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Suzy Eban, widow of Abba Eban, dies at 90

Suzy Eban, more known as the wife of early Israeli diplomat Abba Eban, but whose rich family history and experiences had their own resonance and impact, died Sept. 15 at 90.

Her nephew, Israeli Knesset member Yitzhak Herzog, described her life as “the personification of the Zionist story. Throughout her life, she demonstrated a deep commitment to the establishment of the State and to its welfare, and did so in an awe-inspiring manner.”

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Suzy Eban was born Shoshana Ambache in Ismaliya, Egypt. Her father was working there for the Suez Canal Company, but his family had immigrated to pre-State Palestine from Russia and she was raised speaking Hebrew. In a memoir published in 2008, "A Sense of Purpose: Recollections," Eban described frequent visits to her grandparents in Palestine as a child and their firsthand recollection to her of the little-known Arab riots in 1929 near their farmhouse in Motza, now a Jerusalem suburb, which left several neighbors dead.

She had an “affluent, upper middle class colonial childhood in Ismailia, educated in three languages but aspiring to the best of British.” She was wooed over the course of three years by Aubrey Eban, then a British army captain and Cambridge lecturer, who rose swiftly in Israel’s diplomatic corps and became its first U.N. ambassador.

Her recollections of being at the United Nations in 1947, before and after the vote on partitioning Palestine between Jews and Arabs, have been recorded on video, available here in Hebrew.

From the moment she married Abba, Suzy “dedicated herself to her brilliant husband,” who years later was pushed out of prominence in Israeli political circles by Labor Party stalwarts such as Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.

Suzy Eban, cultured and multilingual, apparently did not mesh well with the wives of Israel’s other founding fathers. One reviewer of her memoir said Eban’s portraits of other leading ladies of Israel, such as Rachel Ben-Zvi and Paula Ben-Gurion, “only serve to emphasize the gulf separating these opinionated, rough, eccentric, puritanical pioneers of socialist Zionism from the refined, art-loving, French-educated hostess Suzy, whose values must have appeared to them insufferably bourgeois and decadent.”

Plus, the Ebans viewed Golda Meir as one of the architects of his political downfall: “Golda continued to conceal a great mastery of political maneuvering behind a façade of disinterested innocence,” Eban wrote in her book.

With her husband, she lived in the United States as well as Israel, and she headed the Israel Cancer Association for nearly four decades. She was tied to leading families in Israel. One of her sisters is the widow of Chaim Herzog, Israel’s sixth president. Her son, Eli Eban, is a prominent classical clarinetist who has played with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and many others.

The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org.

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