In 1994, while in the employ of the United Jewish Appeal and Jewish Federation of Greater Toronto, I was given the task of overseeing former Israeli prime minister Yitzchak Shamir's trip to Toronto.
A day before his arrival to Toronto I learned that Saudi Arabian sheiks were staying at the same hotel he was booked into. I therefore decided to call Shamir's staff in Montreal, where he was speaking, to determine if this was a breach of security.
I asked the hotel front desk if they would put me through to the Shamir party. The phone rang and the voice that answered sounded distinctly like that of the second longest serving prime minister in Israel, Yitzchak Shamir. It was gruff and deep, not one easily mistaken.
I said, "Hello". The response came quickly, and seemed annoyed. "Hello." It was then I realized I was talking to the successor of Menachem Being, a the man responsible for Operation Solomon, which brought 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 48 hours only days before a coup in Addis Ababa.
"Is this Mr. Shamir?" I asked. He replied it was. I searched for the words I needed to deliver. Instead I stated: "Mr. Shamir, this is Avrum Rosensweig. I am co-coordinating your trip to Toronto. I've followed your career, and you've done quite a job."
He was gracious and replied "thank you". Finally I said, "I'm sorry to bother you sir, but some sheiks are staying at the hotel we have you booked for you in Toronto and I'd like to know if we should move you." He replied, "That is for my staff to deal with. Please call back." He hung up. I was sweating.
I called back a moment later. Again, it was that voice, the one that dealt with the follow-up to the Camp David Accords with Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office and negotiated the immigration of a hundreds of thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union.
Once again Shamir said hello. But this time, someone answered the other line simultaneously. It was Shulamit, his (late) wife. She said hello too. All of a sudden I was privy to a very brief and quirky conversation between the former prime minister of Israel and the former first lady. Annoyed, they questioned one another as to why the other was calling from a room only meters away.
I privately enjoyed the repartee between the two, one which would never make the history books, but was mine to archive. I remained very still and quiet on the line. They hung up, and so did I.
Finally I called hotel security directly. Soon enough Shamir's security team called me back and we dealt with the problems at the front desk in Montreal and the issue of his hotel in Toronto.
I met Mr. Shamir at the doors of his new hotel, the Royal York. He was pleasant. We entered the elevator. I remember my nerves and thinking what if we get stuck, what would we talk about? Should I ask him why he refused to retaliate against Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Scud missile attacks, or would that be silly?
While we rode the lift I explained to Shamir that I was the one who had called him in Montreal, asking if we should change hotels. He replied to me, "Oh you are the one who caused such a revolution in my life." I had nowhere to hide in that ancient relic of an elevator and sheepishly smiled and apologized.
Shamir's speeches were done and the very brawny contingents from metro police, the RCMP, the OPP, and the anti-terrorist squad had gone home, He was packed up and I bid him adieu at the entrance to his hotel room. I extended my hand to this person who had once led the Stern Gang, a pre-Israel hardline underground group. I presented this diminutively tall man with a century old book on the Torah from my diseased father's library. He would have liked that. My father was very right wing. Mr. Shamir thanked me and seemed genuinely appreciative. I then said to him, "I'm sorry to have caused such a revolution in your life," He replied, "I wish that all the revolutions in my life had caused such little damage."
He smiled. The elevator doors opened up and the man whose name meant "thorn that stabs and a rock that can cut steel" was gone.
I did one walk through of his room to see if I could find anything of interest. He had forgotten my father's book. I was a tad perturbed. As I walked out of his hotel room it struck me how much I was in awe of people like Yitzchak Shamir who were giants in their time, with a unique ability to hold an entire people on their shoulders and fight for Israel's very existence.
Yitzchak Shamir died on June 30th, 2012. The revolutions he fought in his lifetime stirred up many. The revolution I caused in his life gave him pause to smile.
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