Eulogy for a Friend and His Warning to the Jews of America

Emmanuel at 90

A few days ago, I received word that Emmanuel Pratt, my friend of 35 years, had passed away at the age of 94. Although ours was an often rocky friendship, we nevertheless remained close friends until the end.

Emmanuel’s life was something of a reflection of the country in which he chose to live, and which he loved with all his heart. He was brilliant and talented, even as he could be abrasive and volatile. He was highly political, independent, Quixotic, and with an explosive temper that often erupted when least expected. But his talent was extraordinary. He was a journalist – for English, Hebrew, and Russian language publications. He was an author and a translator. He was an artist. And he was a character!

Once, as a young man, he attended a dinner party, where, in the course of discussion, he was particularly offended by a political remark from the fellow sitting across from him. Without warning, Emmanuel stood up, reached across the table, and punched the poor man in the nose.

Years later, I met an older and slightly more subdued Emmanuel at a press conference in Jerusalem, which we were both covering – he for Israel Television and I for Texas Business Magazine. He, with a solid reputation for being quite the ladies’ man, invited me for coffee and our long friendship began. Emmanuel was many years my senior, but we shared a host of things in common – our politics, a deep appreciation of music and art, our love for Jerusalem.

Emmanuel’s story is long and interesting, but I will mention only a few highlights. He was born in Vladivastok, Russia in February 1920. Almost immediately after his birth, his family was forced to flee to China to escape the excesses of Russian anti-Semitism and the young Soviet Union. He grew up in China, moving with his family first to Harbin, then to Mukden, Tientsin, and finally, as a young man, to Shanghai.

In 1948, he flew from Shanghai to the newly declared State of Israel with a group of like-minded Zionists. Israel was already at war with the surrounding Arab armies, which had immediately attacked the fledgling nation upon its creation. So when the plane made an unexpected stop in Damascus, Emmanuel and his friends were understandably nervous. They held their breath while the Syrian officials checked passports and travel documents. Because Syria was at war with Israel, their final destination, they could easily have been arrested if they were caught. But their documents had been altered to show that they were flying to Turkey, and after an agonizing hour of waiting, the plane was allowed to proceed.

Emmanuel’s career was as colorful as it was long. It began in the Negev, shortly after he arrived, where he went from place to place, following old British maps and identifying water sources for the new state. Later he became a journalist for a series of Israeli newspapers, including one for whom he covered the 1954 trial of Rudolf Kastner, a Hungarian lawyer and journalist who was accused of collaborating with the Nazis in Hungary during the Holocaust. Emmanuel later collected his notes for a book, written in Hebrew and published in Israel. After serving as a journalist for many years, he landed a job at Israel television, where he spent the remainder of his journalistic career as a film producer.


Emmanuel in 1979 at Ein Gedi

In the course of his years as a journalist, Emmanuel also fell in love with photography. And he was a good photographer with an artist’s eye. Many of the  articles that he wrote for Jerusalem Post were illustrated with his photographs, and one of the iconic photos showing the entrance of Israeli generals into Jerusalem after the Six Day War was his. His love of cameras was constant, and he was continually looking for a new camera to replace his older one. The last time I saw him, in 2010, he had just purchased a new Nikon, which he showed to me proudly and could hardly wait to start using.

Throughout his life in Israel, Emmanuel stayed in touch with his Chinese-Israeli compatriots. Every year, they held a big anniversary party. They were always memorable. One year, he and his friends waxed nostalgic about their years in China and recalled the influence of American soldiers on their teen years. Then we all began to sing, songs like Oh Susannah, and I’ve Been Working on the Railroad, that had become popular in China after the Americans came. Of course I sang right along, until one of the Chinese-Israeli wives asked me, “How come you know all of our Chinese songs?”

For many years Emmanuel also served on the editorial board of Igud Yotzei Sin (Association of Former Residents of China in Israel) and authored many articles for their bulletin about the Chinese Jews, memories of their lives in China, and news about the community in Israel.

At an age when many people begin to wind down, Emmanuel was just getting started. At 64, he decided to compile the world’s first Hebrew-Chinese dictionary. In the process, he became a minor expert on Chinese calligraphy, and often gave lectures on the subject. His love of Chinese characters wasn’t new – it began when he was still a young boy in China and learned to write the characters with a brush, in the traditional manner. He often told the story of his lessons as a child, when his Chinese tutor would correct his calligraphy, saying, “If you make that mistake one more time, I splash you with ink!”

Putting such a massive project as a tri-lingual dictionary (Hebrew and Chinese with English translations) into action required the use of a personal computer, still in its early days back in 1984. The problem was that Emmanuel hated computers. He, who so loved the brush work of Chinese calligraphy, once told us that he considered the computer “the work of the devil”. We used to tease him that he still longed for the quill pen. But after months of trying to catalog the thousands of Chinese characters on index cards, he realized that he needed to give in to the marvels of the twentieth century, and he bought his first computer.

With considerable help from my son, Daniel, who was a child of the computer age and could also tolerate those middle of the night emergency calls with extraordinary patience, Emmanuel learned to use three different software programs – in English, Chinese, and Hebrew – to put his dictionary together. This was no small feat, even for one who loved computers, for in 1984, personal computers had no hard drives, and required the use of ‘floppy” disks. They used two “floppy” drives – one for the program and one for the data. In his case, each language had its own format and its own program disks. And each entry had to be in all three languages. There was a steep learning curve, but Emmanuel was nothing if not stubborn. In a few long and very intense years, he published the dictionary, which eventually found its way into the stacks of prestigious libraries around the world.

One of the most remarkable periods of his life began when Emmanuel found his muse in drawing and painting, something that he had dabbled in before, but which, in his late sixties, became an obsession. In his drawings, his lines were sharp, his images memorable. His paintings, by contrast, were impressionistic, with soft edges and muted tones. His long friendship with Fima, a painter of note whom he knew from China, and who later lived both in France and Israel, gave him encouragement and momentum.

Emmanuel remained a painter until his vision began to fail at the age of 92, when he could no longer see the canvas before him clearly. What was most remarkable was that his paintings got better and better as he got older. Some of his best work was done in his late eighties and early 90s.

Emmanuel at 92, standing next to his unfinished painting of Herodion, “Herod’s mountain”, located south of Jerusalem.


We stayed in touch through the years, even long after I left Jerusalem, where I lived for sixteen years, and returned to the States. We corresponded often and he frequently sent me photos of his latest paintings and drawings. Whenever I had the opportunity to return to Jerusalem for a visit, Emmanuel was always on my itinerary. It was only during the last months of his life, when he was losing both his hearing and his vision, that we could no longer communicate.

In 2012, at the age of 91, Emmanuel wrote an article which I published in my own blog, nearly three years to the day before he passed away. I have reprinted it here because, as I said, we were politically in tune, and because his words ring as true today as they did back then.

Emmanuel, my friend, you will be missed.

—-Ilana Freedman, Editor


An Open Letter to the Jews of America

April 7, 2012 by Emmanuel Pratt

During her recent visit to Tunisia (Feb. 24, 2012), the State Secretary, Hillary Clinton, met the local university students for what the State Department called a “Town Hall With Tunisian Youth”, where she was asked a question by a participant:

“We noticed here in Tunisia that most of the candidates from the both sides run towards the Zionist lobbies to get their support in the States. And afterwards, once they are elected, they come to show their support for countries like Tunisia and Egypt for a common Tunisian or a common Arab citizen. How would you reassure and gain his trust again once given the fact that you are supporting his enemy as well at the same time?” asked the student.

Clinton replied, “A lot of things are said in political campaigns that should not bear a lot of attention. There are comments made that certainly don’t reflect the United States, don’t reflect our foreign policy, don’t reflect who we are as a people. I mean, if you go to the United States, you see mosques everywhere, you see Muslim Americans everywhere. That’s the fact.” said the Secretary.

“So I would not pay attention to the rhetoric, but would rather call you to listen and see what our president says and does. He will be re-elected, which will be a clear signal to the world, which of our values he cherishes and in what he believes.”

Both the question and the answer were clear and unequivocal. Clinton indicated that the pro-Israeli presidential candidates and the pro-Jewish lobbies, (i.e. the American Jewish organizations and the American Jews who established and operate them) are, in her opinion, not a part of the American people.

According to Clinton, in order to make sure whose side President Obama and the leaders of the Democratic party take, it is enough to remember “what the President does and what his foreign policy is”.

This is the clear signal of what the world can expect, should Obama be re-elected and, as he told Medvedev when he thought he was off-mike, “after the election I have more flexibility”.

Only the deaf and the blind do not hear and do not see that Obama carries out a firm and consistent anti-Israeli policy, whose aim is to stand silent and allow the destruction of the State of Israel at the hands of its enemies.

Emmanuel Pratt,
Jerusalem, ISRAEL
April 7, 2012

Read the original article here.

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