David Akov understood when he became Israel’s consul general here that he would leave San Francisco exactly four years later.
That doesn’t make it any easier.
With the countdown to his last days in the Bay Area (he and his family depart for Israel on Thursday, July 31), Akov looks back on a gratifying tenure overseeing his country’s interests in a region stretching from Northern California to Alaska.
“I measure success through my connections with people and organizations,” Akov says. “Whether Jewish, environmental, gay and lesbian or media organizations, we tried to reach out and bring them some connection to Israel.”
The new Consul General of Israel for the Pacific Northwest Region, Akiva Tor, takes over the post the day Akov leaves.
Akov counts among the highlights of his tenure the recent trips to Israel made by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski. His office served as a liaison between local Jewish groups and their Israeli counterparts in facilitating elements of the trips, and Akov even accompanied Kulongoski on his trip last April.
“I thought [the trips] were very important to show that Israel is high on the agenda,” he adds. “Visits of high elected officials, whether mayors or governors, are probably the best way to show the connection with Israel.”
The outgoing consul general will make a farewell appearance at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Friday, July 25.
His wife, Tamar Akov, who served as the consulate’s cultural attaché, will miss playing a role in the cultural life of the region. “It was a very good four years,” she says. “I got to know and work with some amazing people, and not just in the Jewish community. It’s a very sophisticated area.”
She counts among the highlights of her tenure the Jerusalem children’s art exhibition, “Painting Pain, Dreaming Peace,” held at Zeum in San Francisco, and staging concerts in tandem with other consulates, including the French and Spanish.
David Akov came to San Francisco with plenty of diplomatic experience. From 1989 to 1993 he lived in Atlanta, serving in the No. 2 post at the Israeli consulate. And from 1995 to 2000 he lived in Washington, D.C., working in the Israeli embassy as liaison between the government of Israel and Congress.
He told j. when he first arrived in the Bay Area back in September 2004 that he expected challenging days. And he got them.
“The Lebanon war, the Gaza disengagement, Ariel Sharon’s stroke, there were some very dramatic events we had to deal with,” he recalls. “It was a real challenge, but I can say that in these past four years, there is more understanding for Israel. You still have people who are critical, but even those groups understand what Israel faces in terms of radical Islam, and what the stakes are.”
During his time here, he got to know his region, which includes Northern California, Washington, Oregon and Alaska. He traveled to the Last Frontier a few times, even visiting Fairbanks in the dead of winter.
Everywhere he went, he sought to foster a positive image of Israel beyond the realm of geopolitics.
“This is what we try to do,” he says, “and not concentrate only on the Jewish community and elected officials. We’re trying to brand Israel as a wider, more layered place, known not only through the problems of the Middle East but also through its huge achievements in technology, science, economy and even sports.”
Leaving San Francisco is sad not only for Akov, but also for his wife and three children. They, too, think of the Bay Area as a second home. The Akov kids attended local Jewish day schools, with their oldest having recently graduated from the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco.
“That was a great way to be part of the community,” Akov says. “We met wonderful people. Education is the heart of the community and was a great way to learn the characteristics of the community. [The Bay Area] is completely part of all our lives, but especially for the kids. It shaped them.”
Up next for Akov, after a short European summer vacation, is a posting at Israel’s foreign ministry in Jerusalem. It looks as if his days as a roving diplomat are over.
But Akov predicts he and his family will be back as often as possible.
“We’ll definitely come to visit,” he says, “but what is more important is we don’t see this as an ending. We’ll have ongoing relations with the people we dealt with here.”
David Akov will discuss Israel at 60 at 12 p.m. Friday, July 25, at the Commonwealth Club of California, 595 Market St., S.F. Tickets: $7-$15 (free for members). Information: (415) 597-6700.