New Israeli diplomat settles into San Francisco

In the two months since Gideon Lustig and his wife, Mufar, moved to San Francisco from Israel, the pair has explored the Ferry Building, walked the Golden Gate Bridge and visited Sausalito.

Just don’t expect Lustig to don a San Francisco sweatshirt and waggle a 49ers foam finger.

“I see myself as a Jerusalem person,” says Israel’s new deputy consul for the S.F.-based Pacific Northwest region. “That’s the place to live in Israel. When you walk through the streets, you feel something in the air. The smell is different. The sunlight is different. It’s fantastic.”

Gideon Lustig

A bit homesick? Perhaps. But Lustig says he’s ready to represent Israel and take advantage of his four-year term in San Francisco — even with its overcast skies and oft-overpowering smell of seafood.

Lustig, 31, took over about two months ago, when the four-year term of Ishmael Khaldi, the first Israeli Bedouin deputy consul, came to an end. Like his predecessor, Lustig wants to strengthen his connection to the local Jewish community by visiting synagogues, learning about the area’s Jewish diversity and talking up Israel.

“The Bay Area is an excellent place to talk about issues that matter to me and the Jews,” says Lustig, who previously worked as an Israeli foreign ministry official, specializing in economic affairs. “I’m used to one kind of Judaism, but here I’ll get to know people from different sects. That’s fascinating to me.”

Lustig will oversee normal consular duties, from managing the consulate in Consul General Akiva Tor’s absence to issuing visas and passports. He’s also tasked with promoting Israeli business and cultural interests, ensuring Israeli inmates serving time here are taken care of and facilitating U.S. citizens’ burials in Israel.

When the consulate closes for the evening, Lustig’s work takes a social turn. He makes appearances at events almost nightly and dials Israel when necessary.

“I’m working round the clock,” Lustig says. “But I knew what I was getting into, definitely.”

Originally from Ashkelon, a coastal city in the south of Israel near the Gaza Strip border, Lustig joined the Israel Defense Forces in 1996. While serving, he attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, earning degrees in Middle Eastern studies and linguistics.

Upon finishing his military service in 2007, Lustig worked as a translator for Arab media outlets, interpreting Arabic TV news programs into English and Hebrew.

Lustig says he also has been able to employ Arabic in his new job, conversing with some Arab Israelis in the region. It’s a useful skill, he notes, especially in his ongoing quest to understand Arab culture and roots.

“I don’t want to applaud myself, but [learning Arabic] was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life,” Lustig says. “When you can ask questions and converse, it’s easier for the Arab-Israeli citizens. And they really appreciate it.”

One of Lustig’s goals as deputy consul concerns Israelis who come to the Bay Area for higher education. He wants to make certain they flourish in the classroom, yet keep their connection to Israel.

Within the existing Bay Area Jewish community, Lustig is looking for a crop of young leaders who feel connected to Israel and understand the importance of an ongoing relationship between American Jews and Israelis. It all goes back to creating the image of Israel that Lustig knows so well.

“I want people to visit Israel, see its way of life and tell me how big of an impact the experience made on their lives,” Lustig says. “There is so much to Israel beyond the conflict, and I really want to make sure people don’t miss that.”