JULY 19, 2018, BOSTON – Yehuda Yaakov, Consul General of Israel to New England, and his wife Ofra have become familiar and friendly faces in Boston, on the North Shore, and across the region. From attending Shabbat services at local synagogues, taking in concerts, and hosting Israelis in programs across the spectrum of academic, social, and cultural worlds, the couple has made diplomacy a family affair.
Now, as the consul general’s post in New England wraps up in August, the warm and engaging couple sat down at the consulate office in Park Square to reflect on their four years here and some of the milestones they experienced.
Among a handful of standout moments, Yaakov recalled hosting Lieutenant Shachar Erez, who was the first member of the Israel Defense Forces who came out as transgender. At one of the public programs where Erez spoke in March 2017, Bryan Bishop, cofounder and director of the Boston-based group OUTVETS, announced that the group would open an office in Tel Aviv, its first outside the United States.
“We were totally surprised. That was overwhelming,” Yaakov said. “There were a lot of people in that room holding back tears. That was a very powerful moment.”
Yaakov revealed he was deeply moved by an award from Colette Phillips of Get Konnected! in recognition for his contribution to diverse communities. The engraved glass award was presented at the consulate’s annual program last year commemorating the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Museum of African American History on Beacon Hill.
Below is an excerpt from the Journal’s interview with the Yaakovs.
Jewish Journal: In your tenure here, the consulate was involved in several high-profile accomplishments, including El Al’s launching of non-stop flights between Boston and Tel Aviv. What stands out for you in relations between Massachusetts and Israel?
Yehuda: The big ticket was Governor [Charlie] Baker’s first trip to Israel. We played an active, central role. It definitely helped cement the robust ties between the Israeli and Massachusetts ecosystem in cybersecurity and pointed it in the direction to create a more robust relationship in digital health.
Ofra: Our [monthly] Shabbat dinners, when we opened our house for not only Jewish people. For many, it was their first time at a Shabbat dinner, to hear the Kiddush, to talk about Israel. We made a lot of friends around that table. We did this together.
Yehuda: Diplomacy is a family affair.
JJ: What’s your favorite place to eat in Boston?
Ofra: Barcelona, the tapas restaurant [Barcelona Wine Bar], in Brookline.
Yehuda: Boston should work on its kosher restaurants. My advice to future investors: while Bostonians don’t like to look to New York, you can have a kosher restaurant that appeals to the general public.
JJ: What on the North Shore has left an impression?
Yehuda: Rockport. We take guests there and have gone to a number of performances [at Rockport Music]. The most memorable event on the North Shore was not that long ago, at Temple Emanu-El [in Marblehead], where I said farewell to the North Shore community. Rabbi [David] Meyer invited me to give out siddurim to young kids [third-graders from the religious school]. So many of them wanted to have their picture taken with me. That is definitely something we are going to remember.
JJ: What gems did you discover in your travels across New England?
Yehuda: The lighthouses.
Ofra: Yes, the lighthouses.
Yehuda: There is something about visiting a lighthouse during sunset.
JJ: You’ve offered many programs that highlighted Israel’s diverse population, including Ofra’s personal story as the daughter of Jewish immigrants who fled Iraq. What kind of response have you had?
Ofra: It’s a great audience for this.
Yehuda: Ofra is being modest. For four years, Ofra has spoken with students at Beacon Academy [a gap-year program for urban students entering high school] about her family’s story of being uprooted from their home and integrating into a new country.
Ofra: I had the chance to speak with students in class. Not only about my experience but about Israel in general. They are very intelligent students and they asked many questions about Israel.
JJ: What will you be up to when you return home to Israel?
Yehuda: I don’t have a formal position yet [in the Foreign Ministry]; that is under negotiation.
Ofra: I am looking forward to teaching science in the same school where I used to teach. I learned a lot here.
JJ: What will you miss?
Ofra: The fall colors and the lighthouses. We don’t have them in Israel.
Yehuda: The Jewish world; the effort to be welcoming of the other, in general, and in the Jewish world. I found this community very welcoming. There is a lot of love for Israel, and a lot of love in general.