Jerusalem's Town Baker

"What interested him was his family, his grandchildren and the bakery. Ah ... and also cigars." This, in essence, is Moshe Wahnish's eulogy for his employer and friend, Danny Angel, one of the best-known and most colorful figures in Jerusalem and one of the country's most important manufacturers, who died last week at the age of 89.

The Angel family can trace back its ancestry in Jerusalem back at least seven generations prior to the birth of Danny, the son of Solomon and Esther Angel. The family considered themselves "Samekh-tettim" - families that take pride in being "pure" Sephardim, that is, direct descendants of Jews exiled from Spain in 1492. Esther's family narrative had it that her father did not agree to marry his daughter to Solomon because he worked as a teacher. In order to improve his chances of winning the hand of his choice, Solomon turned to commerce, and specialized in bringing basic foodstuffs - flour, sugar and oil - by train from the Egyptian ports to the market in the Old City of Jerusalem.

In 1927, one of Solomon Angel's customers, a bakery owner named Trachtenberg, got into financial difficulty. When he was unable to pay his debts to the Angels, he had to transfer his bakery to the family's ownership. "There was a primitive oven, to which the whole neighborhood would come to leave their pots of hamin [a slow-cooked dish for the Sabbath, know by Ashkenazim as cholent], and then argue about which pot was whose," recalled Vicky Angel, Danny's widow, as she reminisced about the first days of the Angel Bakery.

Danny, the son, served in the Hebrew Brigade of the British Army in Europe in World War II, and afterwards was one of the founders of the transport corps of the Israel Defense Forces. Only after the war did he return to the family bakery and become involved in the business. Eventually the small neighborhood bakery became the largest bakery in Israel, controlling 30 percent of the country's bread market. It bakes 250,000 loaves of bread daily and employs 1,800 workers.

Angel was the public face of the bakery, called "the foreign minister" by the family. It was he "who saw to the licenses, to negotiating with the government. He was a master of these things," said his son Yaron Angel, the CEO of the company.

In 1958 the company moved to its present location, in the Givat Shaul neighborhood of Jerusalem. Seven years later, Danny and his brothers Ovad and Avraham, with whom he managed the company jointly, developed the flour pipeline that brought flour from the mill across the road directly into the bakery. For the invention, which is still in use today, the government awarded them the Kaplan Prize for distinction in productivity and efficiency. That same year, innovative ovens and kneading machines were purchased. "Both as a young man and in his later years, my father was a great believer in mechanization and industrialization," related Yaron.

"There was only one thing that a machine wasn't found for," said his widow Vicky, "the braiding of hallahs. To this day this is done by hand.

Of the importance of baking bread, Danny would often say that this was work for which one mustn't be late. "If the bread comes to the market a quarter of an hour late, it creates panic," he said.

The bakery's famous factory store, at the corner of Beit Hadfus and Farbstein Streets, opened in 1984. Since then, the family has acquired and established a series of other bakeries, and has gone into the field of bakeshops and cafes.

Angel himself was scornful of expensive gourmet breads. "When he saw bread with visible grains of wheat, he would say that unlike Tel Aviv, here in Jerusalem we eat the bread separately from the grains," recalled his widow. However, he understood the needs of the market and the bakery also went into the field of specialty breads - although to this day the Angel bakery is identified with the standard breads and plain rolls.

"He only liked sliced standard 'black' bread. But before it was sliced, he always said that bread should be torn with the hands, and that it tasted best that way," related Wahnish.

During the War of Attrition (1968-1970), Angel lost his son Arik, who was killed in an Egyptian ambush on the bank of the Suez Canal. After his death, Angel devoted more and more of his time to volunteer activities. He was active in dozens of other organizations, and was a founder of the Variety Club in Israel, which runs programs for sick and underprivileged children.

Up until three weeks before his death of a heart ailment, Angel would come into the bakery every day. "One of the jobs that he took upon himself was to sort the mail for the whole bakery," related his grandson Eran Spiegel. "He said that if you want to know what is happening in a business you need to go through the mail."

Angel's death comes at a difficult time for the tribe he established. An ongoing business and family dispute threatens the wholeness of the company, as well as relations among members of the family. The conflict broke out between Gad Angel, a nephew of Danny's, and CEO Yaron and the rest of the family. The dispute came to the fore about a year and a half ago, when the management of the company wanted to fire Gad, who was a joint CEO for 23 years, during which time he also served as vice president for operations. According to family members, Gad had evinced disloyalty by backing female employees who had filed a harassment suit against a director of the company. This dispute is now litigated being pursued at the Labor Court and at the Supreme Court.

The conflict, say family members, broke Danny Angel's heart. "For years, he tried to mediate between us, when we thought it didn't stand a chance. He saw family as a supreme value and saw himself as the head of the tribe. The failure to mediate successfuly between us saddened him greatly," said Yaron.

Although he held sway over an economic empire, Angel remained quite an unassuming man. For 51 years he lived in the same modest apartment on Chopin Street, in Talbieh. Only recently had he and Vicky wife moved into assisted living. The only exception to this lifestyle was his great love of cigars, which became his trademark.

"Grandfather always said that cigars are half a love, and that it is a pity it's not possible to smoke two together," said his granddaughter Dana Spiegel. One of his grandsons even placed his favorite cigar in the open grave. Politically, Danny Angel was close to the late longtime mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, and always held an honorary spot at the bottom of Kollek's electoral list. Nir Barkat, the city's newly elected mayor, took on the custom for himself, and listed Angel in last place on his list for city council. Angel was very proud of being a Jerusalemite, and when his grandchildren began leaving for Tel Aviv, he would say that they were leaving the best city in the world for "Sodom and Gomorrah." Among the visitors who came to console the family during the shivah period of mourning were Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Likud chairman MK Benjamin Netanyahu, former president Yitzhak Navon and others. Danny Angel's prankish visiting card passed from hand to hand among the visitors. On it is a picture of a pair of angelic wings and beneath the picture the inscription in English: "The Head of Mafia" - a pun on ma'afiya, Hebrew for "bakery."