Our friendly and excellent guides are available as Step On Guides for any visiting tour or coach operators who may like a unique, entertaining and educational tour of Irish History and the events of Easter Week 1916.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Irish Statesmen Abroad - The Series

The 1916 Easter Rising generated a generation of Irish leaders and statesmen but as a small island we have punched well above our weight providing statesmen for nations across the world.                    This series published everyday over the next two weeks looks at their stories.

Episode Six - The President of Israel

The late President of Israel Chaim Hertzog was born on Cliftonpark Avenue Belfast in September 1918 but would spend much of his early life in Dublin. His father Rabbi Isaac Hertzog was made the Chief Rabbi of Ireland a year after Chaim was born and the family moved to Bloomfield Avenue near Portobello in Dublin. The area had become known as Little Jerusalem.  The young Chaim studied at Wesley College.

As a young boy in Dublin some of his earliest memories was of war and the battles in the South Circular Road area between opposing sides of the Irish Civil War. He wrote once
            ‘I was only three years old but already quite inquisitive and probably too mischievous. As I wandered out into the front garden (of 102 South Circular Road) to watch the battle a man driving a horse and cart went past and shot dead in front of me. I recall the horse wandering aimlessly a dead man lying in the cart in a grotesque manner.’

Despite the fact that Hertzog senior was born in Poland, he became a fluent Irish speaker as was his son Chaim and was a supporter of Sinn Fein and the first Dail Eireann. In 1935 the entire Hertzog family immigrated to what was then Palestine. Within a year of the move Chaim Hertzog had become involved in a Jewish paramilitary movement and took part on the 1936 -39 Arab Revolt.

Chaim Hertzog then studied for a law degree at University College London and qualified as a barrister at the Kings Inn. During World War Two he served with the British Army in a tank crew and was present at the liberation of some concentration camps in Germany including Bergen Belsen during the last days of the war. After the war he returned to Palestine and married Eygptian born Ora Ambache. As the new Jewish state emerged from British rule into independence in 1948 Chaim’s father became the first Chief Rabbi of Israel but their new state was plunged into violence as Arab neighbours objected militarily to the new Jewish state.

He would serve in the Israeli military until 1962 when he retired at the rank of Major General. After leaving his military career he returned to law and created one of the largest legal firms in Israel. In 1975 he was appointed the Israeli representative at the United Nations apposition he held for three years.

In 1981 he won a seat to the Israeli parliament and in 1983 was elected to the position of President of Israel. He served two five year terms. He became the first Israeli President to visit the United States when Ronald Reagan was President and the first to visit Germany. In 1985 he made a state visit to his native Ireland opening the Irish Jewish Museum in Dublin during his visit. He visited both Belfast and Dublin where he was born and grew up and reports at the time were laced with witticisms such as ‘the only President of a foreign country who speaks as Gaeilge’ and ‘ the man who achieved the presidency in one generation while it took the Kennedy’s three’.  In 1997 he passed away in Tel Aviv and is buried in Jerusalem. In a New York Times obituary they described Chaim Hertzog as being ‘steeped in the splendours and sorrows of Jewish History’ who had never lost his Irish brogue. 

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