Moran Birman has taken over the reins as Israel’s deputy consul general for the Mid-Atlantic region, replacing the popular Elad Strohmeyer.
IT MAY NOT rank as high on the changing-of-the-guard scale as Dan Rather taking over for Walter Cronkite, John Roberts replacing William Rehnquist or even Trevor Noah stepping into the time slot made famous by Jon Stewart, but even so, Moran Birman knows he has a tough act to follow.
That’s because Birman has taken over the reins here as Israel’s deputy consul general for the Mid-Atlantic region, replacing the popular Elad Strohmeyer, who recently completed his three-year stint.
But Moran (pronounced Mow-rahn, which distinguishes him from his twin fraternal brother, Manor — same letters, different order) welcomes the challenge. It’s what he’s been pointing toward since he first
started thinking about being a diplomat while growing up on Kibbutz Sha’ar HaGolan, near the Golan Heights.
“As a teenager, I thought working as a diplomat abroad looked like an exciting, special position,’’ recalled the 32-yearold Birman, who arrived in the area two weeks ago, acclimating not only to a new job, but a new city in a new country. “But it’s not something I focused on after that — when I went to school, I was focusing on becoming a lawyer.”
That would be at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where Birman got his degree, then interned with a Tel Aviv law firm. He specialized in commercial litigation, antitrust and communications, most of which really won’t come into play now with the consulate.
Consul General Yaron Sideman is happy to have him by his side. “Moran is a smart, knowledgeable diplomat with an impressive skill set and very well suited for the job,” said Sideman. “I feel extremely fortunate to have Moran as a partner and colleague.”
While Sideman handles the inner workings of the consulate — whose territory includes Philadelphia, South Jersey, Delaware, Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky — Birman will essentially be his money man. “I’m in charge of the administrative part — the salaries, the grants, the bank accounts. It’s a very interesting as well as colorful position made up of so many different issues.”
He got a crash course in what to expect when he came to town for a week in June, after accepting the position. “I was with Elad for three days and could see how good he was at his position and how everybody loved him,” said Birman, who spent much of that time hunting for an apartment and meeting some of the people he’d be working with.
It wasn’t as if Birman had a lot of time to plan for this, either. The way it works when you want to work for the Israeli ministry, you go through an elaborate screening process, which narrows down the field. According to him, he was one of 28 selected among 2,700 applicants.
Over the course of a year, he took a variety of tests and had to demonstrate enough proficiency in English to make the grade. In addition, the candidates went through team bonding sessions to show their ability
to work in groups.
“They don’t tell where you might go,” said Birman, whose only previous exposure to the United States had been as a 14-year-old, when he went to Disney World, New York and Las Vegas. “Only when you
finish do you find out about the openings.”
All this while Moran and his then fiancée Dana had other things on their mind — first and foremost, planning their May 22 wedding. It’s been so hectic since they never even had a chance to go on their honeymoon, which he’s hoping to change once they get settled in.
“It’s not easy to leave,” agreed Moran, the youngest among his other brother Yoni, and sisters Maya and Hilli. There’s also his father, Shaul, and mother, Dirtza, along with 12 nephews and nieces — which includes two other sets of twins. “Most of my family and our friends promise they’ll visit, but we’ll see about that,” he smiled, skeptically.
“We’ll manage. The next few weeks, I’ll have some time, so we can enjoy the city. It looks like a great place to live, but we’re not sure if we’re ready for the winter because it’s very different from Israel.”
There is one similarity to home Birman has already discovered. “I didn’t know there were so many good places to eat here,” said Moran, whose slender physique doesn’t give off the impression of someone who indulges too much. “I’m a foodie. Tel Aviv is a very good place for foodies and I think Philadelphia is good as well. All I knew about Philadelphia was what we studied in school in history, and that the Liberty Bell was here.
“I didn’t know how big it was and how nice and polite everybody in the city is. It’s different than Israel. Israel is a very intense country — we have hot tempers. Sometimes we can be less polite.”
When it comes to the art of diplomacy, though, a deputy consul general always has to be on his best behavior. Even though he’s only been here a short while, Birman has already seen Sideman and the rest of his consulate colleagues in action. “Yaron does an amazing job in fostering Israel’s relations within the region,” said Birman, who spent three years in the Israeli Air Force after graduating high school. “I hope I have time to visit all these places in our region and also see the country.
“I hope to experience some of the American things we don’t have in Israel; to understand what the people of Philadelphia care about. I think an important part of my job is to be part of the Jewish community.”
At the same time, Dana will be busy going for her Master of Laws degree at Drexel, meaning the honeymoon may have to wait. Wherever they go, it won’t be easy topping the trip Moran took with a friend in 2006, prior to entering law school. “It’s very common for Israelis after they finish school to go on a long trip,” said Birman, who took a seven month journey to Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Laos and Burma. “It was amazing. I went with one friend, but then we met some people there and others came over. We’d go camping some days, or we’d stay in hostels. It was a very good experience.”
Now he’s ready for another, a stranger in a strange land that has suddenly become home. “I see myself as an Israeli and as a Jew,” said Birman, whose name comes from an Israeli flower. “But I will also be happy to at least feel a little American — and a Philadelphian, too.”
Yo, Moran! Have a pretzel — and welcome to Philly!