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Dr. Avraham Avi-hai z”l

A man of vision

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Avraham Avi-hai

On the shloshim for Dr. Avraham Avi-hai z”l, we want to honor his memory and share a bit about him:

Dr. Avraham Avi-hai z”l served as World Chairman of Keren Hayesod – United Israel Appeal from 1978 to 1988. His embodiment of Zionist leadership furthered the concept that “all of Israel is responsible for one another – ערבים זה לזה”. He engaged in political work alongside founding leaders such as David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol, advanced education, helped initiate social projects, published articles, worked to foster unity, and contributed greatly to strengthening the relationship between Israel and world Jewry.

Dr. Avi-hai was born in 1931 in Toronto, Canada, as Sid Appelbaum, to a traditional Zionist family. When he was still in high school, he led the revitalization of “Hashomer Hadati“, the religious Zionist movement in Toronto, whose purpose was to prepare young people for aliyah and life on kibbutzim.

In 1949, Dr. Avi-hai married Hannah Adina Spiegel. He moved to Los Angeles to help lead the local youth movement and held several public positions in the Jewish community. In 1952, he and his wife made aliyah to a kibbutz in the South, where he worked as a farmer and construction laborer. In 1966, he returned to North America for two years to complete his studies. He graduated with a bachelor’s in Hebrew literature, a master’s, and a doctorate in public law and government from Columbia University in New York. Since 1976, he lived in Jerusalem. After he and his wife divorced, he married American-born Henrietta Wagner (née Bassan). Together, they raised a large family of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Among the many positions he held, Dr. Avi-hai served as an advisor to Prime Ministers David Ben-Gurion and Levi Eshkol, as well as to Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek. For over ten years, he served as Mr. Eshkol’s English speechwriter, accompanied him on state visits to the United States, including on the historic first visit of an Israeli prime minister to the United States, and served as his secretary for public affairs. As part of his job, Dr. Avi-hai organized conferences in Jerusalem that laid the groundwork for Israel’s future hi-tech economy.

Dr. Avi-hai was also involved in writing over the years. He wrote and published many books and articles and wrote for The Jerusalem Post. Additionally, he served as a news editor and announcer on Voice of Israel English broadcasts, served as acting director of Kol Zion LaGolah, and wrote for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. As a journalist, he covered, among other things, the trial of Adolf Eichmann.

Dr. Avi-hai attributed great importance to education. In the early 1970s, he held various positions, serving as dean of the Rothberg School at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, visiting professor at the University of Rochester in the United States, and guest professor at the University of York in Toronto.

His commitment to Israel, the Jewish world, and Zionism were always his guiding principles, motivating him to work towards strengthening the ties between Israel and the world Jewish community. He helped the Conservative movement establish the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem and supported the Reform movement’s leadership in opening the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem. He encouraged mayors to open prayer centers based on the values of the Declaration of Independence and religious freedom.

Dr. Avi-hai’s extensive experience in the Jewish world served as fertile ground for serving as the World Chairman of Keren Hayesod, Israel’s official fundraising arm, between 1978 and 1988. By virtue of his role as World Chairman of Keren Hayesod, he served as a member of the Executive of the Jewish Agency.

In this capacity, he worked to bolster the connection between Keren Hayesod communities worldwide and Israel and to enhance Keren Hayesod donors’ commitment to developing and strengthening Israel. He raised funds to support efforts in various areas, including immigration and absorption of new immigrants; assisting vulnerable populations and reducing disparities, with an emphasis on the periphery in Israel; the historic Project Renewal; establishing social institutions and cultural enterprises; and developing and protecting communities. Many of the projects he was involved in still exist. Together with Keren Hayesod chair Phil Granovsky of Canada, they created the KH World Board of Trustees.

Dr. Avi-hai placed special emphasis on developing and strengthening young leadership and the next generation of donors and supporters of Israel. In recognition of his work, Keren Hayesod established the Avraham Avi-hai Award in 1989, for exemplary young Keren Hayesod leaders.

“My prescription for a long life is to be happy, positive, and optimistic, to give a lot of love, and to receive love in return,” wrote Dr. Avraham Avi-hai in one of his articles. These words symbolize the way that this special and engaged individual lived, contributing so much to Israel’s development, connections with world Jewry and the education of generations of students and leaders who helped bring Israel to where it is today.

We invite you to watch the following film in memory of Dr. Avraham Avi-hai z”l.

May his memory be a blessing.