New consul general lucky, privileged to come to S.F.

San Francisco's new consul general of Israel came precipitously close to sharing in one of the Bay Area's greatest bonding experiences. On a two-day visit to San Francisco in 1989 — his one and only time here before last week — he left the day before the Loma Prieta earthquake struck.

Tremors aside, Yosef Amrani is looking forward to taking up where Daniel Shek left off, when he returns here at the beginning of October.

In town for about a week of preliminary business, Amrani said his predecessor had prepped him well.

Shek, the outgoing consul general, "was very generous in sharing with me the lessons he learned and his deep insight into the trends in both the American Jewish community and the Israeli community in Silicon Valley," he said. "I hope to build on his experience and lessons."

Amrani, 41, is a sixth-generation Israeli, of Moroccan and Iraqi descent. A native of Haifa — which is often compared to San Francisco — he said it is the one place in Israel where the scenic view combines green, blue and brown.

From early on in his academic career, Amrani was interested in American Jewish history. His master's thesis was titled "Jewish Involvement in Black Civil Rights Movements in the 1920s."

He chose American history out of personal interest, and because "there weren't many experts on American Jewish history in Israel."

While Jewish participation in the civil rights movement in the 1960s is well-documented, he said, what is less well-known is that Jews were active on behalf of blacks as far back as in the 1920s.

"I was trying to answer what made Jews more active than their white peers."

A career diplomat, Amrani has served a total of seven years in the Israeli Embassy in Washington, in several posts. The most recent was minister of political affairs, which he began in 1998.

Among his positions in Israel, he was part of the Israeli negotiating team with the Palestinian Authority in 1995 and 1996, an adviser to the president on foreign policy and a speech writer for the minister of foreign affairs.

As a student of American history, Amrani said he now has become a student of the American present.

Which leads him to his latest post. Nothing is more fitting for him, he said, than "coming west, where the high-tech revolution is happening as well as the creation of a global society."

Amrani noted the changes that have transformed the nature of the American-Israeli relationship into one that is more reciprocal than before.

"It's not a one-way road anymore," he said.

"One of the major assignments of the consul general is to be representative of the state of Israel to the Jewish community, but we should represent the American Jewish community's thinking to the government of Israel as well," he said. "We are all concerned with Jewish continuity, education, culture, and the relationship between Israel and American Jewry."

Amrani said he was surprised to hear that so many Bay Area Jews spend a lot of time in Israel, and some even own apartments there.

"I didn't know so many people shuttle between here and there," he said. "It's a symbol of the strong relationship and closeness between us. This is the fulfillment of a dream, for people to feel at home in both places."

He hopes to build further upon that relationship, continuing to strengthen it.

"It's beneficial for both Israel and the American Jewish community to enjoy each other's unique contributions, not financial but spiritual and conceptual," he said.

Amrani said before now, he never thought he would end up with one of the most highly coveted posts like San Francisco.

"I didn't dare dream or assume it," he said. "But now that I am receiving my first phone calls and reaching out to people, I feel lucky and privileged to be here. It's a dream come true."

Amrani described himself as an avid reader in his spare time. In addition to politics and history, he is a big fan of Israeli poetry. One of the few items he brought out with him is a small volume by Israeli poet Avraham Chalfi.

As he will not officially start until after Rosh Hashanah, the new consul general passed on his wishes to the Jewish community for a shana tova.

After that, he said, "I look forward to meeting people, working together and listening to whatever they have to say. I have a lot to learn, and I need advice and guidance."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."