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Denis Shifrin 1927-2021

Denis at his studio: the hub of his artistic creations

An artist, a fighter, a noble and loving soul

by Dubbie & Ilan Shifrin and Orna Pomerantz (nee Shifrin) (Gussie and Denis Shifrin's children)

Denis Shifrin was born in 1927 in Liverpool, England. Denis was known to his friends as a multidisciplinary artist and a talented advertising professional. Yet, very few knew that at the same time as his main work in advertising, he served as a fighter in the "Caesarea" unit of Israel's Secret Intelligence Service, the "Mossad." Denis was one of a handful of "Mossad" fighters who bravely and safely led IDF's Operation "Spring of Youth" that involved Sayeret Matkal fighters on a stormy black night in April 1973 to their destinations in the heart of the Muslim Quarter in Beirut, where three of Fatah and Black September's senior terror commanders dwelled. Like the rest of his "Caesarea" comrades, whose life in the shadows was not their primary occupation, Denis, who was the eldest, volunteered to serve whenever duty called. At a modest party, his children held for his 80th birthday, many of the guests were surprised when Brigadier General Mano Shaked, who commanded the military operation "Spring of Youth", and Mike Harari, the legendary commander of the "Caesarea", disclosed to the audience that "the British talented gentleman has immensely and modestly contributed to Israel's security for many years." At the headquarters of the "Mossad" under a glass casing, stands an impressive kinetic work of art made of wood named "The World of the Warrior". This work based on the "Spring of Youth" Operation was created by Denis as a token of appreciation for the organization and its anonymous warriors.

Denis was born into a Zionist and secular family. His father migrated to England in the early 20th century from Vitebsk, Belarus. His father was a self-taught artist and a gifted master carpenter who lovingly read to his son humorous Jewish folklore legends of Shalom Aleichem, Israel Zangwill, as well as children's fairy tales of the Grimm brothers and many others.

As a gifted student he was accepted at the age of 17 to a Medical School and later attended the Sir John Cass School of Fine Arts in London. However, upon the persuasion of the Zionist "emissary" from "The State to be", who convinced him that "in Israel there was no need for doctors and artists but rather for farmers", he decided to "abandon" his medical studies and devote himself to agricultural training and the management of the Habonim Moadon in London. There, he met his future wife Gussie, who was born in Germany and was among the 10,000 fortunate children who had survived the Holocaust as they had arrived in England on "Kindertransport" trains just before the outbreak of World War II. In 1948, Denis and Gussie married and in 1949 they immigrated to Israel and were among the founders of Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi in the Galilee. The young couple was not pleased with the kibbutz lifestyle and three years later relocated to Tel Aviv. Fortunately, Denis joined the "University of his life" at Max Leon's renowned publishing house "Leon the Printer". At Leon's Denis forged close relationships with famous artists such as Paul Kor, Shmuel Katz, Friedel Stern, and others.

Alongside his ongoing work, he was engaged in illustrating children's books including Ima Mesaperet (Mother Tells Stories) and Aba Mesaper (Father Tells Stories), Margaliyot Youth Encyclopedia and many more. He also illustrated for Omer, the new immigrants' newspaper and Davar Leyeladim, where he became acquainted with the famed artist and writer Nahum Gutman. Denis illustrated for a couple of years and designed the famous logo of the first Israeli young children's magazine Etzba'oni, Until his last days, he voluntarily and proudly contributed hundreds of illustrations and cartoons to the English-language ESRA Magazine and the Habonim Alumni Association (Irgun Bogrei Habonim) magazine, Kol Bogrei Habonim.

Denis was a pioneer and founder of Israel's international marketing communications and advertising and greatly assisted Israeli exporting companies, including Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Elscint, Rafael, Scitex, and numerous others, in promoting their systems the world over.

Later in the 1980s, when Denis retired from his advertising agency Shifrin- Na'aman, which he had founded in the early 1960s with his partner Josef Na'aman, he presented several exhibitions of his fabulous miniature wooden kinetic sculptures.

During the Yom Kippur War, Denis volunteered as an illustrator for wounded soldiers in the Tel Hashomer Hospital in the Rehabilitation Ward. Wearing a doctor's robe, he was nicknamed " Dr. Denis the Painter." Among countless illustrations, Denis especially remembered the one he painted on the plaster of a fatally wounded soldier who could only communicate with his eyes through a crack in his plaster. The doctors had very little hope for his rehabilitation. Some years later, on the flight taking him back home from one of his confidential missions, Denis heard a shout: "Dr. Denis." He tried to ignore the shout, but the passenger insisted and told him that he was the wounded soldier with the plaster he had painted on.

Denis was described by his children as a "Noble and Loving Soul" owing to his immeasurable care and dedication to his loving wife Gussie, who suffered a severe stroke in 1985. Denis retired from his agency to take care of her full time. "She was alongside and supported me with all my activities as a full partner throughout our marriage, so I decided it was my turn to be there for her." He cared for her with supreme devotion for 30 years, until her death in 2015. Gussie and Denis donated their bodies to science leaving behind three children, seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

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Wednesday, 28 July 2021

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