“There was a kind of inevitability about our coming to Israel… it was like an element of faith.”
A remarkable connection between Northern Ireland and Israel came to an end at the weekend, with the death of Israel Shachter. He was the last surviving child of Rabbi Jacob Shachter, spiritual leader of the Belfast Jewish community for more than a quarter of a century, from 1926 to 1954. The Shachter children, all of whom were Belfast educated, made a remarkable contribution to the state of Israel. A former pupil of Belfast Royal Academy and graduate of Queen’s University, Israel was one of the country’s leading patent attornies. He was at the cutting edge of Israeli innovation, for instance, patenting drip irrigation which made the desert bloom. Brother Haim, a lexicographer, produced one of the most-used Hebrew-English dictionaries, which helped standardise the Hebrew language for English speakers. Rabbi Shachter retired to Jerusalem in the 1950s and was a respected scholar and broadcaster. Israel’s brother, Joseph, and sister, Miriam, were involved in the educational and literary fields in Israel and in England, and a fourth sibling, Annie, retired to Israel in 1984.
Israel Shachter last visited Belfast in 2002 when he donated a portrait of his late father, by R. Taylor Carson, to the Ulster Museum.
As a tribute to Israel we reproduce here an interview he gave to the Jerusalem Post in which he described his early experiences as an immigrant to the new State of Israel. We extend our condolences to his three daughters and their families.
“Through all the deepening clouds of disillusionment and at times despondency, I have to recognize that there has been built up in this country an incredible and essentially vibrant structure and culture, and the extraordinary significance of this fact. I just can’t imagine myself anywhere else, with 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren here.”
Veterans: From the UK to Ramat Aviv, Israel Shachter
As a patent attorney who came to the country in 1959 and worked in his field for 47 years, 40 of them here, Israel Shachter found many Israeli inventions crossing his path, from, as he puts it, “the sublime to the ridiculous.” In the first category he puts drip irrigation, which appeared on his desk some time near the beginning of his career here, managed to make a slow start in an impoverished Negev kibbutz and ended up with a turnover of $1 billion a year. In the second he lists the scam perpetrated on the late Ya’acov Meridor, a leading member of Menachem Begin’s government, in 1981 which entered the national consciousness as “the light bulb that would light up Ramat Gan.” The Likud politician gave a pre-election interview in which he claimed that a new source of energy had been discovered which could light up Ramat Gan for the cost of a light bulb. “He came to my office,” recalls Shachter, “and we began to get details of the invention. Eventually it transpired that he’d been conned and the whole thing blew up, but he was never allowed to live it down.”
LIFE BEFORE ALIYA He was born in Manchester where his father, Jacob, had been invited to come from Romania to be the rabbi of a synagogue; to this day it is known as the Romanian Shul. When he was six weeks old, his father moved the family to Belfast, Northern Ireland, where he had been appointed rabbi, succeeding Isaac Herzog, who moved to Dublin and later to Israel. He moved to London in 1951 and the following year, with a degree in physics, he married Norma. They had two daughters. He studied and qualified as a chartered patent attorney and began a career which he stayed with for the rest of his working life. In 1959, they made aliya. “There was a kind of inevitability about our coming to Israel. I’d never even visited, although Norma had, but I was born into Zionism, it was like an element of faith. The Zionist ethos was overwhelmingly pervasive in my home and formed an integral part of the Orthodox tradition into which I was born and grew up. “When I was offered a partnership in the patent firm I was working for in London, I realized if I ever want to move to Israel, it has to be now.”
PREPARATION “In those days in the patent world, one knew about most of the main players in the international field, and I wrote a letter to the leading firm here asking about the possibilities. To my surprise I got an instant reply saying they were interested in me. In June 1959 we started the whole process of correspondence and by December of that year we made aliya.”
THE JOURNEY “We sailed on the Theodor Herzl, a magnificent boat, but the journey was traumatic because the sea was very rough – it was mid-winter – and my wife and the children were sick. When we boarded at Marseille, the Israeli cabin girl asked why on earth we wanted to come and live in Israel.”
ARRIVAL “We had arranged accommodation in the absorption center in Beit Brodetsky in Ramat Aviv and as we were a family were given a three-bedroom ‘cottage,’ complete with an icebox and paraffin stove. The ice was delivered and changed every day, but eventually we rented a proper refrigerator. There were two cars parked outside the hostel in the main street of Ramat Aviv – ours and the director’s. “Life was different then. We didn’t feel we were roughing it, because life was simpler for everyone and there weren’t the great gaps there are today.
” SETTLING IN They stayed in Beit Brodetsky longer than usual and eventually bought a small cottage in Holon, which was handy for the Tel Aviv office. In 1965, as finances improved they bought one of the first apartments to go up in Ramat Aviv, and came back to where they’d started their Israel odyssey, staying there until 1998 when they moved to Ra’anana.
DAILY LIFE He went to the office every day, rising from employee to partner and eventually senior partner. “It was the age of huge technological development, before the hi-tech revolution,” says Shachter. “We dealt with big projects like desalination and a variety of other technological subjects, for example in the field of military hardware and its civilian spin-offs.”
LIFE SINCE ALIYA He was professionally involved in the amendment and drafting of intellectual property laws and represented Israel abroad at international congresses. Norma worked as a librarian at Tel Aviv University and another daughter was born in 1965. With a fascination for history, he had many plans to study after his retirement 10 years ago. Sadly Norma died in 2000 and since then he lives alone in a Ra’anana apartment but plans to move to sheltered housing soon. From there he will carry on his various studies, mainly in history and music.
BEST THING ABOUT ISRAEL “Through all the deepening clouds of disillusionment and at times despondency, I have to recognize that there has been built up in this country an incredible and essentially vibrant structure and culture, and the extraordinary significance of this fact. I just can’t imagine myself anywhere else, with 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren here.”
ADVICE “One shouldn’t look at coming here as an escape from an existing situation. It was ideology that brought me and kept me here, and if you’re not imbued with some kind of deep belief that what you are doing is right, it’s not going to work out.”