WINNIPEG — Yoram Hamizrachi was one of the most colourful characters to have ever made his home in Winnipeg’s Jewish community.
Hamizrachi, who anglicized his name to “East,” died on Oct. 13, at the age of 68, of complications from diabetes. He was, by turn, a journalist and author, soldier and counter-terrorism expert, lecturer and community activist, restaurateur, artist and fortune teller. And, in stereotypical Israeli style, he was blunt and direct with his views, letting the chips fall where they may.
Hamizrachi was born in Jerusalem. On his father’s side, he was a seventh-generation Jerusalemite. At age 17, he joined the Israeli Defence Force and became a paratrooper After his army duty, he studied at the Bezalel Fine Arts School in Jerusalem and then continued his studies in Wiesbaden, Germany. In 1967, as a reservist, he fought in the battle for Jerusalem, and immediately thereafter returned to civilian life.
He worked for many years as a radio and TV journalist for Israeli and foreign media in Israel and abroad. During the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Hamizrachi covered the war for German TV.
In the late 1970s, he rejoined the army as a colonel for what was supposed to be a year to work with the Lebanese Christians on the other side of the border. He stayed for several years and became the first Israeli officer to work with the South Lebanon Army. After that, he returned to journalism and, in the spring of 1982, he immigrated with his young family to Winnipeg. He had several relatives on his mother’s side of the family living here.
In Winnipeg, Hamizrachi continued to serve as a correspondent for Israeli media. He also began writing a regular column in the Jewish Post and News, commenting on political developments in Israel. To say that his column was not well received is a bit of an understatement. He was highly critical of the then-Likud government that was led by Menachem Begin. He was also an early advocate for a “two-state” solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In Winnipeg, he quickly became involved in community work, becoming the co-ordinator of the International Centre’s multicultural committee. As such, he uncovered a scandal involving forged signatures on application documents for the funding for his position. He pursued the matter through the courts to a successful conclusion.
He subsequently helped found the Manitoba Intercultural Alliance and became the co-director of the Winnipeg-based Counter-Terrorism Centre.
The problem with being a community activist is that it doesn’t pay the bills. In the late 1980s, Hamizrachi’s wife, Beate, went to work as a school principal in a couple of native communities in northern Manitoba. Hamizrachi went with her.
While in the north, he and his wife separated. He returned to Winnipeg and eventually married again. In recent years, until his health began to decline, he was involved in a variety of ventures, ranging from running a restaurant (where he would tell fortunes using a deck of cards he created that combined elements of tarot and Kabbalah), to lecturing on world affairs at local universities and synagogues, churches, temples and mosques. Later in life, he also resumed painting.
He is survived by his wife, Carol Merhav, two sons, Ron and Dan, daughter Tahl and five grandchildren.