The president-elect of Israel, Isaac Herzog, is a known figure to many in the American Jewish community, including in Atlanta. He comes from a line of Israel leaders, including his father Chaim Herzog, the sixth president of the Jewish state and has visited Atlanta many times.
When asked for one word to describe the person who will fill the mostly ceremonial post in Israel as of July 9, Atlantan Jed Rosenfeld said “mensch.” Rosenfeld recalls the summer of 1976 when he, as a 20-year-old, attended Camp Ramah Palmer in Massachusetts, one of the oldest Ramah camps. He vividly recalls a couple of Israeli siblings who were campers.
It’s not unusual for Israelis to attend American Jewish camps, but these two weren’t typical Israelis. When asked what their father did, they said simply, that he was a “sheliach” or emissary. Israeli emissaries are a dime a dozen in the United States, generally representing organizations such as The Jewish Agency for Israel. But Isaac and his sister Ronit’s father wasn’t just any emissary. He was Irish-born Chaim Herzog, who was serving as Israel’s representative to the United Nations.
A few years later, the children’s father became the president of the country, serving from 1983 to 1993.
Isaac Herzog, known by his childhood nickname “Bougie,” will be Israel’s 11th president and will serve one seven-year term. He was elected by the Knesset in a secret ballot June 2, receiving 87 votes against his sole competitor Miriam Peretz, who captured 27 votes. Herzog, who has headed The Jewish Agency since 2018, will replace President Reuven Rivlin next month.
“I intend to be the president of all Israelis, to lend an attentive ear to every position and respect every person,” Herzog told The New York Times.
According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Herzog noted that “the challenges are great and must not be underestimated. It is essential to tend to the bleeding wounds in our society; we must defend Israel’s international standing and its good name among the nations; combat antisemitism and hatred of Israel; protect the pillars of our democracy.”
Over the years, several observers have compared the Herzogs to the American Kennedys. Not only was Herzog’s father a significant figure in the Jewish world, his grandfather Rabbi Yitzhak Halevi Herzog was the first chief rabbi of Israel and then was Ashkenazi chief rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine/Israel from 1936 until 1959.
Isaac Herzog, born in 1960, attended elite schools in the United States when he wasn’t attending Camp Ramah. After he served in army intelligence in Israel, he attended Tel Aviv University Law School and joined his father’s law firm before turning to politics. The younger Herzog served as Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s cabinet secretary before running on the Labor Party slate between 2003 and 2018. He led that party the last five years before leaving politics.
The Israeli presidency, although ceremonial, encompasses several responsibilities. Only the president can grant pardons, a topic that has attracted attention recently in Israeli politics as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fights corruption charges in three current cases in court.
Rosenfeld, whose wife Sharon is director of development and board relations for Camp Ramah Darom in Georgia, speaks about Herzog with respect. But he also notes how humble, unassuming and modest Herzog was as a teenager. Indeed, some political pundits over the years have suggested that these attributes kept him from becoming prime minister of his country.
Rosenfeld’s description of Herzog contrasts from that of columnists, who compare the Herzog family to royalty. Not only was Herzog’s father Israel’s president, his uncle Yaakov served as political adviser to Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, and later as director general of the prime minister’s office under Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir. He also served as a diplomat in the United States and in Canada.
In addition to Herzog’s sister Ronit, who is a clinical psychologist in Tel Aviv, he has two brothers: Michael, who retired as a brigadier general in 2010, and Joel, the eldest, who is a businessman living in Geneva.
- Jan Jaben-Eilon
- Isaac Herzog
- Chaim Herzog
- Jed Rosenfeld
- Camp Ramah Palmer
- Jewish Agency for Israel
- United Nations
- Miriam Peretz
- New York Times
- President Reuven Rivlin
- Rabbi Yitzhak Halevi Herzog
- Tel Aviv University Law School
- Prime Minister Ehud Barak’
- Benjamin Netayahu
- Sharon Rosenfeld
- Yaakov Herzog
- Ehud Barak
- David Ben-Gurion
- Levi Eshkol
- Golda Meir
- Ronit Herzog
- Joel Herzog
- Michael Herzog