August 19, 2019

Newman Ready for Diplomatic Post in L.A.

Photo courtesy of Hillel Newman

For career diplomats working at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a posting to Los Angeles as the Jewish state’s consul general for the southwestern United States is about as good as it gets.

Longtime career diplomat Hillel Newman was tapped for the role at the beginning of this year. According to a release from Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Newman, 54, will begin his official duties sometime toward the end of June or the beginning of July. 

Eitan Weiss has been the acting consul general since Sam Grundwerg left the position to join the Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal (UIA) last November. 

Speaking with the Journal from his home in Jerusalem, Newman ticked off some of the reasons why he — and his country — assigns so much importance to the City of the Angels and California. Among them, he said, “California — in and by itself – is now the fifth-largest economy in the world, sets the pace in technology and innovation, has a large and active Jewish community, and wields considerable political clout.” In addition, he noted, “There is Hollywood, which by now includes quite a few Israelis, with its enormous global outreach.”

The last two consul generals here were transplanted English speakers, David Siegel, born in New Hampshire, and Sam Grundwerg, from Florida, and now comes Newman, who was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. All were raised in strongly Zionist homes and all have accomplished the difficult task of speaking fluent Hebrew, with barely a trace of a foreign accent.

“Both Jewish life and identity are in jeopardy. There are the direct murderous attacks at synagogues in Pittsburgh and San Diego and the internal threats of assimilation and lack of Jewish education.”  — Hillel Newman

Newman’s father, Rabbi Jacob Newman, was born in Slovakia, then part of Czechoslovakia. After making aliyah and marrying, the family moved to the coastal Israeli town of Netanya. It’s where Hillel learned to love the sea, a sentiment he hopes his own son, Ram, 9, will adopt toward the Pacific Ocean during the family’s four-year stay here.

Newman has been an Israeli diplomat for the past 20 years. He earned a doctorate in Jewish history and Judaic studies from Israel’s Bar-Ilan University and mastered ancient Greek to research the history of Israel during the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

In the mid-1980s, he served as a medic in the Israel Defense Forces during the Lebanon War.

As a diplomat, he has served as the Israeli ambassador to the Republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, where his list of assignments included the preservation of Jewish cemeteries and “facilitation” of a supply of matzo and kosher wine for Passover.

For the past two years, Newman has served as a special policy adviser to Israeli Foreign Ministry Director Yuval Rotem, himself a former consul general in Los Angeles from 1999-2004.  

As both an activist and a researcher, Newman was at the forefront of countering running attacks on the Jewish practices of circumcision and shechitah (ritual slaughtering). Today, he said, “Both Jewish life and identity are in jeopardy. There are the direct murderous attacks at synagogues in Pittsburgh and San Diego and the internal threats of assimilation and lack of Jewish education.”

A press release from the Foreign Ministry notes that Newman “has gathered extensive experience in professional advocacy, public speaking, networking, new media connectivity and the cultivation of both formal and informal contacts. … [He is] passionate about the preservation of global Jewish identity and the safety and security of the State of Israel.”

CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this story, former consul general Sam Grundwerg’s new position was misreported. Grundwerg is World Chairman of the Keren Hayesod – United Israel Appeal (UIA).