June 11, 2024
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David Levi: A Tribute to a Proud Jew and Defender of Israel

Serving as executive editor of the largest and oldest Jewish newspaper west of Pittsburgh (founded in 1897), based in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to develop a close relationship with the Israeli consulate. Since I’m fluent in Hebrew, I was asked to simultaneously translate speeches and presentations of visiting Israeli dignitaries. When David Levi was foreign minister and, later, deputy prime minister of Israel, he visited Los Angeles a number of times. We had such a good rapport that he actually suggested that I translate for him. Once we spent a Shabbat lunch together at the Beverly Hills home of one of Los Angeles’ premier caterers who knew Levi from his earlier life in Israel. My family was invited along with 30 other guests. I was asked to translate for Levi. In the course of the meal, Levi was asked if he had any interesting experiences during his travels as deputy prime minister.

He told the following story:

He related that on the invitation of the Italian government he visited Italy. It was the first official invitation from Italy to a leader of the government of Israel. A state dinner was planned for the visit that week. The dinner was to be attended by government ministers and dignitaries, both from Italy and from the Italian Jewish community. The problem arose when the menu was discussed. The Israeli embassy informed the Italian liaison that Levi only ate kosher. Because of the short notice, the embassy indicated that the problem could be solved with a new barbecue grill and a whole fish, so the menu was set to include grilled vegetables, new dishes and cutlery and kosher Italian wine. At the dinner there was a toast and the prime minister of Italy went first and said: “It’s an honor to have you here. I’m very sorry that we could only serve you fish. I prefer steak, but I sacrificed and we all had fish!”

When it was Levi’s turn for the toast he explained that because of the religious restrictions he could only eat the fish. However, he invited the prime minister to visit Israel and promised that he would take him to the executive dining room at the Knesset which had a well-stocked variety of foods including steak.

That summer the Italian prime minister made a visit to Israel and Levi hosted him at the Knesset. At lunch he was presented with a menu which indeed listed quite a variety of foods including steak, veal chops, lamb chops and chicken schnitzel. The menu was in French, Hebrew, Arabic and English and when the waiter asked for the prime minister’s order, he smiled and pointed to the steak on the menu. “No,” said the waiter emphatically, indicating that it was not available. Shrugging his shoulders, the prime minister pointed to the lamb chops. “No,” said the waiter. They were not available. Next he pointed to the veal chops. “No,” said the waiter, “not available!” In desperation the Italian prime minister pointed to the last remaining meat choice and said, “I’ll have the chicken schnitzel.” “No,” said the waiter, “not available.” Glaring at the waiter, the obviously annoyed Italian prime minister then asked, “What is available?” “Only fish,” said the waiter. Turning to David Levi, the prime minister asked, “What is going on here? When you visited me, you promised me that I would have steak and there’s nothing even resembling it available on the menu. What kind of a joke is this?”

Red-faced, Levi explained that it was the period of the Nine Days when we Jews don’t eat meat in recognition of the Conquest of Israel in 70 AD, and the destruction of our Temple in Jerusalem and the exile of our people from the land of Israel.

“You promised me steak!!”

“I’m so sorry,” said Levi. “I forgot to mention that this is a mourning period.”

“Why do I have to suffer?” The visibly annoyed prime minister asked.

Levi responded, “We are mourning what your people did to our people! The Romans destroyed our Temple and exiled our people!”

“Oh,” said the prime minister. “I didn’t know; I’m so sorry.” He then stood up, took a fork and clanged on a glass at the table and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the government of Italy and the Roman people I apologize for our terrible, terrible actions!”

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