Building a Bridge

The new Israeli consul for communications hopes to create dialogue between Israel and Jewish communities in the United States

By Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Young Arthur Lenk, a native of Patterson, N.J., was at his desk in the protocol division of the Israeli foreign ministry, when the radio flashed the news that Yitzhak Rabin has been assassinated.

His immediate assignment: to make all arrangements for the visit of 14 heads of state from the Middle East and Africa, who would arrive for the state funeral of the slain prime minister two days hence.

“I didn’t sleep for three days,” Lenk recalls, sitting in his office at the Israel consulate general in Los Angeles. “I didn’t have time to mourn. It didn’t hit me until much later.”

Five weeks afterward, his second daughter was born, who was named Ilana Rabin Lenk.

As the newly arrived consul for communications and public affairs, the 34-year-old Lenk doesn’t expect quite as intense an experience here, but he takes his new assignment seriously.

“As an Israeli who is a product of the American Jewish community, I hope to serve as a bridge between Israel and the Jewish communities of the southwestern United States,” he says. “My goal is to create a dialogue between equals.”

Pointing to the often acrimonious confrontations centering on the conversion bill and religious plurality in Israel, Lenk believes that “there have been many misconceptions on both sides. We have to learn to listen to each other, because we’re in this together.”

Lenk was raised in New Jersey in a traditional home, attended a “Conservative/Orthodox” day school, and after high school went to Israel to study at Hebrew University.

Two years later, he enlisted in the army, because “that’s the admission fee to be an Israeli.” A more pragmatic inducement for joining up was because “that’s where the girls were. And if you wanted to meet them, you had to speak Hebrew.”

After serving as a medic for 2 1/2 years, he went back to Hebrew University as a law student, and eventually passed the bar examinations in both Israel and New York state.

“I practiced business and trade law in Jerusalem for several years, and hated every minute of it,” he says. When he noticed a recruiting ad in a newspaper placed by the foreign ministry, he responded and changed his career path.

For the past two years, Lenk has been the cultural affairs consul at the Israeli embassy in New Delhi. Among other accomplishments, he introduced Indians to their first encounter with a klezmer band.

Lenk is awaiting the arrival of his wife, Ruth, also an American-born Israeli and a graphic artist, with their two young daughters.

He has found an apartment not far from the Israeli consulate. “If it weren’t illegal in Los Angeles,” he says, “I would walk to work.”