her number and told him to call her. He did, and asked whether he could come to visit. She agreed, and came with a group of his fellow students. They asked numerous questions and took copious notes. Then they came back a second time. 

[email protected]