Grapevine: Le'Chaim!

"If you’re not going to be a rabbi, the best thing you can do is to be an officer in the Israeli army."

Michael and Isaac Herzog look at a photo of his father, Israel’s sixth president Chaim Herzog, indulging in his favorite sport – sailing. (photo credit: FACEBOOK)
Michael and Isaac Herzog look at a photo of his father, Israel’s sixth president Chaim Herzog, indulging in his favorite sport – sailing.
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
Although he died closer to Passover than to Rosh Hashana, a gathering of relatives, friends and colleagues of Israel’s sixth president, Chaim Herzog, came together at the Rabin Center last Thursday to mark the 20th anniversary of his passing. In actual fact, it was a celebration of what would have been his 99th birthday, 10 days prior to the actual date.
One of his sons, retired Brig.-Gen. Michael Herzog, in speaking of his multifaceted father, who had served in the Hagana, then as an officer in the British Army, and subsequently as an officer in the Israel Defense Forces, said: Of all the different positions his father had occupied or initiated, he was first and foremost a soldier. Herzog recalled that when he was thinking of becoming a career officer in the IDF, he consulted his father, who gave him the same advice he himself had received from his own father, chief Rabbi Yitzhak Halevi Herzog.
“If you’re not going to be a rabbi, the best thing you can do is to be an officer in the Israeli army.”
Ordinarily, President Reuven Rivlin would have delivered an address at such an event, but since he was still in Germany, the role fell to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who, in the absence of the president or the inability of the president to carry out his duties, becomes acting president.
It may be recalled that former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik was acting president for some three months when president Moshe Katsav suspended himself prior to his court case. Since remarrying and moving to Herzliya Pituah, Edelstein attends services in the same synagogue as the Herzog family.
US Ambassador David Friedman, who also frequents this synagogue, was among those present at the Rabin Center, but left halfway through the proceedings. British Ambassador David Quarrey stayed till the end, as did Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay; former ministers Dan Meridor and Shimon Shetreet; Dan Hotels and Elbit Systems chairman Michael Federmann; and former Supreme Court judge Gabriel Bach.
In a videotaped message, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that when he stands at the podium of the United Nations later this month, he will be inspired by the famous November 10, 1975, speech made by Chaim Herzog denouncing the UN resolution equating Zionism with racism.
Indeed the memorial event opened with a video clip of the speech, in which Herzog reminded the General Assembly that the date of the outrageous Resolution 3379 coincided with the anniversary of Kristallnacht, which was a prelude to the Holocaust.
The speech was mentioned not only by Netanyahu but also by Edelstein, and in a videotaped message from former British prime minister Tony Blair, who called it one of the great iconic speeches of the 20th century, saying that Herzog made “Zionism come alive.” Blair referred to Herzog as “one of the political giants of the 20th century.”
Even though Herzog was born in Ireland, said, Blair, “we feel a particular attachment and affection for him because he was an officer in the British Army.”
In April 1987, Herzog was the first president of Israel to visit Germany, and he took with him survivors of Bergen- Belsen, where he insisted on going so that he could close the circle for people whom he had helped to liberate while a British officer.
When he first entered Bergen- Belsen, he had said “Shalom” to the emaciated survivors, told them that he was a Jew and British Army officer, and that he had come to free them. Some kissed his hand in gratitude and in the knowledge that a Jew who was a free man, an army officer, had come to restore their dignity as human beings.
Edelstein, who had to leave early, was the first to deliver an address, and said that Rosh Hashana was a blend of the old and the new, a time to reflect on the past and a time to do something a little different.
He saw in Herzog a fusion of the old and the new, saying that when Herzog tore up the resolution equating Zionism with racism, he was in fact emulating his father, who in 1939 tore up the British White Paper that restricted Jewish migration to Palestine. However, the circumstances were different in 1975, so he was doing something new.
Chaim Herzog and his wife, the former Aura Ambache, had four children: three sons – Joel, Mike and Isaac – and a daughter, Ronit. Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, looking out at the vast audience, surmised on the number of decades of combined service to the state he could see in their faces. He was sorry that illness prevented both his mother and Nissan Limor, who had been director-general of the President’s Office during Herzog’s presidency, from attending. He was very pleased, however, to welcome Kamal Mansour, who served for 40 years as the adviser on minorities to seven presidents, from Zalman Shazar to Shimon Peres. He was also happy to welcome Mansour’s son-in-law Col. Hasson Hasson, who had been appointed by Peres as his military aide – the first member of the Druse community to hold this position.
Isaac Herzog, borrowing from the Passover “Dayenu” (It would have been sufficient) song, went through the stations of his father’s life to illustrate the measure of the man, and said that even though he was the private father of his children, he was also the public father of the nation. In a comprehensive video showing Chaim Herzog from infancy to the final years of his life, his children affirmed that inasmuch as he viewed his duty as a public servant as a high priority, he always had time for his children when they needed him.
In that video, Rivlin joyfully proclaimed that Chaim Herzog was the first Jewish military governor of Jerusalem in 2,000 years.
Herzog came as a teenager to the Land of Israel to study at Hebron Yeshiva. He joined the Hagana, and after the Second World War broke out, he joined the British Army so that he could fight the Nazis.
After helping to liberate Bergen- Belsen and at the end of the war, he returned to Palestine and subsequently fought in the War of Independence.
Soon after, he became the founder and director of the IDF’s Military Intelligence. In this respect his British wartime experience was invaluable.
He served in this position twice, initially breaking off to serve as a defense attaché in Washington.
After retiring from the army in 1962 with the rank of major-general, he opened a law office, having gained his law degree and entry to the bar in London. Herzog Fox & Neeman, established together with Michael Fox and Yaakov Neeman, became one of the most successful law offices in Israel, and continues as such to this day, even though all of its three founders are no longer living.
Herzog was also a successful businessman and a keen sportsman – boxer, swimmer, golfer and sailor. He was a diplomat serving as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations from 1975 to 1978, and in 1981 he won a seat in the Knesset. In 1983 he was elected president and served two consecutive five-year terms, before the law was amended, limiting presidents to one seven-year term. He also wrote books and newspaper and magazine articles.
During the Six Day War in 1967, his was the soothing voice on radio that interpreted the war for listeners in a manner designed to reduce fear and panic. His soft Irish brogue may have had something to do with that as well.
Maj.-Gen. Herzl Halevi, who is the current director of Military Intelligence, said that although Herzog’s legacy lay in many fields, an important part of that legacy was in the foundations that he laid for Israel’s Military Intelligence, based on the British traditions of combining intelligence with military strategy.
Historian Prof. Yuval Noah Harari, who was asked to speak of the future instead of the past, forecast that the world would have to face challenges with which it had never been confronted before, which was why no country could be fully independent, but that all countries would be interdependent. He also forecast that as the world keeps developing biotechnology and robotics, humanity will become subject to digital dictatorships.
Several of last weekend’s newspapers contained articles about Israel’s ninth president, Peres, in advance of this week’s memorial ceremonies to mark the first anniversary of his death. Israel Hayom carried short vignettes by people who were close to him, including those who disagreed with him politically, such as Education Minister Naftali Bennett.
The first and the longest article in this miniseries was by the person who was closest of all to him – Yona Bartal, who met him in 1995, following the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Bartal had been in charge of Rabin’s correspondence, and Peres asked her to stay on after he became interim prime minister.
She stayed with him for the rest of his political career, and when he was elected president, he appointed her as his deputy director-general.
She was present at both his public and private meetings, including clandestine meetings with representatives of countries with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations, and she was the one responsible for the visual documentation of such meetings, which one day she may reveal for posterity, if and when she writes a book about working with Peres.
She currently heads the Friends of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, and frequently travels abroad to meet potential friends of the center personally. At the end of last month she traveled to Lake Como for the annual Ambrosetti Conference at the Villa d’Este, where world leaders, global business executives and prominent academics meet to discuss challenges that face certain regions or the world as a whole. For 14 years she had gone there with Peres. This was the first time without him, and she felt his absence, as did many of the regular participants, who embraced her and wept with her.
Of the many anecdotes that she could tell, Bartal chose the trip to London in 2008, when Peres was conferred with an Honorary Knighthood by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.
None of his aides were permitted to sit in on his meeting with the queen, though they all desperately wanted to meet her. The meeting, which had been timed for 25 minutes, lasted 40 minutes, at the end of which the doors opened, and the queen emerged with Peres behind her, his face wreathed in a broad smile. He had told the queen that if she wanted him to return home safe and sound, she would have to greet his aides before he left. Not wanting to disappoint her newest knight, the queen graciously complied.
Bartal also disclosed that during Peres’s presidency, every two weeks, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, came for dinner and discussed every subject under the sun. Sometimes there were deep political disagreements and raised voices at such intimate gatherings, but not a word of what occurred leaked out. Whatever was said remained strictly among the four people in the room.
Peres was very protective of his people. When he was in Poland in April 2008, he learned that Bartal’s son Dor was being inducted into the Paratroop Brigade. Peres had told her that such an occasion was too important to miss, and sent her back to Israel for the induction ceremony.
When he was in Mexico in November 2013, on learning that the journalists traveling with him had not been invited to the state dinner hosted by Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, he instructed his spokeswoman, Ayelet Frisch, to make sure that they were present when he made his address. In Mexico, it is not customary for journalists to eat at state dinners. They are given a meal, but elsewhere in the building. Frisch succeeded in getting the Israeli journalists into the dinner, as a result of which several Mexican invitees were discreetly asked to vacate their tables.
Chaim Herzog, during a visit to New Zealand in November 1986, did something similar. During a threeweek visit to the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand, Herzog was hosted at a reception given in his honor by the governor-general of New Zealand, but the many journalists in Herzog’s entourage were not invited – not even to listen to the speeches. Herzog simply made it known that if they couldn’t come, he couldn’t come. Invitations to the media were hastily issued.
United Hatzalah's man in America, Gavy Friedson, was in Houston working his butt off, and came for a few days respite to Jerusalem, where his mother was only too happy to prepare his favorite foods. Friedson’s visit was cut short when he received an urgent message to get on a plane straight after Shabbat and head for Florida.
He was informed that he may also have to go to Mexico.
When Friedson went to the US, he thought that his job was essentially to tell the story of United Hatzalah and thus boost support for the organization.
He never realized that he would also be involved in lifesaving efforts, just as he had been in Jerusalem from the time of his mid-teens.