Herzog remembered locally for articulate, gentle style

As a young rabbinical student in Jerusalem in 1967, Rabbi Brian Lurie remembers staying glued to the radio as Chaim Herzog offered commentary on the looming Six Day War.

Educating his audience on the frightening developments while reassuring them at the same time, the statesman "was a calming influence, so articulate, so clear," recalls Lurie, president and CEO of the Jewish Museum San Francisco. "He seemed to exude a kind of confidence that made everybody calm down."

In the wake of Herzog's death last week at age 78, local Jews who knew him recalled with respect and love the army general, jurist and diplomat who served as a member of Knesset, as Israel's ambassador to the United Nations and later as Israel's sixth president from 1983-1993.

"He was a most impressive person intellectually," says Lurie, who met Herzog several times while working for United Jewish Appeal. "Physically, he had the bearing of a leader. He had a certain grace, a charm."

Golda Kaufman, a local community activist, hosted Herzog at her San Francisco home when he came to speak for Israel Bonds, in which she and her late husband, Harold, were involved.

"He was charming, absolutely charming, very gentlemanly, with a lot of dignity," she says of the former president.

A native of England, Kaufman says she felt a special bond with Herzog, who as the son of Ireland's chief rabbi spent his childhood in a Dublin Jewish ghetto. "Irish Jews and British Jews are usually very close," she says. "We felt very much at home with each other."

Like Lurie, Goldman recalls Herzog's formidable breadth of knowledge on politics, diplomacy and Judaism. The Cambridge-educated statesman, who authored several books on Israel and military affairs, balanced his knowledge, she says, with an inimitable sense of humor.

"He had a good sense of humor, an Irish sense of humor," she says, "a little bit impish, not particularly satirical, but with a twinkle in his eye."

Norman Coliver also had the opportunity to spend time with Herzog. Beginning in the late 1950s, Coliver's late mother-in-law, Hedwig Simon, hosted the leader as a Shabbat houseguest when he visited San Francisco.

The two then corresponded occasionally over the next two decades, with Simon writing to Herzog to express her solidarity in times of Israel's distress and Herzog replying with gracious thanks.

"I just remember him as an extremely articulate person – very, very well-spoken," says Coliver, a semi-retired attorney in San Francisco. "He was entirely committed to Israel and to those of us who were supporting Israel."

Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is a former J. staff writer.