It is no exaggeration to say that Jerome Koenig, who passed away on Sunday, February 1 — two months short of his 85th birthday and two days before he and his wife Shulamith celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary — was a man of integrity, wisdom, insight and humility. He was an exciting, loving human being with a great sense of humor and a voice to be reckoned with.
In March 1978, scant months into Menachem Begin’s tenure as Israel’s prime minister, Jerry proposed a relay run for peace. It would stretch from Latrun to the prime minister’s office — passing from hand to hand a letter from 348 army officers and soldiers calling on Begin to work for immediate peace. This powerful, publicly dramatic action was later acknowledged as one of the pivotal moments that led to Begin’s final decision to sign the first ever peace treaty with Egypt.
It was only one — albeit a crucial one — of Jerry’s contributions to peace in the Middle East, one of his and Shula’s major concerns. They were among the first to realize the dangers of holding on to the Occupied Territories, and a few days after the Six Day War they had already started campaigning for a unilateral withdrawal.
Jerry was among the originators of the Peace Now initiative, hosting Tel Aviv-branch activities in his home. Furthermore, in the Tel Aviv office of his Jerusalem factory that manufactured water-saving products, activists joined every afternoon to recruit businesspeople, industrialists and donors to the effort. It was there that they worked at organizing a variety of innovative and effective public events. Jerry’s office became a center of activism for Israeli-Palestinian peace calling for a two-state solution.
Jerry was born in 1930 and raised in Brooklyn, son of Edward and Freda Koenig. It was there that he honed his skills and built his reputation as an outstanding athlete in baseball, softball, football and basketball. He graduated from Long Island University, and served in the New York Air National Guard and in the regular Air Force during the Korean War in 1952. He was a member of the Binghamton, New York, Chapter of B’nai B’rith and met Shula in 1961, when she was invited to speak to the group. They were married in 1962, and together they returned to her native Israel in 1964.
His concern for Israel and for a future Palestinian state determined his path back in the States as well. As a volunteer, he headed the American initiatives to help the Volcani Center — an agricultural research organization focused on scientific farming innovations that could help Israel and contribute to a better world. In 1994 he joined the advertising department of the Forward newspaper, later becoming the department’s director. During his 18 years at the paper, his colleagues grew to love his company, and the paper benefited from his innovation and creativity.
Shula said: “From the very beginning we changed each other. Together we kept changing ourselves and our life to both raise our three sons and fulfill Jerry’s love of life and desire — as far as we could — to have an impact on the world and how people in it can understand each other’s humanity.”
As well as working for a living and working for peace, Jerry was also a renaissance man, a writer and an actor who appeared with acclaim in America and Europe onstage and in film. He worked with Amos Gitai and co-starred with such actors as Hanna Schygulla, Samuel Fuller and Jeanne Moreau. He was a poet who focused on writing haiku, more than 2,500 of them, and published a memoir as well as a book of his haiku.
Jerry was full of love: unconditional love for his sons and his grandchildren; an intimate and adoring love for his wife and best friend, Shula; a family love shared with his brother and his late parents; a love of words, books and reading; a love of the theater and of sports (he passed away on the morning of the Super Bowl). Jerry had a love of life and the way it presents itself simply as it is. He loved things big and small, men and women alike, people of all colors and creeds.
Colleagues, family and friends — everyone who knew him and shared this life with him — will miss him.
When the storm has passed
And reflections fade from view
Remember the rain
— J. Koenig
(April 6, 1930 - February 1, 2015)