BOSTON – Come Saint Patrick’s Day, don’t be surprised to find the new Consul General of Israel to New England at one of Boston’s events celebrating the popular Irish holiday. Before stepping into his new role last October, Consul General Ze’ev Boker served for three years as Israel’s ambassador to Ireland.
He’s been impressed with the high level of cooperation between Boston’s Jewish and Irish communities, he said.
The New England Consulate is the first US assignment for the 60-year-old Boker, he told the Journal in a recent conversation not long after the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl victory parade made its way past the consulate’s Park Square office.
In his three-decades-long career in Israel’s foreign ministry, Boker has held diplomatic positions across Europe. He served as Israel’s first resident Ambassador to Slovakia and was deputy chief of mission in embassies in the former Czechoslovakia and the Netherlands.
He welcomes his newest position in Boston. “When you come here, you are surrounded by friends,” he said, noting there are relationships in fields ranging from the economy to innovation and technology. “There is a very strong Jewish community here, which is also a very active one. The sense of togetherness, for the benefits of the relationship between Israel and Boston, is very unique.”
He’s already made introductory visits across the region, including Connecticut. He is impressed with the scenic and cultural sites that he had visited only a few times as a tourist. And yes, Boker is a big sports fan. His passion is for basketball. In his younger days, he was an avid player on the kibbutz where he grew up. “I would naturally go to a Celtics parade,” he said with a chuckle.
As consul general, Boker is particularly interested in bolstering relations in the medical and academic fields. In meeting with the heads of some of the city’s large hospitals, he was struck that most had visited Israel.
Boker also sees greater potential in digital health, in part by bringing together hospital executives and leaders in medical innovation with their Israeli counterparts.
Among the pressing diplomatic responsibilities is sharing Israel’s perspective on the Middle East with the area’s elected leaders as well as the media and the general public. This includes the subject of Iran, and the threats it poses to his country, he said.
Boker didn’t grow up wanting to be a diplomat but acknowledged he came to the career a bit naturally. “It is based on a sense of mission which was part of my family background,” he said. His mother made her way from Poland to Palestine as a teen in 1938, before Israel became a state. She was the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust. His father, also born in Poland, was active in the Zionist youth movement. When he arrived in Palestine, he joined the Secret Service of the Haganah. After his parents married, they settled in Kibbutz Afek in the north of Israel, where their three children were born and raised.
In 1950, Boker’s father accepted a two-year assignment in New York where he worked with Jewish communities in the United States.
It is that sense of service – to kibbutz and to country – that influenced Boker’s own career choice. Growing up in the small, tight-knit kibbutz community was a good grounding for diplomacy, which requires strong team work, he said.
On a personal level, Boker and his wife, Lital (Tali) Keinan-Boker, have managed to juggle the demands of a dual-career couple. A highly accomplished doctor specializing in cancer research and the health of Holocaust survivors, Keinan-Boker is a professor of public health at Haifa University and is acting director of the Israel Center for Disease Control. They have three grown children. She has been to Boston twice since Boker became Consul General and he’s hoping she may be able to join him for a more extended time.
For a taste of home, he pops in to Cafe Landwer, the popular Israeli cafe that opened its first two US locations in Boston last year. He’s also discovered the various venues of Tatte Bakery and Cafe, owned by Tsurit Or, a Boston-based Israeli.
So far, Boker is impressed with the ways Boston’s Jewish community and Israelis living in the area have come together.
“If there’s any way that I can be facilitating more contact, I would be more than glad to do it,” he said.