My Connection with Former President Chaim Herzog

The photo features the author on the right, Former President Herzog standing and former Prime Minister Peres on the left.

For a few days at least, the Israeli public have had the focus taken off Corona, riots, demos outside the famous Balfour Residence and other not so pleasant happenings. The installation of the new President of Israel has been almost joyous.

I am sure that it’s not easy to be a descendant of a family whose personal history has been so deeply connected to this land but, alternatively it is incredulous.

Incredulous, that Yitzhak (Bougie) Herzog the scion of a family with a fascinating history is the new President of Israel.

So many people are coming up with moving and sentimental tales about their own connections or inter actions with this man and his family. It is both moving and heartwarming.

Mine are pragmatic, in that my connection by chance to the new Presidents’ late father, former President Chaim Herzog led to many interesting endeavours in which we were connected or involved and I now have the opportunity to talk about some of them.

The new Presidents’ father, the late Chaim Herzog Z’l was interesting, fascinating, a direct man and indubitably, quite extraordinary.

I met him on my return to Israel in 1978. I wanted to ask for his help in securing the freedom of an Soviet Jewish activist Vladimir Prestin with whom I was in contact. It was a long shot to imagine that even a person like him would be able to pull strings, or maybe help exert pressure.

He weighed it over in his mind and then said “maybe we could get some kind of prisoner exchange”? I thought not. My dear Volodya was not actually a prisoner in the way that Sharansky was, but merely one whose exit visa had been rejected.

However, from that meeting we discovered that having both come from somewhat similar British educational backgrounds, we agreed that a change in the election system was essential to ensure that a citizen felt represented by a Member of Knesset. I remember the times with him when we went around the country to visit potential supporters. Our aim was to change the electoral system to one of: Direct Regional Proportional Representation. When we met groups of Israelis who had emigrated from Ireland they would remind him that they knew his mother the Rabbitzen and spoke of the delicious “kichels” that she baked. It was as we say in Yiddish really “chaimish”.

I know how deeply Chaim was affected by the murder of Rabin. He, like so many, could not believe that a Jew could be capable of such a thing, especially in a thriving democracy.

I met him at a remembrance for a mutual friend and I could see that he was not the same person. He could barely speak to me.

Chaim was a true loyal patriot.

He must be smiling down on us today.

God Bless his Soul.

Zelda Harris was born in London and came to Israel in 1949. She returned to England in 1966. She was a founding member of the Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry. In 1978, she returned with her family to Israel and has been active in various spheres of Israeli Society since. Together with the late Chaim Herzog, she founded CCC for Electoral Reform, was the Director of BIPAC in Israel, and a co-founder of Metuna, the Organisation for Road Safety, which received the Speaker of Knesset Quality of Life Award for saving lives on the roads and prevention of serious injury. She is now a peace activist, blogger for Times of Israel and is writing her life story.

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