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An Americanophile, poet, and ex-diplomat reflects

Barukh Binah sat comfortably on a couch in his duplex apartment, his ankles approaching a coffee table whose shelf displayed large picture books on Chicago and on Washington. Behind him, floor-to-ceiling windows looked out onto Kfar Sava in central Israel. Classical music played.

Binah image
Barukh Binah, former Chicago-based Israel Consul General to the Midwest. Photo credit: Hillel Kuttler.

Barukh Binah sat comfortably on a couch in his duplex apartment, his ankles approaching a coffee table whose shelf displayed large picture books on Chicago and on Washington. Behind him, floor-to-ceiling windows looked out onto Kfar Sava in central Israel. Classical music played.

Not a bad way for Binah, 67, to pass the last day of 2017 and ring in his new life as a former diplomat.

"I'm coming back to my own country. I was residing in Copenhagen. I live in Israel," Binah, known affectionately as Bouby, said in fluent English with a British lilt. His parents and paternal grandfather served in British military and intelligence units going back to World War I.

A month earlier, Binah and his wife, Shuli, returned from his final posting, as Israel's ambassador to Denmark, and he officially retired after nearly four decades in the foreign service. Binah's previous assignments were all to the United States: Israel's consulate and United Nations mission in New York, twice at the embassy in Washington, D.C., and, from 2005 to 2008, as consul general in Chicago. Even in Jerusalem, he worked as deputy director-general of the foreign ministry's North American desk. His 14 years in the country brought Binah to 44 U.S. states.

"I was drawn to America and all that America stands for," he said.

The American Jewish communities left their mark, too. In Israel, "we were not synagogue-goers; we were secular," he said, but that changed in Washington, an outgrowth of their parenting two daughters attending Jewish day schools there, and continued in Chicago and Copenhagen. In Kfar Sava, they attend a Conservative synagogue. 

In Chicago, the family attended Lakeview's Anshe Emet Synagogue. Younger daughter Ronni Dror went to Chicagoland (now Rochelle Zell) Jewish High School and played for its basketball team. 

Living in Chicago, "I really understood the meaning of the word 'brethren,' " he said. 

"Seeing the flag of Israel on the bimah, next to the U.S. flag; seeing hundreds of people praying in Hebrew, which is my language, for the safety of the State of Israel and of IDF soldiers; making the cultural connection and the linguistic connection; making themselves interested in all things Israeli--I certainly felt at home in Chicago."

Binah paused to answer a call from elder daughter Nurit, the mother of the Binahs' two grandchildren.

"I wanted the Jewish community of Chicago to be proud of me and of the State of Israel," he said, picking up where he'd left off.

Binah mentioned some successes in Copenhagen, like closer relations between the countries' foreign and defense ministries; parliament twice not bringing to a vote a motion to recognize a Palestinian state; a bus company's pulling of a Palestinian poster attacking Israel; and Denmark's opening in 2017 of an innovations center at its Tel Aviv embassy.

"Denmark is a friend of Israel-full stop," he said. "They won't be as openly pro-Israel as the Czech Republic, England, or Germany. The flip side is: They won't allow [critical] European policy to interfere with their good relations with Israel."

Young-Sam Ma, South Korea's ambassador in Denmark during the same period, said he drew on Binah's insight.

"He explained to me the Danish position on many issues," said Ma, who also knew Binah while serving as ambassador to Israel and who in Copenhagen attended Seders and Chanukah parties at the Binahs' home. "I'm very sorry he's leaving the foreign service.  He was a very good asset."

Binah twice used a variation of the word "frustrate" regarding Israel's approach to Denmark.

The near-lack of visits to Denmark by Israeli ministers--during a period when the Danish crown prince, prime minister, foreign and education ministers, and parliament speaker traveled to Israel--was "a major disappointment for me," said Binah, adding that good relations "are not built on thin air; you have to foster them."

That was particularly painful in February 2015, when Denmark's crown prince and prime minister attended the funeral of Dan Uzan, a local Jewish man who was killed in a terrorist attack while guarding a bat mitzvah party in a Copenhagen synagogue. 

Binah called the murder "devastating." He said he urged his bosses to dispatch an Israeli minister to attend the funeral.

"None came," he said.

"I wrote bitterly about it. The government of Israel should have been represented at a ministerial level. The man killed was half-Israeli. He was killed protecting a synagogue, shot in the head by a Danish-Palestinian terrorist. The Danish community took notice of that. It was a direct rebuke. It was a bad mistake."

The murder occurred after Binah said he lobbied Danish officials to increase security at the embassy and at Jewish institutions following Muslim terrorists' murder of 16 people at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and at a kosher supermarket, both in Paris, the previous month.

Writing a book about his diplomatic career doesn't appeal to Binah, whose literary juices flow in other directions. The author of a book of poetry, It Just Seems to be Healing , Binah now is translating to Hebrew the poems of May Wedderburn Cannan. For a 2016 issue of an Israeli literary journal, he translated a poem of Rupert Brooke, who, like Cannan, was a Brit who wrote about World War I. 

And every day or two, Binah posts on Facebook limericks he's composed. He likes the form because "you have to crystallize your message, focus it," he said.

Diplomacy was then. This is now.

He said: "To quote an American folk [song], 'But the land was sweet and good/And I did what I could.'

"I did what I could."

Hillel Kuttler is an award-winning editor/writer for companies, non-profit organizations, and many of America's leading publications. His feature articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post,  and  The Wall Street Journal.

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