Avraham Ashkenazi has lived in the United States for almost half of his life, but there is no disputing that he’s an Israeli, first and foremost. Forty years in this country has not altered his thick accent, nor has it diminished his love for Israel.
Born in Bulgaria, Ashkenazi emigrated to Israel in 1948. The Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia organized Jewish emigration to Israel after World War II, and the Ashkenazis were on the first ship, along with 4,000 fellow Bulgarians and 1,000 Hungarians. His family began life in Israel in an immigrant camp in Haifa. Ashkenazi was only 10 years old.
A graduate of Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Ashkenazi served in the Israeli army, fighting in all the subsequent wars. His last service was in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
In the early 1980s, Ashkenazi travelled to the U.S. in his role as general manager for a precision mechanics factory. Shortly after his initial arrival, he met Stanley Peck, who worked with the Navy, and Ashkenazi started supplying parts. In 1983, Ashkenazi permanently moved to the U.S. to start his own business, promoting Israeli products in North America.
Two years later, he founded IAT International, Inc., a company that works with governments, government-owned companies, and private businesses in all aspects of the railway industry.
With offices and partnerships in Norfolk, Israel, and the Czech Republic, Ashkenazi says the business has not been directly impacted by the October 7 Hamas attack. Employees in Tel Aviv are older and will not be called into service, he says. Manufacturing occurs outside of Israel, and imports enter through Haifa. “So far, nothing prevents us from working normally.”
Ashkenazi has strong opinions about the failures on October 7. “The government has a contract with the people, and something went wrong.” Israel’s complacency during the Jewish holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah left no second line of defense; soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces were on leave to celebrate with their families.
Ashkenazi says he believes that Israel underestimated Hamas’ readiness and their capability with modern weapons. And Israel underestimated their cruelty. “We teach our children music and art. They teach their children to hate and kill.” They care about the Greatness of God; nothing else matters, he says, including the lives of Arabs and Jews.
While Ashkenazi expects an investigation after the war, he feels strongly that leadership must take responsibility. Israel needs technology at the border instead of tanks. Drones on both sides of the fence would deliver photos in real time. Similar to the West Bank, Israel should provide civil rule in Gaza, where police control the area without a military. Gazans can live and work in this territory, but Israel has the right to enter and take out suspicious citizens. This model is the only way to co-exist, he says.
Ashkenazi and his wife, Karen, had planned to go to Israel this month, renting an apartment for one month in the same building as his family. Instead, they will go in March.
His grandchildren now serve in the army. While his granddaughter is not on the front line, her boyfriend, a captain in a special forces unit, saw first-hand the grisly attacks at the Nova music festival and kibbutzim. “Hashem protects you, but still, for a young man, he probably saw a lot of horrible things.”
“I never thought that my grandchildren would be in the military and active, and they are more active than we were.” Ashkenazi believes Israel will flourish.
“If you don’t have a country, you are a refugee.”