Thursday, October 02, 2008

Harry Hurwitz 1924 - 2008

Photo credit: B. Medad

Harry Hurwitz, founder and president of the Menachem Begin Heritage Foundation and the initiator and moving-force of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center and its first Head, passed away on October 1 - 3 Tishrei following a heart attack. His funeral will take place on Friday, in Jerusalem at 11 AM at the Har Menuchot Cemetery.

Harry Hurwitz was born in Latvia and moved with his family to South Africa in 1934. He was active in the Betar youth movement leadership and created numerous youth groups. He was variously the General Secretary, Vice Chairman and Chairman of the Zionist Revisionist Orgnaization there as well as the long-time editor of the Jewish Herald. He was also the acting Chairman of the Zionist Federation.

He and his wife Freda made aliyah in 1978. Harry served as advisor to Prime Minister Menachem Begin on External Information and World Jewry and also as Minister of Information at Israel's Embassy in Washington, DC. Under Prime Minister Shamir, he served as advisor on World Jewry.

In 1992, he began his activities to establish the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem. He wrote a biography of Menachem Begin which is in its third edition (and has been translated into Chinese, Finnish and Russian).

He leaves his wife, Freda, his son Hillel, his grandchildren Sharon, Nirit and Ilan, and his two great-grandsons, Boaz and Eitan.

Photo credit: Miri Tzachi

Some personal reflections:

At the age of 17, having joined the Betar Zionist youth movement in New York, I found myself many times volunteering in the office which then was located on Nassau Street, off Lower Manhattan's business district. There was always some type of office work to do - folding newsletters, stuffing them into envelopes, addressing and sealing them and, the hard part, taking them over to the Post Office for mailing. And there was mail that came in. Every week, a rolled-up tight weekly came in to the office and the really serious types would try to be amongst the first to open it up.

After a few minutes off undoing the rolls and folds, taking care not to rip any page, what greeted our eyes was another issue of South Africa's Jewish Herald. It was the periodical of the Zionist Revisionist organization, Jabotinsky's movement. It provided us with up-to-date information, opinion and pictures of what was going on in one of the more active branches as well as, and perhaps more importantly, what was happening in Israel. Translations of speeches and articles of Menachem Begin, Yochanan Bader and Haim Landau were there for the reading and imbibing. It was our sourcebook. And Harry Hurwitz was the editor. As such, he became for us a fountainhead of knowledge.

Just about two years after coming on Aliyah, I attended the 28th Zionist Congress in 1972 and I think it was there that I first met Harry personally. The Betar ideology highlights an attribute that Jabotinsky termed "hadar", which means carrying ones self with the self-recognition that we are the progeny of kings and priests and prophets and as such, it implied a certain chivalry in conduct and life-style, a combination, as Jabotinsky would have it, of "outward beauty, respect, self-esteem, politeness, faithfulness". We, who had met Menachem Begin, thought we knew what Jabotinsky meant. In meeting Harry, with his elocution, his sartorial elegance, his bearing, the concept became clearer. His wife, Freda, was the perfect complement.

We occasionally corresponded and met, off and on. The news that he had literally heeded the call of Begin and made Aliyah was another quite impressive deed for us. I heard good things about his work in Washington and upon his return, again, state and Zionist organization events would bring us together.

In 2000, he, and Herzl Makov, accepted me as a member of the staff of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. Harry, approaching 80, came in every day, made trips, and wrought what was for the Revisionist movement a near miracle, he managed to construct a $15 million edifice. And I also sharpened my writing and editorial skills as we would issue letters and bulletins, with his assistant, Ilana Brown. And I will admit, there were clashes of sentence framing, syntax and style. But I always trusted his choices when it came to fine-tuning my translations. Both of us were usually quite satisfied with the outcome of these "discussions". I think I can now disclose a secret. A good few of the letters I had published in the Jerusalem Post and other newspapers around the globe, were either at his initiative or after his perusal of their contents. We had become partners.

He overcame the minor stroke he suffered some five years ago and the "early" obituary that Shmuel Katz penned was framed and hung on the wall of his office. Katz, "Moekie" to us, a fellow South African, predeceased Harry by some four months. They had their disagreements about political policies but both were examples for a young man growing older and, thanks to them, wiser in the issues of the day and the adventure of Zionism.

Harry and I still have a project to complete. He was working on a collection of the correspondence between Begin and Anwar Sadat between 1977 and 1981 and I was to help. I am sure that we'll see it through.

Harry, Tel Chai!


Anonymous said...

Harry z'l. United with the heroes whose ideals he held so dear, may his memory be a blessing and his tireless work be an inspiration for all of our people.

Batya said...

I'm glad you like the picture I took of Harry.
I also wrote on my blogs:

He was a wonderful person and will be missed.

Suzanne Pomeranz said...

What a caring and dear man, a real mensche and committed to the State of Israel. He shall surely be missed

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

My condolences to his family, Betarim, and Klal Yisrael. We have lost a true gentleman. Interesting that you focussed on the hadar characteristic. As soon as I saw the news, I thought of that.

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Yeah he was a great man, he fights against the injustice and social racism and descrimination, he was just amazing.
Thanks for sharing, and sorry for family lost.

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Just wanted to thank you, not just because the nice post, but pretty much more because my grandfather is nearly recovering from his surgery and he has almost nothing to do but staying on bed all day, his best source of entertainment has been this blog and I feel this is something good for him and his recovery.

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Harry Hurwitz (January 27, 1938 – September 21, 1995) was an American film director, screenwriter, actor and producer.

His directorial debut film The Projectionist also included the first acting role for actor/comedian Rodney Dangerfield. He often used the pseudonym "Harry Tampa". Before becoming a director, Hurwitz was a professor of film and drawing at the State University of New York at New Paltz, New York University, Cooper Union and the Parsons School of Design.

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