Breaking News? Ham Served at the Israeli Embassy!

June 25, 2014

Ellen Eisenberg, author of an upcoming volume devoted to Oregon Jews 1950 – 2010, continues to unearth memorable items from our archives. Of particular interest this week is a noteworthy letter written in 1951 by Israeli diplomat and politician, Abba Eban, to Rabbi Yonah Geller. At the time Eban was serving as the Israeli ambassador to the United States. Rabbi Yonah Geller lived in Texas; nine years later he would became the rabbi at Congregation Shaarie Torah, where he served until 2000. The letter is among Rabbi Geller’s papers, now part of OJM archives. 

It all started with an October 31, 1951 article in the Saturday Evening Post. Titled “The Witty Young Man from Israel” its authors praised the 36-year old Eban for his erudition, masterful oratory skills, and friendly demeanor. About halfway through the story, however, was this:

Like many of today’s Israelis, the ambassador has always been a political rather than a religious Zionist. His attitude toward the Jewish faith is one of reverence but not of orthodox observance.  Ham sandwiches are served at embassy teas and liquor is offered to guests. 

Rabbi Geller was perturbed enough by the statement to express his dismay directly to Abba Eban himself. Eban replied,

I strongly resent your assumption that I “have a voracious appetite for ham”. It is completely untrue that “ham is served at Embassy teas”, and I am astonished that a mere statement to that effect in a journal, for whose accuracy I have no responsibility, should have been accepted by you without confirmation.

 In a handwritten note at the bottom on the letter, Eban added a touch of his celebrated wit. By the Rabbinical laws of evidence the statement of the Saturday Evening Post is quite inadequate to establish a “fact”!