The Philadelphia-based Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region officially closes its doors Aug. 15.
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When the Philadelphia-based Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region officially closes its doors Aug. 15, don’t be surprised to hear outgoing Consul General Yaron Sideman doing his best Sinatra imitation.
“It’s up to you, New York, New York.”
“While it’s very disheartening and saddening that this was the decision, I’m sure that we’re not gonna lose a heartbeat,” said Sideman while the consulate was hosting its final event on July 6 to raise money for a proposed cardiac unit at Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot, Israel. “With New York, there will be an orderly transition process.
“New York is going to handle Pennsylvania [as well as previous Mid-Atlantic offices in South Jersey, Delaware and Ohio]. This is being conducted in an organized way. We’ve had several months to figure out how to do it in a way that’s as smooth and workable as possible.”
Yet even New York Consul General Dani Dayan admits it can’t help but be different.
“Whoever says there is not going to be a difference pre-Aug. 15 and post-Aug. 15 is not accurate,” said Dayan, who assumed his new position on Aug. 2. “There is a difference between the previous situations where you were an elevator ride away from the consulate, and now you’re a two-hour drive away.
“But we are committed to minimizing that difference. We will visit frequently. We will see and be seen. We will continue giving the Jewish community in Philadelphia the service it merits.”
Meanwhile, Sideman will head to his home in Rehovot, while deputy consul general, Moran Birman and his wife, Dani will move to Chicago. For both diplomats, it’s a bittersweet moment.
“It’s been sweet to be able to make so many friends and acquaintances, and it’s been a privilege to represent Israel in his region,” said Sideman, who leaves after four years, nearly half of which was spent fending off rumors of the consulate closing. “And, of course, it’s very sad to have to leave under the circumstances of closing the consulate.
“What I’ll miss most after four years is the Jewish community here. It’s been warm and embracing to my family and made us feel really at home away from home. We’re very grateful for the community taking us into its arms.”
And Birman is grateful for getting to see a different side of Jewish life.
“I’m not sure if it surprised me, but the Jewish community here is very different from what you see in Israel,” said the 33-year-old Birman. “Not only because the majority here are not Orthodox, but also because of the Jewish community centers, the Jewish Federation and others like them. Jewish organizations are something we don’t have in Israel, because Judaism in Israel is almost a part of being Israeli.
“Also, for me to go to synagogue here was very different. Things like people driving a car to synagogue and hearing the songs and music with all the different melodies — which I loved — was a whole new experience.”
Between what he learned about the Jewish community, politics and the world of academia in his interactions with people ranging from rabbis to students, senators and Jewish community leaders, Birman is confident that will ease his transition.
While Sideman and Birman expressed confidence that New York will be able to meet local community leads, Lou Balcher, who led a “save the consulate” movement, is making plans in the not-too-distant future to bring back the consulate.
He’s convinced Israel will soon see the error of its ways and rectify the situation.
“This is a country and it can do whatever it wants to do,” said Balcher, national director of American Friends of the Kaplan Medical Center. “If they decide tomorrow they want to put a new consulate in Philadelphia, they can do it.”
He said there are financial, practical and symbolic reasons for having a consulate in Philadelphia.
“One of Israel’s biggest challenges is messaging,” Balcher said. “Being the cradle of liberty, we should have Israel’s presence in the nation’s first capital. I firmly believe they’ll see the light.”
Until that happens, New York will be calling the shots for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Speaking of Netanyahu, who lived here from 1956 to 1958 and 1963 to 1967 and graduated from Cheltenham High School, how do officials respond to charges he’s turning his back on his old neighborhood?
“This is not a personal thing,” Sideman said. “This iurely a decision based on budgetary considerations. There were other missions shut down due to those same considerations. It has absolutely nothing to do with anything else.”
“I assume the considerations of the prime minister of Israel are wider than local patriotism in the place he grew up and started,” said the Argentinian-born Dayan. “His responsibility is huge.
“If he felt he had to make this decision you can give him credit it for was significant reasons. “
Regardless, the Big Apple is talking a big bite out of the Philadelphia and surrounding area Jewish community, promising in the long run things will be fine. “This is a commitment,” concluded Dayan. “The Jewish community and Philadelphia in general will be able to assess if we fill it or not .
“I’m sure we will. Having said that I’m not denying New York will be our No. 1 priority. But Philadelphia will be a strong No. 2.”
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